These days, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) is very much in discussion. Its leadership is facing allegations and media persons are rushing to draw conclusions on the basis of political clout enjoyed by this premier students' organisation in India or the presence of its former members in governments.
While these yardsticks may help gauging the ability to make a mark on the part of the ABVP's former activists, they may not tell you about what and how the ABVP contributed to the society.
The ABVP has successfully converted student activism into a true grooming ground for shaping talents and building capacities of young leaders, and that too in every part of the country, in huge numbers. And unlike popular perception, the ABVP has produced leaders in many fields, not just politics and governance. Many established journalists, corporate honchos and academics had their initial grooming in the ABVP. With a history of over 65 years, with active presence in every nook and corner of our country, with hundreds of dedicated whole-timers, the ABVP has truly become a force to recon with.
Established in 1949, when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was facing a ban, the ABVP truly blossomed in the early 1960s and 1970s. Unlike Leftist student organisations, the ABVP never promoted an out-and-out and singularly confrontationist activism.
Nationalism and national integration, social justice, equality and harmony; gender justice and equality, as well as evolving a comprehensive youth leadership have always remained the hallmarks of the ABVP's world view and activity profile.
The ABVP always aspired to groom young leaders who are not only conscious of social and national challenges but also willing to meet them, through confrontation, wherever required. At the same time, the ABVP has contributed significantly on finding solutions to several issues through constructive activism, underscoring a participative role for students and youths. However, what makes the ABVP stand apart in a litany of student organisations is its philosophy of student activism as well as its unique science of organisation.
Notwithstanding the recurrent unfounded references in the media, the ABVP has never been - even unofficially - a students' wing of the BJP or earlier, of the Jan Sangh. On several issues, the ABVP has a difference of opinion with the BJP even today and since we never believed in regimentation, we have lived with these differences. Besides, there are example of ex-ABVP members joining political parties other than the BJP.
Issues confronting national integration and social unity have always found a place of prominence on the ABVP's agenda. Although it did not face any official ban, during the Emergency of 1975, thousands of ABVP cadres offered satyagraha and joined their ideological fraternity behind the bars.
After the 1962 China war, when India's then neglected northeast came more into the focus, the ABVP initiated a movement for national unity involving students and youths from the northeast and other parts of the country.
The ABVP initiated Students' Experience in Inter-State Living( SEIL), a unique programme for emotional integration of the remote border areas with other parts of the country. Several frontline politicians of Arunachal Pradesh today had cut their teeth in social activism through the SEIL.
For the last 50 years, through this programme, the ABVP has been striving for strengthening national integration through making national unity a part of the experience and consciousness. Importantly, the ABVP's approach was never confined to emotionalism. Through its centre in Guwahati that promotes rural entrepreneurship, the ABVP has been shaping the young talents of northeast India systematically.
On social issues too, the ABVP has always worked for bringing Dr BR Ambedkar's dream of annihilation of caste into reality. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, when parts of Maharashtra were burning on the issue of renaming Marathwada University after Dr Ambedkar, the ABVP supported the demand and tried to dowse the fire through efforts at the grassroot level for social harmony through greater understanding between communities.
Even on the vexed issue of quota for socially disadvantaged sections, the ABVP not just stopped at unequivocally supporting quota but has, time to time, undertaken awakening campaigns to make forward sections realise as to how affirmative action is a must for greater social justice and harmony, or "Samajik Samarasta" in the ABVP lexicon.
It must be told here that although several ex-ABVP members who join politics naturally get more limelight, there have been also persons like Ashok Bhagat of Ranchi or Girish Prabhune of Pune who have been quietly working for the cause of tribals or nomadic tribes for decades together.
Many are aware of ex-ABVP activists who have taken up a cause or two as their life mission and that includes women empowerment, conservation of forests or working for the children of sex workers. In fact, several leading lights of the Dalit Industrial Chambers of Commerce and Industries (DICCI), an organisation that is working on Dr Ambedkar's advice to the scheduled caste youth to become "job givers and not job seekers", were previously with the ABVP.
Again, on issues like gender equality and justice, it was in the ABVP that many ex-activists like this writer were made to understand what is male chauvinism and how we need to empathise with women and in the process, be careful while using terms, proverbs and imageries.
However, the unique contribution of the ABVP comes through the science of organisation it tried working with, and which flourished over the years. It is purely based on mutual affection, friendship and a sense of belonging. We never had a utilitarian view while organising students.
"Like every metal, every person's psyche has a melting point. What is required is the warmth of your unselfish affection. For any organisation, all are important but nobody is indispensable". These were the fundamentals of science of organistaion that we learnt in the ABVP.
One may have different ways of assessing the ABVP and its activism. But one cannot deny that the organisation has uniquely contributed to the evolution of an indigenous theory of student activism. It has greatly helped students to broaden their horizons, and understand the complexities of the both integration and security of our society as well as the nation.
Also, it made students learn the fundamentals of leadership science and basics of human organisation through practical training - something that no B-school would ever be able to teach you. In the current cacophony about student activism with the ABVP being portrayed in a particular brush, knowing all these is important as no major newspapers may perhaps tell you these.