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A Case for Freeing Campuses From Political Interference

19/02/2016 8:12 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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STRDEL via Getty Images
Indian students hold placards during a protest against the arrest of the president of Jawaharlal Nehru University's Student Union (JNU) Kanhaiya Kumar, at Himachal Pradesh University in Shimla on February 15, 2016. Violence broke out February 15 at a New Delhi court where a university student leader was due to appear on a sedition charge, in a case that has triggered protests in India. Television footage showed unidentified men punching and shoving journalists and students from Delhi's prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) as they gathered to attend Kanhaiya Kumar's hearing. AFP PHOTO / STR / AFP / STRDEL (Photo credit should read STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

It will be not difficult for any person with the slightest semblance of political acumen to understand the political machinations behind recent cases of unrest on campuses. First, the members of the Ambedkar Students Association of the University of Hyderabad organized a protest march against the hanging of Yakub Memon, main accused in Mumbai blasts case. Then in Delhi, the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University saw a protest in which students raised pro-Afzal Guru and anti-India slogans. I don't think these are isolated incidents. In fact, I suspect these protests have been instigated by some vested interests, who are working against the integrity and sovereignty of India and to discredit the BJP government.

The government has rightly taken the matter seriously and is not sparing efforts to arrest the students who were involved in anti- national activities. However, what is bewildering is how some political parties are supporting students who are calling for India's destruction. Their rationale is that such protests fall under the ambit of free speech and are integral to a democracy. Really! Would any other country allow such anti-national activities take place in their universities?

The main objective of political parties is to turn campuses into battlefields of political ideologies.

Here's a fact: the student unions of many universities act as a front of political parties. In Jawaharlal University, it is fashionable to align with left parties, although this benefits students less and parties more. Similarly, in University of Delhi, the student unions are either aligned to the ABVP or NSUI. The role of the students is to only recruit freshers to strengthen their cadres. They are less concerned with issues dogging the students and more with their image of their political masters. The main objective of political parties is to turn campuses into battlefields of political ideologies. It is the clash of such ideologies which led to Rohith Vemula's suicide in Hyderabad University. Had it not been for campus politics, he would have been alive today.

The following steps are required to be taken urgently to stop anti-national activities on university campuses.

First, all student unions and councils affiliated to political parties should be derecognized. University vice-chancellors should amend the university charter by removing unions affiliated to one party or the other out of the educational institutions. Only unions geared to take care of students' welfare should be allowed to operate on the campus.

The issue here is not student politics, which is of paramount importance in shaping students' ideas and thoughts, but the politicization of student unions.

The issue here is not student politics, which is of paramount importance in shaping students' ideas and thoughts, but the politicization of student unions.

Second, vice-chancellors should be more empowered. As many academic institutions receive grants from the government, it is natural they toe the line of Ministry of Human Resources Development. The VCs should be sufficiently empowered so that they do not feel compelled to follow government instructions, if they feel these go against the interests of the students or the institution. If any VC does not conform to democratic values or acts in a dictatorial way, the senate should be given the sole power to remove him. This will ensure that academic institutions are kept free of any political interference.

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