(BiharTimes): A student union is both associational and institutional interest group essentially like trade unions. All liberal democracies have such organized groups to represent the collective interests of the concerned groups of citizens, in this case, the students. Since democracy is a system of government by discussion, persuasion, accommodation and consensus, hence, such pressure groups like students’ union have to be progressively radical in ideas and mobilizations.
They have to organize gheraos, dharnas, and public demonstrations in protest against the policies and actions that are antithetical to the larger collective interests of the student community. They have to play important roles in national reconstruction.
They have to build enlightened public opinion, by promoting consensus, by enlisting sympathy, support and participation by a cross-section of opinion leaders in a society and appealing to human reason, good sense and compassion. They have to influence the decision- making. The state and its organ like university (administration) along with the Students’ Union have to encourage flow of ideas, promote public debate and discussion, and ensure students’ participation in policy-formulation and in running the affairs of the university.
The Students’ Union has also to provide meaningful information, critical perspectives and theoretical reflection on various issues. It has to analyze the socio-economic problems that we confront at various levels.
In short, since a students’ union does not have executive power, therefore, in order to ensure the protection of collective interests of the student community, it has to employ pressure tactics through, democratic mobilizations. A student leader, rather than becoming a self-serving, opportunist political operator, should not only be enlightened, informed, visionary, and sensitive but s/he should also be equipped with the art of mobilizations and negotiations.
Thus, the student movements are a unique part of the culture of higher education. One of the fundamental elements of the university community, students has a genuine stake or vested interest in the operations of the university and the impact higher education can have on the world outside the walls of the academy. The students who attended the first International Congress of Students in Latin America in 1909 had a direct impact on the University of Cordoba in 1918 and, ultimately, the very structure of Latin American higher education. In the United States, students brought the attention of their nation and that of the world to the futility of American involvement in a foreign conflict and forced their own universities to account for their business practices.
The Indian Scenario
Although potentially compromised by the true leaders of the Independence movement, Indian students were a key component to their country’s independence from British rule in 1947, and went on to represent a microcosm of a world embroiled in Cold War.
The students, including the educated unemployed youth, have become an important demand group in post-independence Indian politics. In short, national reconstruction has had to be done through the educated youth who must be trained in intellectually informed political leadership.
Students have been in the vanguard of regime change. Students’ political participation and mobilization in India is referred to as ‘unrest’, ‘indiscipline’ [in the official parlance of AMU, Aligarh, (the India’s largest residential university) it is identified as “anti-social activities”], because they are not treated as citizens having group interests, hence not supposed to be political actors. These are, needless to say, cultural constructs.
Agitational politics and mobilizations give appearance of revolutionary potential. In the residential universities [like JNU and AMU], relatively unfettered conditions (in hostels) lead them to search for personal identity and social meanings in ideologies and issues. From the 1960s onwards, migration of rural students in urban colleges, combined with the spectre of unemployment, drove them to agitation, as they become conscious of and able to get organized [even the MAO College of Aligarh, which was a ‘profoundly political enterprise’, had 54% of its students from rural areas, says David Lelyveld in his Aligarh’s First Generation: Muslim Solidarity in British India].
Senior student leaders/ alumni provide the personnel and political resources [quite often for partisan and factional politics]. In most of the cases, easy access to political careers and the benefits of power have led students to participate in, rather than challenge, the established political system.
During 1965-75, parts of India witnessed strong student movements, e.g. Nav Nirman Andolan of Gujarat and Sampurna Kranti (‘Total Revolution’ or Jai Prakash Movement) of Bihar. This was against rampant corruption in the government and the universities. Around this time, a section of the students of the Stephen’s College, Delhi, had ventilated their anger against rural discontents and the states’ failure in implementing land reforms, and some of them had joined the Left inspired extremist movements known as the Naxalite Movement.
Strong administrative measures have often succeeded in crushing student agitations. The threat of repression, and intimidations worked wonders for the moment, and pliant, committed, prejudiced VCs and their sycophant aides and advisors took the charge. These elements, say Rudolph and Rudolph, fail to realize that student agitations can not be dealt with merely as a law and order problem, hence rather than repression, persuasion and conceding the legitimate demands should be the preferred ways of dealing with the student agitations. Because, most often, only real grievances and discontentment influence students to mobilize.