Politics in India: Students’ Attitude

The evidence suggests that the social principles and plans of the Indian students have remained substantially unmoved for the past fifteen years or so. Despite radical tactics of protest, the content of their ideology is not revolutionary or even liberal. The same can be said for their political beliefs. Sirsikar and Di Bona have shown that very few of the students believe that it is proper for students to take part in politics at all.

This has been the position taken by the parties, though in fact the parties have continued to sponsor student groups, attracting fewer youth each year. Some 46 per cent of Sirsikar’s students believe that parties are to blame for student indiscipline. He indicates that 7 per cent belong to the Rashtra Seva Dal, the cultural front of the Praja Socialist Party. [166] Ten per cent of the students were members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (R. S. S. ) and a few women were members of its female wing, the Rashtra Sevika Samiti.

Even these low figures should not be taken as representative of students throughout India. Poona is the center of the most homogeneous orthodox Hindu area of India and the support for R. S. S. is at its maximum there. Moreover, most of the R. S. S. students are not politically active but are most interested in social affairs: while 10 per cent of the students belonged to the R. S. S. , only 4 per cent expressed preference for its sponsoring party, the Jana Sangh.

Although participation is declining, student interest in and information about politics remains high: while only 16 per cent have taken part in demonstrations in Poona (Sirsikar1s sample) and the same percentage claim to have taken part in demonstrations in the student group of the All-India political poll, as many as 73 per cent of these students express an interest in politics, 49 per cent have attended public meetings and 59 per cent have heard political speeches. Their level of information is thus higher than their level of commitment to partisan political activity.

If any one historical event of the post-independence era can be said to have shifted the orientation of Indian politics decisively, it is the border war between India and China. The war with Pakistan was no surprise, but the war with China was. Since that time the concept of neutrality was never abandoned, but the faith in India’s power was certainly impaired. Among the 1952 sample of students, 71 per cent expressed agreement with the “present foreign policy of dynamic neutrality of the Indian government. ” By 1961

Sirsikar’s Poona sample showed only 46 per cent agreeing with the policy of non-alignment: people did not move over in the direction of disagreement with this policy; they simply “dropped out. ” It is as if the idealism of the early period has been displaced by a sober conviction that political action is so complex that one is not warranted in holding any conviction very intensely. Caution is the order of the day. In 1952, 58 per cent of the students supported compulsory military training for all students after they complete their education: by 1961 Sirsikar found 77 per cent of the Poona students supporting compulsory military training.

This may reflect the conservative political climate of Poona, but more likely it is general throughout a wider student population. I have been told that almost all intellectuals in India support the development of atomic weaponry and ICBMs now, fully expecting the conflict with China to renew itself again. There has been a continuous erosion of the position of the Congress Party, until in the 1967 elections, several states fell into the hands of coalition governments.

In every state the “Anti-Congress” coalition was made up of such disparate groups that within a few months each government collapsed and was replaced by “president’s rule” until fresh elections could be held in six months. If one compares the party preferences of the various samples of students, the decline of Congress can be seen for all groups except Sirsikar’s 1961 Poona sample, which showed 59 per cent supporting Congress, while only 47 per cent of the Eleven University sample had done so.

Sirsikar’s sample does not reflect the extent of conservatism prevalent in that area of Maharashtra, a trend that has progressed even more since the 1967 elections and is now causing some alarm among responsible political leaders in India, who decry the emergence of a new quasi-fascist movement, the “Shiv Sena” in Bombay. Sirsikar’s sample shows no manifestation of that attitude. STUDENT POLITICAL ACTIVITIES Students have been engaged in various acts of indiscipline and protest since the early period of higher education in India.

During the 1880s some students, with the support of the Indian National Congress, mounted a protest against the practice of holding Indian Civil Service examinations in England. [36] In 1905 a group of Bengali student terrorists made an attempt on the life of the British governor-general. Some 68 out of 186 revolutionaries arrested in Bengal between 190? and 1917 were students. [37] One educator goes so far as to say, “In the so called ‘golden age’ of about 40 years ago, student indiscipline was as rife as it is today.

In 1919, when the influenza epidemic prevailed in Bombay, students went on strike to get colleges closed, their terms granted, and even demanded promotion without examination. “[38] One strike of that year protested against the visit of the Prince of Wales and another against the compulsory reading of the Bible in a missionary college. Both events seem to have been spontaneous, not organized. [39] Indeed, in the early period there were no actual political organizations among students.

which were really linked to the political system of the country, and of course this was necessarily the case in a colonial country without autonomous political institutions. Whatever outbursts occurred were not systematic, and one Briton noted that “It was not till after the political and racial excitement (of the nationalist movement) that the youth attending schools, colleges showed signs of turbulence and insubordination. “[40] But by the 1920s, significant political organs were active and engaged in the nationalist movement. Youth leagues were formed from the debating societies of earlier periods.

[41] In the non-cooperation movement of 1920 the students were asked to leave British Colleges in protest and to study in the “National” colleges which were set up in some cities, perhaps parallel to the “free universities” set up in the West now to counter the “establishment. “[42] Many students did leave their classes temporarily: Jayaprakash Narayan came to Wisconsin and worked his way through the university rather than attend the hated colonialist colleges of India–but the movement was not successful overall, except in giving students some experience in a mass struggle.

Beginning in Nagpur in 1920, All-India conferences were held annually, with mostly left-wing support, and regional political federations were begun in the Punjab, Bengal and Bombay. In 1929 the All-Bengal Students Association claimed 20,000 members. When the Simon Commission investigated problems of Indian self-government in 1928, students led a nationally coordinated series of demonstrations for independence. [43] In Bombay there were other important movements.

The Students’ Brotherhood (founded in 1889) organized extracurricular activities where different religious and linguistic groups and both sexes could associate, sent students to do social service in the slums, and provided scholarships. [44] By far the most significant student political organization was the All-India Student Federation (AISF). During the 1920s student groups were formed in many different colleges, many of them involved in Gandhi’s Civil Disobedience movement. In August 1936, the United Provinces Student Federation sponsored the first meeting to organize students all over the subcontinent. The All-India Student Conference met in Lucknow under the leadership of both Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, leader of the Muslim League.

Some 986 delegates from 210 local groups attended and the AISF was the product of their discussion. [45] Their journal, Students’ Federation, began to circulate radical views throughout India. The militants and the moderates reached a compromise in their definition of the objectives of the group, stating that they hoped to “prepare the students for citizenship, in order to take their due share in the struggle for complete national freedom, by arousing their political, social and economic consciousness. ” From this point onwards, however, there are indications that the group came to be dominated by the more militant members.

Three months later, the Bengali nationalist, Sarat Chandra Bose, presided at a meeting at Lahore, where he urged students to prepare for the coming revolution by joining their activities to those of the proletarian workers. [46]By 1938 a substantial percentage of AISF members were pro-Soviet, and a precarious working relationship continued for several years between the communists and the Congress Socialists, though it appears the Communists gained strength more during the end of the 1930s. [47] Since 1940 AISF has been under Communist control.

[48] The AISF policy changed whenever the CPI line changed and this cost the movement much support. The Communist support of World War II made it possible for AISF to function legally, while the nationalist groups were forced underground but this fact led many Indians to regard the Communists as traitors to nationalism. [49] The AISF claimed 60,598 members in 1946, 74,000 in 1947, and 100,000 in 1953, but has declined since that time. The leaders are competent and well-indoctrinated, acting as a recruiting and training cadre for CPI.

[50] The group took a consistently pro-Soviet line until the Peking-Moscow split, and often tried to capitalize on existing grievances, to the manifest annoyance of Nehru, who sometimes saw Communists as the source of major disturbances. Whether the AISF deliberately causes the student demonstrations or merely inflames them and publicizes them is not clear. The AISF was affiliated from an early period with the International Union of Students, the international communist student organization, and attended the “Little Bandung Conference” in 1956.

This was a meeting of Asian and African students called by Communists but composed of a fairly representative distribution of Indian AISF members. The communists failed to induce the conference to take a strongly anti-Western stand, for the final resolutions condemned colonialism “in all its manifestations” and called for cessation of nuclear weapons testing “in all parts of the world,” both phrases seemingly applying to the USSR as much as to the Western nations.

[51] The AISF has tried to maintain close relations with other Asian student groups, particularly the Nepalese, but apparently the AISF is not organizationally very powerful, mostly because it is so obviously connected with CPI and is led by professionals rather than by students. [52] Perhaps recognizing these problems, it has recently become more non-ideological and has oriented its activities more to norm-oriented etudialist programs–a health home for students, opposition to tuition raises, support of teacher demands for salary improvements, union rights, better facilities and the like.

[53]Nevertheless, it was active in Calcutta in ideological demonstrations which spread through activities in Bihar, U. P. and elsewhere in northern India, directed against government and educational authorities, and spilling over beyond the campus. [54] It may again be gaining strength as a result of these acts. The Congress Student Movement Although the communists had enjoyed the collaboration of the Gandhians and Socialists in the early period of the AISF, by the 1940s the split had grown wider and a new group was formed which more nearly coincided with the program of the nationalist movement as a whole.

The All-India Students’ Congress was organized in 1945, both as anti-British and as anti-Communist, and became the most important student organization in India for a long period. It was the main agency of student participation in the “Quit India” movement of 1942, when students often replaced adult Congress leaders who were jailed. Students demonstrated every day, were active in sabotage and disruptive behavior against the British administrators. [55]

As soon as independence was secured, the Congress leaders decided that student organizations no longer had a proper place associating with political parties and therefore disbanded the All-India Students’ Congress in 1948. Despite this decision, there was apparently some ambivalence on the part of all party leaders about how students ought or ought not to be involved in politics. [56] A symptom of this ambivalence is the fact that in 1949, just after the Congress student group had disbanded, the party leaders formed an organization to be its successor, theYouth Congress.

This group was not so successful in mobilizing student energies as had been the student groups of the pre-independence period. For one thing, it was too clearly a front group for aspiring politicians and did not encourage open discussion. By 1965 it was disbanded because of internal conflicts. [57] Communal Student Groups Though not strictly a student organization and not a party, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been a major political influence in Indian universities, as well as throughout the political life of the country.

It is an extremist, ideologically intense paramilitary group which was founded in 1925 with the encouragement of the Hindu Mahasabha. Some groups of young men gather near the campuses of north India to march and practice drill even today. [58] The RSS was an instrument of Hindu nationalism, anti-Muslim and anti-Christian in tone, upholding the caste system and other Hindu traditions. While anti-British-culture, it did not take part in the independence movement, but looked to other methods of restoring Indian culture. [59]When a former member assassinated Gandhi, the group was banned for a time.

“This contrast between their mass strength and their political weakness forcibly presented to them by the government ban, activated the RSS members in North India to enter politics,” Weiner noted. Officially, then, because RSS was to remain out of politics, it created Jana Sangh, the political party which is now the main traditionalist movement of Indian politics. The RSS is organized along semi-military and hierarchical lines. The basic units are the cells. Deliberative councils composed of elected and appointed members exist on State levels and at the centre.

The inner core consists of a group of Organizers who devote their lives to the service of the RSS. [60] The organization has always been particularly strong among lower middle class Brahmins of Maharashtra, It maintained a membership of about 500 members until 1932, but by 1938 it had grown to about 40,000 members in parts of India beyond Maharashtra–but primarily in the Hindi speaking northern regions. By 1950 it had about 500,000 members in Bombay State (some 5000 of them college students) and in 1949 some 50,000 people were arrested in connection with its demonstration against the imprisonment of some of its leaders.

Its rather simplistic ideology appeals more to high school students than to college students and it has declined substantially in recent years, along with most other politically-oriented student organizations. [61] The Hindu Students’ Federation was attached to the Hindu Mahasabha and continues active today. One of its exploits some years ago involved demonstrating against a visit of the Pope to India. The Akhil Bharativa Vidyarthi Parishad (All-India Students’ Organization) is another right wing group that has made a great impact upon students since its founding in 1955.

Unlike the RSS, it is directed toward students and faculty and not to youth outside the universities. It is non-political by its own statement but actually seems to be the youth affiliate of the Jana Sangh party. It was founded by RSS-oriented students and teachers and in fact is dominated by faculty members. [62] The Vidyarthi Parishad has placed emphasis on social service involving students and providing facilities for them as well, using moderate tactics to make its demands known. Perhaps because of this relevance to student-orientation, it has gained strength and is no longer confined to north India.

It will probably never succeed in representing all Indian regions, however, because it demands the imposition of Hindi as the Indian national language. Its program is otherwise of a kind which meets needs that students throughout India share: it organizes social services, cultural events and discussion programs. For some time the All-India Muslim Students’ Federation was an important organization. It was founded by the Muslim League in 193?. [63] This group did not take part in the nationalist movement but confined its concerns to the welfare of the Muslim community.

Since independence the position of the Muslims has been so weak in India that no student group is in a position to demonstrate militantly in the Muslim cause. In south India, an extreme political party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DDIK) won control of Tamilnad with the enthusiastic support of college students. It represents a defense of the Dravidian (non-Aryan) culture against the demands of northerners for the use of Hindi as a national language, and against the dominance of Brahmins.

“The party constituency, largely in the age range of twenty to forty, is drawn mainly from the middle classes, especially workers, petty officials, small traders, urban unemployed, and students, while the leadership is concentrated primarily among writers and journalists who utilize communications media as the catapault to political power. “[64]The anti-Hindi agitation of 1965, carried on mostly by DMK-oriented students, resulted in more than 50 deaths and forced the government to postpone the implementation of its language policies. The students’ action committees coordinated demonstrations.

[65] Minor Left-Wing Partisan Groups Though ASIF and the Youth Congress have dominated the student left-to-center since independence, the minor socialist parties have maintained student groups. The Congress Socialist Party, founded in 1934, had more influence with students than other Congress people did, perhaps because they were not committed to non-violence, but urged a radical uprising. [66] The Forward Bloc and theRevolutionary Socialist Party have tried to organize students, but without much success. The Socialist Party founded the Samajwadi Yuvak Sabha (Socialist Student Organization) in 1953.

At the present it can claim no more than 5,000 members, but has been dramatically effective in demonstrating at universities in U. P. and Bihar. [67] The Rashtra Seva Dal is a socialist-sponsored movement which involves a great many students in its programs, mostly devoted to social service and athletics, but also tied to agitations as well as supporting socialists in elections. It was particularly strong in medium sized towns of Maharashtra between 1943 and 1950 and during the communal riots organized defense squads to prevent violence and offer aid.

It strongly supported inter-caste marriages. By the late 1950’s R. S. D. appeal had waned and, though it maintained 10,000 members in Maharashtra, the impact on the college community became negligible. [68] Students Unions Since independence, political leaders have been ambivalent about the proper role for students to take in politics. Most parties have agreed that partisan activities have no place on college campuses, but at the same time these parties face the problem of recruiting and socializing new and relatively sophisticated members, so that there is always an incentive to draw upon students and to organize them when possible.

Nevertheless, in 1950 during one of the non-political phases, Congress and Socialist leaders agreed jointly to form the National Union of Students (NUS), an organization which lasted about eight years. Factionalism and partisanship prevented its ever becoming the representative, non-political organization which was promised. [69]University administrators opposed any idea about student self-government and many of the local college unions were not democratically elected and were subject to influence from administrators.

Many of the NUS representatives failed to communicate with their constituencies and eventually charges were published that NUS was misappropriating funds. [70] Upon the demise of NUS, a successor was formed which shared all the same familiar problems and more besides. The National Council of University Students of India, (NCUSI) received funds from Western sources and thus became heir to the cold war tensions as well as to local Indian conflicts. Its has attempted to persuade students to work through administrative channels rather than through agitation, but it shows no promise of becoming a representative student association.

[71] Politics and Indiscipline We have seen, then, that all the organized political groups which once gave students an important position in the political life of the nation have declined in recent years, and have been actively discouraged by political leaders. The ethos of non-partisanship dominates in India, so that oftentimes political party leaders themselves yearn to transcend their partisanship and act as “elder statesmen”–integrating and harmonizing rather than pressing claims for special interests. In keeping with this ethos, student politics has been widely interpreted as unacceptable and less than legitimate.

This does not mean that conflicts of interests do not find expression, however. It simply means that the orderly institutions for handling conflicts are undeveloped and that demands manifest themselves in non-institutionalized, non-legitimate ways, Indeed, as partisan organizations have declined among students, anomic protest outbursts seem to have increased. Whether these two trends are related or not is open to speculation, but Philip Altbach has predicted, “The lack of a continuing student movement in India does not mean that there will be no more indiscipline.

On the contrary, trends in Indian higher education indicate that the decline of quality and increasing pressure to expand enrollments in the face of limited resources will continue unabated for some time… “[72] In fact, politics and student discontent inter-penetrate so that incidents of indiscipline which have become so frequent in the past few years are in fact sometimes partisan and also based on university factionalism. We shall recall here a few of the events which have been described at various universities to illustrate the way in which these two areas of conflict have become connected and thus exacerbate one another.

We have already adduced the case of the anti-Hindi riots in Tamilnad, which were successfully used by the DMK to win control of the State government in 1967. A similar phenomenon occurred in Calcutta in 1966, when students supporting a United Left Front anti-government movement provoked a crisis which ultimately led to the fall of the state government and a prolonged period of instability. In Orissa in 1964 students forced the resignation of the chief minister, whereupon the government fell. This action was based upon the charge that the chief minister, a Congress man, was guilty of corruption.

[73] Amar Kumar Singh has described the way Ranchi University is affected by political, non-academic considerations. Indeed, the creation of the University seems to have been motivated by a desire on the part of Congress politicians to court the support of tribal leaders of Bihar, who had been active in the tribal Jharkhand Party, which had only recently been absorbed into the Congress establishment. The British Vice-Chancellor may have been appointed as a further gesture of conciliation toward the (mostly Christian) tribals of the erstwhile Jharkhand Party.

In any case there was some implication that the Vice-Chancellor was politically compromised to such an extent that his public statements concerning a clear-cut case of police brutality were tempered with a view to placating the Congress government. [74] Singh also points out that the government has other methods of exerting influence on the university through controlling commissions which handle allocation of funds as well as appointments. Consequently, a teacher or administrator who wishes to be appointed or promoted would do well to have connections with high politicians.

Particularlism running throughout the college system is, to Singh’s mind, the most important factor stimulating student unrest: students are able to “work the system” by cultivating contacts with important faculty members. He cites a report which showed that the “indisciplined group of students had more contact with the teacher-politicians who used them against their rivals. The students mainly came from nouveau riche families who lacked academic tradition and atmosphere.

Their parents were not interested in their studies. The agitational leaders were bad students. Some also were aligned with groups in the city who provided “protection” to restaurants and cinema halls. [75] Singh indicates that the most indisciplined college under Ranchi University is the Birla Institute of Technology, a college with superb facilities, staff, and outstanding students. But Birla students also have exceptionally high opportunities to organize, travel, lobby, and otherwise find ways to coerce the university.

“Whatever may be the actual frequency of occurrences (of corruption), there is no doubt that the widespread belief in the existence of favoritism is in itself an important factor acting to vitiate the psychological atmosphere of the university and to cripple the morale of vast numbers of students. [76] The account Joseph DiBona gives of indiscipline at Allahabad University gives further evidence that the factional struggles can be very serious in a university. The election of a Vice-Chancellor in 1951 was so disgraceful a demonstration of campus politics that a government enquiry committee was formed to investigate.

Allahabad has been subjected to repeated incidents of indiscipline. In 1950 the student union leaders mounted a demonstration against the chief minister of U. P. , who was physically injured. In 1952 Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt was prevented from addressing the students. In 1953 the government transformed the student union into a voluntary organization rather than a compulsory one, whereupon student demonstrations got so much out of hand that the university had to be closed. In 1955 it was again closed by the action of some 3000 students, who gheraoed the Vice-Chancellor.

In 1959 the most serious events occurred: a cinema manager beat a student, whose comrades retaliated in force, with the result that four people were killed and many injured. When one of the young men was refused readmission to the University for his part in the riot. he went on a hunger strike, enlisting the energetic sympathies of other students, who intimidated the council into granting every demand the students made, and then resigning as a body. In 1963 some 5000 students surrounded the house of the Vice-Chancellor and threatened to cut of f his hands if some students were not re-admitted.

The faculty members themselves were injured by students. As in Ranchi, the University of Allahabad has come to be heavily influenced and controlled by partisan members of the state government. Block grants were once assigned to the university, but now specific items are judged by the state before funds are granted. In the past the university Senate elected the Vice-Chancellor but since the impasse of 1952 the Chancellor (Governor) appoints him in consultation with state officials. Di Bona and Singh seem to agree that it is necessary for the university to develop a different sort of relationship to the government than that which exists today.

[77] A final case, this time from Osmania University, will serve to indicate that government relations with the academic community have become a serious matter. Robert Shaw’s report of that Andhra Pradesh institution indicates that there is no provision in the Indian Constitution insuring university autonomy vis a vis the state government. In 1965 the state government changed the mode of appointment from nomination from a list of names selected by three prominent persons not associated with the University to direct appointment by the Chancellor.

This of course removed power from the Senate and Syndicate to the government. This action was part of a power struggle which took place over some years between the Chief Minister and the Vice-Chancellor, and which at one time resulted in indiscipline in the student community. Although the supreme court ruled this amendment invalid on the grounds that it was inspired by personal animus, the fact remains that the government can become a policy-making power of the university by passing any act which it so chooses. It was on this issue that a strike of students centered in 1966.

The faculty members, powerless to express their own anger over the replacement of the vice-chancellor by a man not of their choosing, seemingly encouraged students in their violence. Police used tear gas, and lathis to disperse a crowd of 59000 students who had halted all normal activities in Hyderabad and Secunderabad business districts for three days. The students presented “rider” demands which bore no relation to the issue of university autonomy–demands for bus concessions, food ration cards, and the like. The Chief Minister accepted their demands in good part.

[78] Since that strike, three others have closed colleges in Osmania. August 1965 saw students demanding that students who failed in as many as 3 or 4 examinations be allowed to continue at their studies. After a week of violence, during which many were injured, a compromise was reached. In 1966, medical students demanded that examinations be postponed, but the administration of the university did not comply with that demand. In September of 1966 a third strike occurred in the Engineering College to demand special courses for students who had failed examinations.

This demand was met. In March of 1967 a number of windows were broken by students who protested increased prices for meals in local restaurants; owners ended up by offering student discounts. In September 1966 the Arts College student union president was forced t