Thursday, April 24, 2014

Of Students and Politics in Kerala


 By Rahul V.Kumar and Madhu.S*

We are a state where student politics has been vibrant. There has been moments cherished as well as loathed while campus politics was at its peak. Many of the current ministers and famous politicians are products of the vibrant campuses where student politics was the ‘call of the nation’. Hot debates, discussions and hectic campaigns used to happen in these campuses, from hostels to canteens and even spreading to the streets. Now things have turned sore. Campus politics has been vehemently equated to violence and the very democratic struggles of yesteryears have been weighed for its failures against the extent of violence it generated. And enough was enough; people at the top have decided to cut the root of the problem. And that root for them starts at the level of the students. Hence the obvious choice has been to snap that bud. In a few months from now, we would witness the last of politics in campuses in Kerala, with the recent ruling by the High Court banning of campus politics in the state. The State government agreed to the ruling and have decided to go ahead.Students will be cleansed of what is perceived as a taboo. Peace will dawn in campuses, students can concentrate on their studies and will not be forced out of their classes. Quite encouraging indeed!! But at this juncture we are forced to ask, “Is politics a taboo that needs cleansing?” If violence is the real issue, why not take measures to stop that; instead of killing the baby?

Now this decision to cleanse the campuses is a sensitive one. What has been the reason to justify this new policy? A crucial point as mentioned earlier isto eliminate violence which has been used as an instrument to promote political ideals amongst the students. Violence whether employed by the students or individuals outside the campus or for that matter the state itself has to be voiced against. But then the question is how do we do it? Is it justified to eliminate politics to stop violence or should it be the other way round? Depriving the instrumental nature of violence in politics has to be explored more thoroughly. Most of you would have witnessed the ordeals of several students who stayed away from colleges fearing violence against them if they attended classes. In these cases (and especially in government colleges) a prime reason for such violence was the manner in which the management responded to it. At various levels faculty as well as non-teaching staff stayed away from such incidents.


Violent campuses or Violent students?



Most of this violence occurred in the spaces allotted for political parties within these campuses (in small rooms where meetings etc. are held by them). There was a constant fear for students of these so called ‘unit-rooms’ within the campuses. And sometimes when the issue is with the State, they proliferate outside campuses and take various forms on the roads (for people staying in Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala, such scenes are frequently visited in front of the University College). We can/and often do blame the political parties for promoting violence amongst students. The best incentives that they offer to the nascent student is the illusion of power which would be provided in doses as and when required. But what stake do these political parties have in the life of the student? We would say that they don’t have much. But these academic institutions which accommodate the students do. They are supposed to protect and ensure conduct within it. It is thus a triangle of three major actors running this drama of violence: the students, political parties and the academic institutions. Some students respond more to the incentives of political parties while many to the prospects of better career. Thus there are two ways in which violence could be controlled. One by completely eliminating the role of political parties within the campuses; and the second by incentivizing students to be engaged in academic activity while in the campus. For us the latter i.e. the task of the state and these academic institutions to incentivise more students to look forward to a better career outside minimising the incentives of political parties has been lacking. Promoting this to an extent can not only lessen violence in the campus but better education itself. This suggestion was also mooted by Lyngdoh Committee headed by former election commissioner Shri J.M Lyngdoh. The committee advocated the need to delink campuses from political parties but sustain student politics as it was important for building a vigilant citizenry especially in a democratic country like India. Centre for Public Policy Research had conducted a detailed study in “Campus Democracy in India” to trace the campus politics existing in India. The study had interesting findings which supported the need for sustaining student politics. Majority of the students surveyed supported campus politics and wanted to have an election based student organisation and believed it to be the right of the students. At the same time they agreed to disagree with violent politics in campuses. Majority of them wanted to have an effective redressal mechanism to tackle such violent politics. However, less than half of the managements supported student elections or any form of student politics which show a larger departure from the ideals of students. As stated above, inaction of the college management often breeds violence and students unrest in campuses. It is important to have effective mechanisms for redressing student grievances in the campuses. 


Role of Academic Institutions

Another supporting question is where do our academic institutions lack in incentivizing students? Let’s ask ourselves the following simple questions.
1.       What is the quality of lectures offered that would promote 100 percent attendance and an equal 100 percent pass in each of these colleges?
2.       Why are students forced to languish outside classrooms given an opportunity to do so?
3.       Which of our professors can promise a bright future to each and every student of his so that this would be the best incentive for them to spend their time in studies?
4.       How many of our students are regularly supported to earn while they study?



There are many such questions and all of them would help us to understand that all that our campuses witness is due to the lack of such guaranteed incentives for our students. How often do we here about organized violence in Harvard or Cambridge or Princeton or MIT or for that matter at our reputed IIMs and IITs? The reason ought to be in the guarantees incentives that come with admission to these institutions. And mind it these are also the places where politics have had its bitter and better experiences. So what should we do: Tidy the system of its problems or deprive students of their firm political standings? The decider’s first need to do a soul searching before the actual cleansing begins. Most importantly we need to ask ourselves on what would be the future of politics and institutions in India if its young brigade stands out or show disinclination in the system. Banning of campus politics is never an answer, creating the right systems and opportunities for students to express their thoughts and ideals is definitely the way ahead. Campus politics exhibit this crucial role and shall enliven the Indian democracy. 

* Authors are members of CPPR