Musings on Student Unions
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Musings on Student Unions

The student protests these days are getting more frivolous by the day and so is the media that seems obsessed with local Delhi politics and projecting it like it is of national importance.

Now what is so special about students of Delhi University that we need to be kept updated about their every tribulation. The only time a non-Delhi University made news recently was when Rohith Vemula committed suicide in Andhra. But here too the learned students did not ask political parties why they were mum to earlier suicides of dalit students as politicians descended upon Hyderabad University?

The answer is because all parties ‘run’ a political Student Wing — Congress has National Students Union of India (NSUI); AAP runs Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Samithi (CYSS); Trinamool Congress has the Trinamool Chhatra Parishad (TMCP); CPI(M)  runs All India Students Association (AISU). And, of course, there is the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), which is actually NOT the student wing of BJP but of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). In fact, ABVP was founded before the BJP !

Today student leaders simply see their position in the Student Organisations as a stepping-stone to a larger career in politics. And thanks to a lazy media in Delhi, a city where most of the national 24×7 news channels are located, a local University leader is turned into a national figure! And so even leaders from various political parties start scouting for leaders and grooming them  by creating situations that attract media attention.

Remember when Sitaram  Yechury of CPI (M) announced to the media that Kanhaiya Kumar, the student leader, who had grabbed national attention, would be campaigning for them in the State elections while Kanhaiya was still telling Barkha Dutt of NDTV that he was “just a student leader who wants to fix student problems and be a teacher.”

Did both Yechury and Kanhaiya feel a Ph.D research in African Studies is a waste of time and campaigning has a better career prospect? After all, professional politicians like Sitaram Yechury, Prakash Karat, Nitish Kumar, Arun Jaitley, Kamal Nath and even Ambika Soni, were all student leaders.

So probably inspired by the above success stories, 20-year-old Gurmehar Kaur also wanted to make her mark in the Student Union scene with a Facebook post. Unfortunately today politics is vicious and a Student Union is only an extension of that political ferocity. Also you cannot get too philosophical about war, that too one perpetuated by a troublesome neighbour with whom we have a long history. Especially a war that was provoked by the other side. And also an illogical statement will always get a smart-ass retort, like the one given by Virender Sehwag.

Some said the conservatives were scuttling free speech. But in the same breath the liberals too did a disservice to free thought when they didn’t allow Shazia Ilmi to speak about the socio-economic trauma brought upon Muslim women because of triple talaq. Why didn’t liberals take Sitaram Yechury to task when he suddenly appeared at the student protests and turned a nationalist debate into a religious one when he said, “our nationalism is we are Indian not who is a Hindu.” The extreme Left are as extremist as their brothers on their Right. It is time they got off their high horse.

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Now, Student Unions in Delhi are becoming a menace where half-informed and politically motivated youngsters think they represent a nation of a billion aspirations, languages, cultures and mindsets. Yes, it is indeed healthy to have a student body but only if it actually works towards improving the quality of education and environment in a University. But empirical evidence has shown that Student Unions don’t work so positively or apolitically. It has shown that quality of education suffers, as there are frequent disruptions by these aggressive bodies. That is why Karnataka banned Student Unions.

Even in a small city like Mysuru, Student Union elections were wild and violent. I remember seeing a senior being kidnapped in an autorickshaw by his opponent and kept captive in a house in Bogadi area till the election was over! I even remember a candidate from a well-off family in city taking elected class-representatives at SJCE to a resort in the outskirts of Mysuru for a party and then bringing them back the next day, the Election Day, to vote for him! Yes, we had ‘Resort Politics’ in college politics long before it became a popular strategy in mainstream politics.

I also remember a group of my seniors being elected to the student body with the help of some local goondas… of course, their service did not come for free; the newly-elected student body paid them with the money raised for the annual college fest! Today some of these boys speak of corruption in India sitting in their drawing rooms in America.

Now with all this Student Union hyper-activity, the Congress government in our State wanted to revoke the ban on forming Student Unions in Karnataka but the Vice-Chancellors expressed their displeasure and so the matter remains status quo.

In fact, last year when there was talk of revoking the ban the then VC of Mysore University Prof. K.S. Rangappa immediately responded saying elections would distract students from academics and there was no need for elections as the students had representatives in the Academic Council. Bangalore University VC Prof. M.S. Thimmappa was more harsh when he said “Students must focus on studies and political organisations by pouring money will only distract young people from it. We should give students leadership training, not rowdy training.”

So for now, let’s hope our State government remembers why Student Unions were banned in Karnataka. Let’s hope what is happening in Delhi remind us all of the existing dangers of politics in our educational institutions. And let’s pray our governments create world class Universities where students can explore, experiment and excel instead of being indoctrinated into narrow political ideologies.

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March 4, 2017

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