Why Student Politics In India Is Basically Reactionary – OpEd


In a poem on students versus the police, Pasolini famously said:

…When yesterday at Valle Giulia you and

the policemen were throwing blows,

I symphatized with the policemen!

Because policemen are sons of the poor,

they come from urban or rural outskirts.

At Valle Giulia, yesterday, there was a fragment

of class struggle: you, my friends, (although

in the right) were the rich,

and the policemen (although in the wrong)

were the poor…

The context might be different. The point however, is not. In the clash reported at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi, between students from the left-leaning JNUSU and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), I find the entire episode not very different from one of those episodes from sitcoms made for housewives in the afternoons, who after a morning’s labor, wish to spend their time relaxing and watching something not particularly threatening, but can put them to semi-sleep before the evening grind to come. This is the kind of banalization that student politics have been reduced to in this country.

The so-called nationalists couldn’t care less for the nation. The so-called, self-declared representatives of the marginalized communities couldn’t care less for the marginalized either. Both of them are opportunistic politics not different from the agendas of their political and organization leaders. I cannot see what they’re fighting for, when both of them are strikingly similar as far as what they want is concerned. Neither of them is interested in doing anything constructive keeping a long-term goal in view. The petty gains that they’re fighting for are mostly ego-centered which is typical of people with a feudal mentality. They’ve absolutely no interest in what is happening in the world outside them. If this is the lot that is going to be the future of my country, I dread to imagine what that future is going to be like. 

Genuine concern for the world has been replaced with toxic and abusive behavior for which there is no excuse. Lying about the other person has become as normal as drinking water. Often this happens with the tacit or direct support of teachers, who, although powerless as a group, are capable of influencing students in a destructive way, shamefully, for their own career ends. If, as a teacher, I believe in certain things, it makes more sense that I live up to what I say. I cannot turn students into victims of what I believe in. Each one has a right to figure things out for him or herself based on their own experience of life.  

The death of a Dalit student from IIT-Mumbai who took his own life is tragic for more reasons than one. While, according to some of the student activists, the institution is supposed to be responsible for the “murder,” where were these so-called student activists when the boy was most in need of help? Just now they want to encash the situation and put the institution and the government on the defensive. Why did these so-called left and marginal-community representatives do nothing to prevent such a tragedy in the first place? I am tired of these kinds of people who want to monopolize the language of resistance, as if they invented it, without taking moral responsibility for the world around them. Basically, their agenda is: we will protest since it suits our interests only too well. 

In the end, the truth matters. There may be economic and social circumstances that led to the boy’s taking his own life; but these are human circumstances. They can be altered provided there is a general will to do so. Merely bracketing and abusing all the upper castes and labeling them collectively as “brahminical” and “savarnas” is not the logical response, unless there is concrete evidence to say so. It is casteism and the caste system that is perpetrated and perpetuated by different groups, both mainstream and marginal, for different reasons that is more than in part responsible for some of these unbridgeable gaps between people. This is true of upper castes and this is equally true of some of those so-called representatives of marginal groups who only appear to make their pronouncements from a safe distance, when everything has already happened. The question is whether we fight to eradicate the divisions based on caste, class and gender or to preserve them. As far as I can see most of the attempts by these groups are towards preserving rather than changing things. 

My point is that these student groups operate in the shadows of organizations, political parties and teachers who wish to keep the pot boiling to make themselves relevant. This doesn’t mean that the students are innocent either; far from it, their goals are pretty materialistic, from getting positions to creating a portfolio for a future scholarship. Propaganda in the name of some ideological goal such as changing society or saving the nation is as ridiculous as expecting snow in midsummer Hyderabad. But, what can you expect with TikTok graduates from the School of Opportunism and Half-Baked Knowledge! 

Real change happens when people work collectively for a better world. It means individuals have to take their personal time and give their best to those who are weak and unable to make it without help, while also building bridges between people across social, economic and political barriers. But, of course, why should anyone want to do anything constructive along those lines? It’s so much easier to start a protest instead. Students, whether left or right, generally couldn’t care less for what is happening to their fellow-mates until there is a “cause” around which they can build their own private narratives of what really happened. This terrible self-centeredness of the student culture in countries like India is a disaster in both the short and the long-term. They are reactionary to the core and will do nothing to change the status quo.

Reading, writing, thinking clearly and a creative life that is not guided by material aspirations, are revolutionary tools for the transformation of society. No authoritarian system or power structure throughout history has been smart enough to control the languages of protest that happened when there was a real awakening of conscience among the working masses. That’s how slavery and colonialism came to an end in most parts of the world. Teachers might have a job to do; but being a student is a transitional phase. If what you do as a student is not having any impact on the real world except producing a lot of disgust among the working masses who think that you’re a burden to society, then seriously you must either change your goals or the means to achieve those goals. 

Those who are defending posters or their right to watch films, like in the case of JNU, are wasting public resources. If they cared for the plight of people from weaker communities, why don’t they go into the world and begin by making a difference to members of those groups! Why don’t students who scream the loudest when it comes to articulating their nationalist credentials go into the real world and do something for their country folks who are desperately in need of help! These petty squabbles between right and left wing students with imaginary goals is a waste of the nation’s and society’s time and energy. At the end of the day they’re students: if they really cared, they can sit and talk together and share ideas of what best can be done to make things different.  

In the end my sympathies are with the poor working masses who wish to send their children to places like IIT and JNU and want them to come out successful. But when the boy or girl has no support from other students and teachers, they become isolated and lonely. When they are vulnerable they might respond to extreme measures such as suicide. This is true of students who come from different communities and social groups. Support systems have to be created by teachers and students, because that’s what educational institutions are made of. When they use the phrase “institutional murder” and want cases to be filed against the institution, ironically they are implicating themselves in the process, without knowing that it is they who have a major role in the presumed “murder.” 

Prakash Kona

Prakash Kona is an independent scholar who, until December 2022, was a professor at The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad, India. He was “removed from service” for making allegations of corruption against an unscrupulous university administration and is currently challenging his dismissal in the court of law.

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