Vibha Sharma in New Delhi
Around 1973-74, a students’ agitation helped members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad to establish themselves in politics; Prime Minister Narendra Modi was one of them.
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Gandhian socialist Jayaprakash Narayan called these agitations against the then ruling Congress ‘yuvashakti’. Coming from different shades of ideologies, student leaders, many of whom went on to rise in national and state politics, helped coordinate protests not only during the Emergency, but months before that and at “levels beyond what we see today”, according to political commentators.
Cut to 2019-20 and a student agitation is challenging a popular government, its decisions and policies at a time when the Opposition has been found lacking in the job. Only this time, the government belongs to the BJP.
At a time when the ruling party wants people to believe that anti-government voices are “anti-national and pro-Pakistan” and that educational institutions are meant “only for studying”, is the students’ unrest in “Left-oriented” JNU and the situation in educational institutions with similar dynamics — Jamia, Jadavpur, AMU — a cause of worry for its leadership?
BJP leaders say they are worried not because of losing political space, but because a “politically extinct party, the Left, is dangerously playing with minds of the young. Demonstration is a sign of a healthy democracy, but to mix a supposed protest against fee hike with political issues (CAA/NPR/NRC) and turn an educational institution into a political battlefield is unacceptable.”
Student agitation or more to it?
“Definitely pure politics by the Opposition,” alleges the BJP, even though observers feel JNU-type incidents help provide “essential fodder to promote the saffron ideology, albeit indirectly”.
Trashing allegations that the JNU violence was “a case of a right-wing government selectively targeting the campus via officially sponsored goondaism”, BJP leaders say “violence is not the saffron style of politics, it is the signature of the Left. Students were used to fuel political agendas. And what about ABVP cadres being injured, or those not allied with any ideology?”
Though Vice-Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar may have repeatedly denied association with any ideological grouping, Left-leaning students see him as a “RSS man sent to JNU to implement the Sangh agenda”.
This is not the first time anti-government agitations have been reported from the politically vibrant campus. In fact, the BJP discovered its famous “tukde-tukde” phrase describing “anti-nationals” from one such protest in 2016.
Will the protests sustain?
The BJP feels the PM’s popularity is intact. “Some fence-sitters may be feeling disenchanted, also angry over the economic crisis and seemingly anti-minority issues like CAA-NRC, but there’s no dent in the core vote bank.”
Plus, PM Modi and Amit Shah “have plenty of time to turn perceptions around, beginning with relief to various sections in the Union Budget”. And with the Delhi elections round the corner, the Opposition’s stance is more nuanced, less aggressive.
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