Student union politics should be banned. Period.
It’s making our institutions of higher education intellectually dumb places. It is making campuses not a playground of ideas, but a battlefield of ideologies. It is not helping students be thinking, intelligent persons; it is reducing them to mules of political parties. If Rohith Vemula’s death does not make us sit up and take notice, nothing will.
Keep the legal and factual nuances of the case aside and the suicide on the campus of the Hyderabad University comes across as a result of the obnoxious political ecosystem on our campuses. This ecosystem places political parties, authorities and students in adversarial positions and ends up making the institutions an unhealthy place, intellectually and otherwise.
Rohith would probably be alive today if the wider politics had not kicked in what should have been a matter between students. The proctorial committee of the university had to overturn its own decision after the letter from Union minister Bandaru Dattatreya to the HRD ministry and expel some students, including Rohith. Those familiar with campus politics in the country would not be unaware how it works.
The question this article wants to raise is should we allow the ecosystem to flourish? Does students’ union politics help students in terms of career advancement or in any other way? Dig deeper and you realize campuses have stopped throwing up good leaders. The students’ unions offer nothing in terms of ideas to the bigger parties they are affiliated to, forget about contributing to wider politics. Their allegiance to parties has effectively blocked the students’ community from having a separate identity of its own. It does not speak in one voice on any issue anymore. Political parties have been using them for their own self-serving agenda and the students don’t even notice it.
The worst part is they become slavish followers of ideologies which won’t often stand up to logical challenges. The Left created its own sphere of influence in campuses through its students’ unions. The campus Leftists, fashionably so, pretended to be intellectuals of high order yet asked no serious existential questions to the parties they were part of. It helped the party’s leaders that there was so much mediocrity around. Since there was no talent available, their positions remained unchallenged. That the Left is dying as a political entity can be attributed to its lack of intellectual robustness on campuses.
Though at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, the Right wing students’ bodies behave no differently. While there is no clarity on what the Indian Right is, this bunch, high on indoctrination, would blindly follow the ideology of the parent organisation. Reason and intelligence are not preferred qualities here. If the parent organisation says mythology is history and science is what Indians did 3000 years ago, trust them to raise no questions. The same is the case with student bodies associated with other political parties.
Is this what we want students to be? How can you be a student and ask no questions? Where is the spirit of curiosity? If campus politics does not help students have critical understanding of the world around and come up with ideas of change there’s no reason why it should be there. It’s supposed to be part of their education; the purpose is defeated if students behave in a slavish manner, focusing only on increasing their sphere of power within institutions.
The problem with the current arrangement is political parties are not getting the substantive feedback they should be getting from the students they are associated with. If the Left is virtually dead now, the Right could be headed the same way years later. At the level of campuses, it becomes nasty. Political interference and the urge to control student bodies have made campuses violent places. The violence is not often visible to the lay outsider but it is very much the reality across the country.
It’s time the country applied itself to getting politics out of educational institutions. It’s of no practical use. It’s making students look like idiots.