New Delhi: The debate over nationalism occupied much of the talking space, post the 9 February incident that took place in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). But another debate ensued: whether party politics be allowed in the campus. Some of the arguments emanating from both ends—those opposing student politics and those favouring it, had strong rational grounding.
However, those who treat campus politics as a stepping stone for their political career may find the draft national education policy unwelcoming.
The reports talks about how most students in colleges and universities enroll themselves for studies in courses of their choice and spend a precious part of their young life in the pursuit of their education.
The report states that while most students in almost all colleges and universities could be classified in the above category, there are those “whose priority may not be that of the main-line student, but who may have other interests outside academic goals”.
Raising serious objections against party politics in the campus, the report states, “Many national parties have their ‘chapters’ in nearly every university campus in India. Many campuses also have caste or community-based organizations. Thus, one finds unions or associations of subsets of students, or teachers, or other employees, who aggressively pursue their special political or other interests, within the arena of the campus, and the college / university ambit. It is not infrequent that two or more of such groups of students or faculty members come into serious opposition with each other, and have no hesitation in blocking the main-line work of the university; they may have real or imagined grievances, but the collateral damage to the serious students can be heavy indeed.”
The report says that because of agitation politics “one frequently hears of agitations, disturbances, gheraos and movements of one sort or the other in various campuses from time to time; it is not infrequent that examinations need to be postponed or in some cases the student even loses a year or more due to unsettled conditions”
It can be contended that restricting politics in campuses means curbing free speech and expression. However the report countering this argument states that while the Constitution provides every citizen with the right to form groups or associations it should also kept in mind that “every right has a corresponding duty implicitly attached to it, that every right is circumscribed to ensure that it shall not adversely affect the interest of others”
Making a comparison with western universities, the report states, “Traditionally, universities in the US and the western world have encouraged new ideas to flourish, and have never placed any restriction of any kind on freedom of speech or association within their campuses. It should also, however, be noted that one has rarely heard in the context of US or Europe or other educationally developed countries of postponement of examinations or disruption of academic activities, arising out of groups of students pursuing their ‘right’ to free speech and association. Thus, while intense political activity takes place nationally during an election year in US, like in 2016, and the student groups discuss these issues with much animation, one has never heard of disruption of the academic atmosphere in these universities”.
The report also stressed that “Ideally, the universities ought not to lend themselves as play grounds for the larger national rivalries, inequalities, inequities, and social / cultural fault-lines” as these need to be tackled by society as a whole in other fora a such as parliament, courts, elections, etc".
“The point in short is that it is now essential to review the current situation, and find the balance between free speech and freedom of association guaranteed by the Constitution, the needs of various sections of society, and balance them with the primary purpose for which the universities and institutions of higher learning have been established”, the report reads.
After the JNU fiasco, it was argued that many students stays in campuses for long years by enrolling themselves in one course or another and get into 'unnecessary politics'.
In this respect too, the report makes some strong observations. It states, “One other element need to be stressed. One frequently hears of ‘students’ who continue for 7 or 8 years or more, enrolled in the university, and occupying the hostels – in general should there not be some guidelines or time limits for enrolment in a particular course or for occupation of hostels; those who stay for long periods start ‘owning’ the universities, and frequently have an undue influence on the course of non-academic activities in campuses.”
In conclusion, it can said that party and agitation politics, which has become hallmark of student politics in most of the campuses, finds no traction in the draft policy on education.