Forms of Attacks on Students’ Movement in Today’s Context

By Chepal Sherpa
We saw the resurgence of organized students’ movements in various universities and institutions of higher education in the recent times in India. Since last three years universities are “burning” in rage – Hyderabad University, JNU, IIT madras, FTII, Jadavpur University – all have witnessed the heat of students’ movement. What is the reaction of the State to all these movements? The state is rather hell bent to crush the voices of dissenting students. There is a concerted attack on the students’ movement. Institutions of higher education have become the zone of resistance. We should ask the question as to why the ruling Hindutva Fascist regime is threatened by critical consciousness of students and higher education.
 
Logic of the State: Make movements headless!
 
It is not only by the students’ movement but any form of peoples’ movements across the country – Anti-land grab movements, Dalit movement, Adivasi movements, workers’ movements, civil rights activism etc. have been perceived necessarily as a threat to the sovereignty of the state. Since the 1970s and early 80s various movements can be seen in the Indian political scenario. All of these movements have challenged the very kernel of the existing social, political and economic order. This we have witnessed in Naxalbari uprising of 1967, the militant Dalit Panthers of 1970s, the civil liberties movement post-Emergency and the various anti-displacement struggles of adivasis and poor.
 
The state perceives all of these agitation-based-politics – whether armed struggles or non-violent struggles as essentially a threat to its sovereignty – more so with the armed movements. The problem of domination of the state over the whole of society is somewhere challenged through the political expression of these various social and political movements. The reaction of the state, therefore, has been to neutralize these movements in order to counter them.
The official policy has remained to make them “headless” or leaderless. To elaborate and substantiate this argument we can highlight the fact how the Indian state is desperately trying to crush the Maoist movement. The approach of the state in this case has been to make the Maoist movement leaderless through the forceful extermination of its party leadership. One of the central agenda apart from its standard aim to flush out adivasis out of the mineral rich forests of central India. In lieu of the neoliberal model of development to hand it over to the big capital. Operation Green Hunt and its new avatar “Mission: 2016” is the militarist expression.
 
The approach of the state is to make the movement “headless”, which amounts to eliminating the whole leadership of the movement, through the use of state violence. This approach extends and holds true for other movements as well. The underlying logic and a set pattern of the state’s policy have been to liquidate the leadership in various forms through coercion, appropriation or cooption. Armed movements and unarmed “peaceful-democratic” movements are principally seen by the state as posing challenge to its authority and power of the ruling classes who control the resources and the means of production. Armed movements are crushed through thorough state repression where in the underlying objective is to finish and wipe off the top leadership.
On the other hand, the state deals with the unarmed democratic movements by either cooption of the leadership into the “mainstream” or liquidating the agendas set by the movement to compromise with some benefits. Take for instance the nationality struggles in North-east. In the case of movements demanding for creation of smaller states, the leadership is co-opted in various ways by making them accept the “packages”, “autonomy” and “development” further diluting the central agenda of statehood or nationality. The handling of the demand for creation of small state of Gorkhaland out of West Bengal is a concrete example at hand. The fate of even erstwhile armed rebellions of Nagas has been well subsumed within the rubric of democratic developmental discourse. It is also interesting to observe how there is an attempt on the side of the state to settle the issues raised by these movements towards establishing ‘rule of law’ and governmental power of the state rather than addressing them.
 
Similarly, we can see the approach of the state when it comes to Dalit-Bahujan assertion as not very different from the aforementioned logic. A section of dalit politicians have been co-opted into ruling parties like BJP and Congress and other mainstream parties and thereby blunting the political sharpness wielded by dalit movement essentially raising the basic question of self-dignity and respect. I see the Dalit-Bahujan discourse in Uttar Pradesh necessarily as a case of cooption of Ambedkarite politics within the dominant discourse. History shows how Mayawati’s experiments of “social-engineering” of bringing in dalits (Lower castes, oppressed castes), backward classes and Muslims together as a political bloc has become an electoral negotiation for caste based alliances. The question of representation in this case has assumed end in itself rather than means to social transformation. Similarly, this applies to the political experience of Bihar and Maharashtra. The problem with this brand of approach in Ambedkarite politics is the excessive focus on capturing state power for which it has to compensate by being coopted within the dominant framework of “development”.   
 
The state through this policy is able to combat the whole challenge thrown by these various movements on the concrete questions like ‘land-dignity-livelihood’, nationhood, self-respect, minimum wages etc which are non-negotiable issues for the state. The “trickledown” model of development is very much antithetical to all these concrete claims thrown before the state by various movements. Therefore, liquidate the movement in its entirety and contain it. The standard approach of the state remains the same.
 
Students Movement: A Dangerous moment 
 
Now at this juncture when left movement as a whole, workers movements, peasant struggles, women’s movement and all those democratic oppositions who were outside of the institutional framework of the state. Including radical possibilities situated on opposite of the barricade have been in disarray. How do we see the rise of students’ movement? It is a known fact that students and youth have played a significant role in various peoples’ struggles. It stands true from the anti-imperialist movement before the transfer of power to Naxalbari Uprising of 1967 and even today. The students continue to remain as the flexible constituency responding to the significant movements. In the post-independence era, in all the various democratic struggles – Dalit Panthers, Naxalite Movement, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Anti-caste movements in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu etc. – of the people, students and youths have played an important role even to the extent of producing the leaders for these movements. In the Naxalite revolutionary movements students and youths have played the role as “catalyst of revolution”. Increasingly, students’ politics has remained central for any revolutionary or democratic agenda and politics.
Now with this larger picture, we can make sense as to what is the dynamics and internal logic of the state’s policy while tackling the students’ movement in recent times. The state and its institutions see a threat in students’ mobilization and politics. Take for instance the role of students in the post-16thDecember anti-rape movement in the heart of capital Delhi. The students were in the forefront of this movement and the reaction of the state was similarly to brutally crush the movement. Similarly, one flash backs the images of the Hokkolrob Movement, police repression on the protesting students inside of the Jadavpur University in 2014 becomes vivid. One also gets reminded of the police repression and killings of students in the streets of Kolkata, and various parts of the country, during the Naxalite movement 1970s.
 
Lyngdoh and privatization of education: State’s weapons to finish-off students’ movement
 
What do the ruling classes and the state feel threatened of? What, if not the politics of solidarity! We have highlighted how students have played an important role historically in bridging the gap between the fragmented social classes of society. Political factions and forces in students’ politics which represent ruling class agenda are facilitated and promoted. The real problem is the section which represents transformational politics. In other words, the state in an actual sense is threatened by the radical sections among the students prominent in building movements and representing the democratic aspirations of the oppressed sections of the society. For the radical constituency within students has always join hands with the revolutionary working class and other such forces.
 
Therefore, the real task at hand for the state apparatus and the ruling classes is to disrupt this very political process which nurtures solidarity and forges real political alliances with the other sections of the society. Lyngdoh committee recommendations constitute one of the legal instruments which engineers the possibility of finishing off the leadership of students’ movement in Indian campuses. The criteria set by the Lyngdoh report for student union elections are detrimental for students’ political activism. The Lyngdoh committee is the political manifestation of the economic doctrine of privatization of education wielded through the logic of “free-market”. As stated by many of the educationists, with the privatization of economy, education is also converted into a private enterprise. Particularly after the economic reforms of the 1990s in India, education is increasingly being converted into a saleable commodity doing away with the public funded institutions and increasingly replaced by self-funded private entities. The left students’ unions who have claimed to the political representation of the oppressed section of the society have resisted and opposed these policy frameworks in different universities.
 
All the subsequent governments since the introduction of structural reforms in India have equivocally pursued this policy and the opposition from the students and civil society organizations persists. This year, the BJP government has drafted a bill – “New Education Policy” 2016 – to be presented and passed in the Parliament. This bill is continuity to the Lyngdoh committee report with more stringent provisions and powerful agenda to attack the students’ movement in the coming days. At its core Lyngdoh committee’s strategy is to make students politics headless and leaderless.    
Lyngdoh committee has been the logical culmination of the Birla Ambani Report on Higher Education. The government wants the education to be converted into a saleable commodity in the market. The Birla-Ambani report of 2003 had already recommended that the students’ movement as the biggest hurdle for privatization of education. As we all know vibrant students unions have always been fighting against the fee hike, fund cuts and administrations’ efforts towards privatization of education. This is what the Lyngdoh report counters. It is a counterrevolutionary move of the state to criminalize and disarm the students’ movement from within by making student unions ineffective and scuttling its potential. Similarly what is happening to the workers in National Capital Region (NCR) companies like Maruti Suzuki, Honda and elsewhere like Bangalore is very similar, they are denied even the right to union, even the basic demand of the workers to unionize and assert their right to minimum wages, proper working conditions is not tolerated by the management and the state.
 
 
 
Therefore, the student unions are being scuttled in various ways; Lyngdoh is one combination of this counterrevolutionary plan to blunt and distort by necessarily stopping the churning of the leadership. The making of any movement depends on the internal dynamics of its process to create and give birth to leaders to carry forward the agenda of the movement. Students movement’s potential lies here, it nurtures, creates and develops its own leadership from within through various processes whether participating in union election or through waging struggles. Elections and functioning unions are important institutions which guarantee that process despite its own limitations. Lyngdoh committee hits at this very heart of students movement to scuttle and deprave of its process and internal dynamics of students politics in producing its own leadership.
 
It is often defended and argued by democratic minded individuals that how Lyngdoh report should be welcomed. They see in Lyngdoh a possibility for the large amount of money and muscle power invested by political parties in the universities as a bane to which Lyngdoh is an antidote. Further they also think that since there are whole swathes of universities in India with no elections and therefore also no existence of union. Here the argument they forward is that the Lyngdoh report prescribes elections to be held in universities, therefore the problem of no union situation can be redeemed by accepting Lyngdoh bound unions. This argument runs in these lines – i) they say that since the large amount of money and muscle power is invested in the students’ union elections in many of the universities, Lyngdoh should be accepted as it promises to counter money and muscle power, ii) as we know, except few central universities, there are a huge number of both state and central universities where students politics and unions do not exist. Therefore one should foreground Lyngdoh as the legal document of the state to foster in elections to these universities.
All well and good, but the problem with this logic is that it is blind to the fact that we have a very few universities where students unions exist. Very few within that have vibrant union properly functioning like – JNU, HCU, Himachal University, DU etc. The Lyngdoh report actually cripples these existing students unions by limiting even the existing unions. How this takes place we will see in while, but even the declared agenda of Lyngdoh to hold elections in all the universities in India remains a farce even today after it has been implemented under the directions of the central government.    
Let us come back to the question as to how Lyngdoh is successful in making the students unions ineffective. Lyngdoh Report, apart from its’ wide concerns, has some core mechanisms through which it ensures that the unions remain leaderless and headless. 1) The problematic “repetition clause”. This clearly means, by restricting the individuals from contesting in the elections for the second time, only for once in a life time. Lyngdoh basically restricts and cuts the emerging leadership successfully at its budding stage itself. 2) Grievance Redresall Cell, the ultimate authority constituted by the university officials like Dean and V.C. for conducting and supervising the elections in the university. The GRC is the mechanism to curb the autonomy of the student union. The GRC retains absolute authority and power vis-à-vis the election to the extent of dissolving an elected union. We cannot think of a vibrant union whose leadership and autonomy is constantly under threat of university administration.
 
JNU in the Prime Time
 
JNU is the elementary instance of the states’ policy towards the student movement. JNU has already been imposed with the Lyngdoh report. The union elections in JNU are already happening according to the Lyngdoh committee recommendations. The systematic curbing of the autonomy of the students’ union and the process of derailing the political process of the emergence of leadership from within the students’ politics has already been tested in JNU. This amounts to nothing but a systematic attack on the students’ movement in general.
The fact that radical students’ politics takes place in the JNU campus is the sole reason for the attack. JNU has relentlessly resisted all these machinations and strategies of the state. Therefore the state has been on a rampage. Post 9th February incident and developments following that reached its zenith, we do not know what is yet to unfold. Apart from the sophisticated efforts like the Lyngdoh and privatization this episode of JNU exposes the systemic effort to finish off students’ movement. Throughout the incident the whole of leadership of the JNU students’ movement was witch-hunted and an attempt to undermine the whole tradition of the students’ movement in JNU was undertaken.  
 
The explicit attack on JNU is not new. It had already started last year in 2015 when the RSS mouthpiece “Panchjanya” covered stories on JNU which vilified the institution as the “den of anti-nationals and terrorists”. Similarly, Subramanian Swamy, BJP spokesperson’s, virulent attack on JNU and its students’ politics tagging and labeling students as “naxals, jihadists and terrorist” followed in his subsequent public statements. And finally the climax reached in the 9th February when there was a concerted attack with clamping cases of sedition and police action inside the campus followed by arrests of students. The basic idea in the attack on JNU was to eliminate the democratic space and thereby the whole of tradition of critical thinking championed and upheld in this institution.
The attack was directed to solely target the leadership of the JNU left students’ movement. Almost most of the top leadership of organizations including JNUSU was targeted. False police complaints, media trial, and all kinds of institutional pressure were built to threaten the leadership. All the leadership was forced to undergo hiding as the witch-hunt continued. The top leadership which constitutes the vehicle of the movement was under attack.   
The pattern of attack is not different. JNU witnessed it lately but this experiment of witch-hunt of leadership of movement had already been conducted in HCU last year. Rohith Vemula and his comrades   were attacked by the administration-ABVP-state to put an end to the budding leadership of radical Ambedkarite students’ movement in HCU. The institutional murder of Rohith Vemula goes beyond the angle of caste discrimination of dalit students, but also that the state’s policy has been designed to eliminate the leadership of any form of movement which it perceives to be critical and challenging. In Rohith we can see the state’s desire and intention to finish off the leadership. If this is not feasible curb the political spaces of those movements by delegitimizing them. JNU fits perfectly here in this design.
 
The Way Ahead
 

 

Today, the tribal population is fighting against the state repression, people of Kashmir are showing their determination to fight against injustice and violence, workers in the factories and industries are encircling the looters and officials against exploitation, women are fighting against worst forms of violence, dalits for their right to self-dignity and resources like in Una Gujarat. In all of these struggles, we do not think the state is going to benevolently give it away. The people have to fight even for an inch of freedom and equality. It will not be served in the platter. Leadership of the movements will be targeted. State will not let any leadership emerge within the movements so that it can crush the people’s aspirations, dreams and hopes. We are often asked the question as to why the need for vanguard when we argue for a radical and structured movement with its own discipline and organized form, with leadership as an integral part. To that we can respond by saying that the question should be directed to the state. We should ask, isn’t the state the highest form of vanguard even having an authority over our lives? Even to kill? Why not fight against that kind of vulgar vanguardism and establish our own movement towards freedom from servitude and for justice? We will have to organize our energies and resources towards that end. 

Isak Levi

Editor at Dijalektika