Why ABVP is innocent in Ramjas College clash

The Left-wing forces have a long history of being obstructionist in their attitude when it comes to 'ideological tolerance'.

 |  6-minute read |   24-02-2017
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The recent "violent clash" between ABVP, the student wing of Rashtriya Swamyasevak Sangh (RSS), and leftist student groups such as AISA, SFI and DSU at Delhi University's Ramjas College has again raised questions over the nature of discourse and level of dialogue going around student politics in India.

It is also damaging for the character of educational institutes in India, which now seem largely driven by "confrontational politics" rather than focusing on issues of student concerns. The questions of employment, standard of education, better scholarships and teacher faculty ratio, infrastructure development and affordable education seem nowhere forming the major component of debate.

This may not be true for all campuses but no doubt the larger issues of students are less in focus in mainstream student politics.

It is no doubt that university spaces cater to a crucial requirement in society. Their objective is to raise "discussion and dialogue" and "celebrate ideas" within their campuses. However, if the "genuineness of issues" is lost, it largely becomes part of confrontational politics, just to disturb public order and create sensationalism out of nothing.

The same happened at Ramjas College where the sentiment of the larger student community rose against a two-day seminar on the theme Cultures of Protest. No doubt the "right to debate" is a sacred notion but what about the constitutional provisions for restrictions in case of threat to public order, modesty and health?

After the incident, the larger mainstream media has been blaming the ABVP for the violence, ignoring key facts and drawing conclusions based on "unfounded evidence".

Firstly, the objection was not to the event but to the panel of speakers for the seminar. It included Umar Khalid, the prime accused in the February 9, 2016, anti-national protests in JNU, and former JNU Students Union vice-president Shehla Rashid, against whom an FIR was registered in Aligarh for "unwarranted comments" against Prophet Mohammad.

Given their history and controversial remarks, it was far from understanding how these people were placed on the panel. It seems the list of speakers was driven by a desire to create conflict and invite public outrage.

Secondly, when the principal of the college refused permission to invite Khalid on the complaint of college president Yogit Rathi, who had won last year's election as an independent candidate, it is the leftist forces that failed to accept the decision of authority and command of law.

This is not new for them, considering their "shameless contempt" for the highest court of India when they called the death sentence awarded to Afzal Guru as "judicial killing" in a democratic country like India.

Even then, permission was withdrawn by the JNU administration for the protest but the Left forces led by AISA and DSU went ahead with it. Interestingly, the “question of law” does not have a place in the "leftist dictionary" because for them "power comes from the barrel of the gun".

The pattern is quite the same in all cases: propose a controversial programme, disobey the administration, propagate falsehood and then claim victimhood. The celebration of the attack on the CRPF camp, which killed 72 Indian soldiers, in JNU was an exercise with the same intentions.

Thirdly, what kind of academic purpose the presence of Khalid and his words would have served in the event? Neither does he have expertise in these subjects nor credentials. He is on bail on serious charges of sedition. In any case his presence was itself an obvious reason for concern and anguish among students in the college.

On the question of ABVP activists beating up leftist students, the picture of Delhi Student Federation of India (SFI) chief on the front pages of newspapers reflects the other side of the story.

abvp1-embed_022417052842.jpg The reason for Ramjas-like incidents lies in the "ideological failure" of the Left to attract the aspirational youth of India, and not with the ABVP.

Fourthly, the present incident has nothing to do with the "right to dissent", rather it is a reflection of "lost relevance and power" of Left politics across campuses in India. In DUSU, ABVP won all four positions in 2014 - after a gap of 14 years. They repeated this feat in 2015. In 2016, three of the four positions went to the party.

In JNU student union elections (2016), the Left forces had to unite to face the challenge of the rising ABVP. The loss of popular support for Left-wing forces has compelled them to get involved in "reactionary politics".

No matter what the case, they will always go "anti-establishment" in their very tone and character. In JNU, for the past nine days, the entire administrative building has been held up by the AISA-led JNUSU and no work has been allowed.

Lastly, the Left-wing forces have a long history of being obstructionist in their attitude when it comes to "ideological tolerance". In 2014, the Left had attempted to disrupt the programme of Narendra Modi, then prime ministerial candidate of the NDA, at Sriram College of Commerce (SRCC).

They did not allow screening of Buddha in a Traffic Jam, a film by Vivek Agnihotri, in JNU and Kolkata. They objected to the presence of yoga guru Swami Ramdev in the JNU campus and turned violent at Delhi University's conference centre in January 2016 over the presence of BJP MP Subramanian Swamy.

The manhandling of Rajiv Malhotra by Left forces in TISS, Mumbai, is a recent event in the same series. They greeted then PM Manmohan Singh with black flags and were critical of (the late) APJ Abdul Kalam’s visit to campus. The list is long and shows "utter hypocrisy" of Left student groups.

All this shows sheer desperation among Left forces like AISA and SFI over losing support among students. In their case, politics has lost its substance; rhetoric has replaced their thinking. ABVP has to its credit the hike in university scholarship, scrapping of CSAT in UPSC exams and removal of compulsory english, introduction of direct PhD in IITs after BTech and maternity benefits for women researchers.

The Left groups have always been engaged in organisation of "Mahisasur Diwas" on fault-lines of history and celebration of "beef festival" just to flare up campus politics towards confrontation and conflict. The reason for Ramjas-like incidents lies in the "ideological failure" of the Left to attract the aspirational youth of India, and not with the ABVP.

To sum it up, taking note from the late Prafull Bidwai’s work The Phoenix Movement (Harper Collins, 2015), the Left till date has not come up with a political vision that is home-crafted. If they fail to honestly address the fundamental problems of India and get involved in creation of "meta-narratives", the problem lies with them. Given the recent case, the future seems less likely to change for the Indian Left.

Also read: We need to save the university from ABVP


Abhishek Pratap Singh Abhishek Pratap Singh

Doctoral Candidate, Centre For East Asian Studies,JNU

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