Hudson Line is a residential area in North Delhi where thousands of young students from Delhi University (DU) stay. As the hostel accommodation fails to match the number of students admitted to DU colleges, many young boys and girls rent a barsati or a flat with their friends, shelling out a hefty amount that ranges from Rs 5,000 to Rs 15,000 per month, excluding food. And they never complain or protest about it. There is a sense of urgency in them. They want to graduate fast, get a job, earn and be on their own. They loathe being dependent.
At the Sainik Snacks Store in DDA market in Hudson Lines, four boys in bermudas and t-shirts are busy planning a movie outing as I intrude and divert their conversation to the developments in JNU over the last few weeks. I ask their opinion on the politics and culture of the university.
“Have you seen a film named Hazaaaron Khwaishein Aisi?" One student with a stubble and rimmed glasses asked with a smile. I answered in the affirmative and he continued, “It is all very fascinating. My uncle tells me how he used to sit for hours at India Coffee House in Connaught Place and discuss about social change and revolution. He ended up taking up a bank job.”
“I too believe that things need to change but change hardly comes through slogans and holding protests,” he added. For thousands of undergraduate students of Delhi University Sudhir Mishra’s Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi remains the most common heuristic to solve the complexities of revolutionary zeal.
Set in the backdrop of the Naxalite movement of the 1960s, the film tells the story of ideology from three perspectives.
The revolutionary: The trajectory followed by Siddharth Tyabji (Kay Kay Menon) moves towards “dirty and muddy roads to the villages to end the vulgarity of oppression”. He hates those who just “pontificate about social problems but do nothing about it”. Notwithstanding his zealous pursuit to change the world, disillusionment with the idea of revolution is what he meets at the end. He goes to London to study medicine with a hope that “mysteries of the human body will be less confusing".
The anti-revolutionary: Vikram (Shiney Ahuja), a wannabe power-broker whose cynicism towards “rich kids playing let-us-change-the-the world-game” is as unconvincing as that of Menon’s misguided idealism.
The pretentious revolutionaries: The third is represented by a young wine-sipping comrade of more committed ‘revolutionaries’ who “believes in the ideology but has a rich dad. He is “strutting around sprouting radical jargons, a little politics, some rock-n-roll, but mostly of shock value”.
Probably, on most campuses, all these categories of revolutionaries have ceased to influence student politics, except in JNU. Much has changed on campuses around the world but JNU has remained the same. The clarion call of revolutionary change that emanated many decades ago still reverberates here with the same metaphors and idioms which non-JNUites find difficult to relate to.
There is a palpable disconnect between the students of JNU, particularly the Left-inclined ones, and those on other campuses. This is evident from the fact that there was lack of even ‘minimum unity’ - as JNUSU president - calls it, on the February 9 incident and what followed it.
It has not been the case with students’ protests in India. On more than one occasion students movements have led to dismantling of governments. Nav Nirman movement led by students in Gujarat in 1973 submerged into a call for total revolution with students from across the country joining it. What started as a protest against increased mess charge by students of LD Engineering College, Ahmedabad transformed into a movement that brought down the Gujarat government and much else in the country.
In 1990, when 19-year old Rajeev Goswami, a student of Delhi’s Deshbandhu College, attempted to immolate himself, sparking off a series of self-immolations by other students against the implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations for reservation of OBCs in government jobs, he became a symbol of youth angst against what they perceived as divisive politics. Removed from their ideological underpinnings students from all over the country participated in the anti-reservation movements.
A report from India Today stated that students were “more emotive than organised”. The report stated “In Bihar, youth trained in university politics are at the forefront of the stir. In Uttar Pradesh, girls are opposing the Mandal Commission report as actively as the boys. In Madhya Pradesh even some backward caste students have thrown in their lot with their forward classmates. In Delhi, a group of upper caste Bihari students are called the "think tank" of the agitation.”
About 29 universities spread across the northern states became the hub of the agitation. The situation got so bad that police resorted to firing in Jaunpur, Faizabad, Mathura, Gorakhpur and Meerut. The protest were not limited to the Hindi heartland, considered to be bastion of caste politics as it also spread to Jammu University where students boycotted classes. Protests and processions were organised in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh too.
Again, students from various universities of the National Capital Region (NCR) and different parts of the country actively participated in the ‘India Against Corruption’ movement led by Anna Hazare in 2011.
Indian youth, especially university students, have shown great solidarity for the causes that concern them as students or aimed at bettering the existing system. However, the same students, evidently, failed to connect with ideological propaganda that marks JNU politics.
Abhimanyu Singh, a lawyer who participated in the Anna Hazare protests, said “I was a student then and I and many of my friends actively participated in the movement because we believed in the cause.”
Commenting upon the JNU politics, Singh added, “When a social problems like poverty or communalism is analysed through a specific ideological prism it complicates the issue. No ideology can claim to eradicate these problems. In fact, you don’t need any ideology to solve these problems. You need to devise some very practical solutions.”
While JNU is still struck in an ideological warfare, students elsewhere have moved much beyond meta narratives. They are progenies of the postmodern age who believe in their own realities. They know how to balance their materialist concerns with their social responsibilities. They are doing just fine.
This can be gauged from what Praval of Chaudhary Charan Singh University tells or Jai of Allahabad University asserts. Or what Arun Kumar, a PhD student at IIT Roorkee observes: "I actively participated in 2006 anti-reservation protests. It attracted me because it was not an issue that needed any ideological backing. Ideologies always divide, be it Left or Right. Ideology is passé. You cannot judge merit of such issues through an ideological framework. It needs only rational application of the mind."