While campuses in several parts of the country simmer with students raising angry voices against the Centre, the Congress’ student wing — National Student Union of India (NSUI) — appears to be conspicuous by its absence from the ongoing high-octane movement. Confining itself to stray reactions, NSUI has allowed the Left to take the lead.
It’s curious, considering that the party should have seen the current round of conflict as an opportunity to reassert its presence among the student community.
The voice against the recent violence in Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi didn’t remain confined to the campus but reverberated in campuses across the country. It was the Left-affiliated student unions that aggressively went hammer and tongs by staging demonstrations, protest marches and rallies not only at JNU or on the streets of the National Capital, but at other academic institutions as well. While the Left’s red flag was visible almost everywhere, NSUI’s voice was feeble, almost inaudible.
As a counter-movement against the Left’s student agitation within the JNU campus—better known as the fortress of the Left – and outside, it’s the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) that took an aggressive stance against the Left. In every campus where the Left staged protests whether in support of JNU or against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the Right countered it. In the meanwhile, NSUI and Indian Youth Congress (IYC) were nowhere in the picture. They chose to act as fence-sitters.
Is it deliberate or is it due to lack of ideological clarity in the Congress? Or is it a reflection of the general state of affairs in the party?
“NSUI and Youth Congress lack ideological clarity and courage of conviction, unlike the Left-affiliated unions or Right-wing ABVP. Congress’ youth brigade receives confusing and often conflicting signals from party’s top brass. And here lies the problem,” said Rasheed Kidwai, political commentator and author of Sonia, a biography and 24 Akbar Road, while speaking with Firstpost.
NSUI may not have its representation in JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU), but it has its presence in Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU) through the post of the secretary. Even in the past, NSUI had a strong presence in DU campus, but it has failed to make a mark this time.
“NSUI participated in the protest march to express solidarity with the Left unions. The IYC took out a torchlight procession against the violence at JNU campus to India Gate on 6 January and we were a part of it,” an NSUI worker said.
Despite such claims, NSUI was hardly visible and failed to drive this students’ movement, not just in Delhi but even in the Congress-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh or Rajasthan. Barring a day’s demonstration and sloganeering here and there, NSUI opted for symbolic representation, rather than taking the lead.
At JNU and in other campuses in Delhi, it's the CPI (M-L) Liberation affiliated union -- All India Student Association (AISA) along with SFI have been at the forefront of this student movement.
“Both CPM and SFI staged demonstrations and protest marches in various districts of Chhattisgarh from Korba to Jagdalpur against the NRC, CAA, Centre’s anti-people policies and the violence on students in JNU,” said Chhattisgarh CPM state secretary Sanjay Parate.
The present student movement which began as a protest against the CAA and the National Register for Citizens (NRC), gained momentum after violence was unleashed upon students and teachers of JNU protesting inside the campus against fee hike. The Left grabbed the opportunity, unlike Congress, to lead the biggest pan-India student agitation in the last two decades.
The last major ones were anti-Mandal agitation in 1990 and anti-reservation protests in 2006 during the UPA government.
“In the last 20 years, no pan-India student movement as widespread as this one has happened. The last big one was anti-Mandal agitation in 1990 and after that anti-reservation one to some extent. Unlike other political parties, it’s always the Left which fights for the people’s cause. A student movement is the nucleus of any movement in a democracy, whether it was during freedom struggle or against the Emergency. The Left has always been at the forefront. The basic tenet of the Left is to stand by the poor, deprived, oppressed and exploited sections of the society, and it doesn’t do it to capitalise it politically,” former eight-term MP from West Bengal and general secretary of CPM-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha, Hannan Mollah, who participated in the JNU students’ march on 9 January told Firstpost.
After the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting on Saturday in which issues ranging from suppression of the voice of the students in campuses to economic slowdown due to the policies of Narendra Modi government were discussed at length, the Congress party in its resolution stated, “The CWC expresses its solidarity with the youth and the students in their fight for defending the Constitution...CWC resolves that every worker of the Congress party will work alongside India’s youth and the students in this endeavour.”
The statement is more of symbolism than a clear direction. The student and youth leaders of the Congress still have no clue about the next step they need to pursue.
“Congress is with the movement. A three-member team has submitted its fact-finding report on JNU violence to our president Sonia Gandhi, which we’ll release on Sunday,” a Congress leader remarked.
In fact, Congress was far more decisive and proactive between 2017 and 2019 on the issue of farm distress, when Rahul Gandhi was the party president and was leading Congress campaign for Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. They reaped the fruits of labour by winning the BJP-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan in one go.
Unlike the Congress, both the BJP and the Left are ideology-based parties that drive their student bodies to top gear on any issue.
The Left, though not having the organisational strength and pan-India footprint that both Congress and BJP enjoy as national parties, has aggressively been pursuing the student movement, despite knowing that it won’t be able to capitalise on it at the political level. The Congress being the natural leader of the opposition could have done that but it has failed to seize a golden opportunity to set its own agenda.
On the other hand, the ABVP and the BJP have been in a symbiotic partnership due to their ideological oneness. This will help the BJP to capitalise it politically from ABVP’s anti-Left and pro-nationalistic movement.
“As Congress is not an ideologically-driven party like BJP or CPM, on many emotive issues, we often witness the emergence of three to four shades of opinions. The rank and file in Congress are divided, hence they lack clarity,” said Kidwai.
Even after the abrogation of Article 370 and Supreme Court’s verdict on Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue, cohesiveness was missing in the statements made by the Gandhis, top leaders like Shashi Tharoor, Digvijaya Singh, AK Antony, Jyotiraditya Scindia, etc. and other ‘apologists’.
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Updated Date: Jan 13, 2020 19:38:37 IST