India's college campuses are now centres of conflict

Thanks to the immediacy of information, data, and instant contact, this 200-million strong entity is not politically gun-shy and demands a say in the country's destiny.

By Bikram Vohra

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Published: Tue 7 Jan 2020, 7:00 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Jan 2020, 9:26 PM

The grotesque invasion of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus in New Delhi by a gang of hooligans hired ostensibly by political factions can be condemned till the nation is blue in the face but not much will happen. Whether there were 300 or 10 is moot. They were allowed to go about their viciousness. This sordid assault clearly had some sort of unspoken official sanction that allowed the police to stand by indolently and let the attackers have a field day.
While the probe and the belated wringing of hands will tango tunelessly for a few days with the low-key response from the centre to this aberration before fading into nothingness there are other offshoots of this black day in the Indian capital.
In the past few weeks we have seen the flex of a new muscle. The millennial youth, hugely opinionated, demanding and armed with a startling sense of entitlement also has an eloquence that was missing in earlier generations. Thanks to the immediacy of information, data, and instant contact, this 200-million strong entity is not politically gun-shy and demands a say in the country's destiny.
While traditionalist might cavil over this involvement in politics on campus and see it as an adolescent self-indulgence, that sell out has already occurred. Yes, in a perfect world students go to university to study and should concentrate on just that singular aspect. If they are diverted willingly into other avenues then the lump on the head is the physical manifestation of the cerebral brawling that marks politics. But it is not a perfect world and education is now rife with an engagement into public affairs.
The seepage of political leaning began decades ago and India is one of the few countries where youth are introduced between class periods to the political firmament in all its inglorious offshoots. You do not see the Tories and the Labour parties ruling the campus in Oxford and Cambridge. Nor do Republicans and Democrats have so much say in Cornell or Harvard or Penn nor are their college and university student elections controlled by such parties or worse, financed by them. It is almost like a state election.
It is unfortunate but true. In India the student elections are now an extension of the big boys and this invasion is now complete. There is no going back or sanitising a campus.
Outlawing political parties should have been mandated in the sixties. Now, any such move will break a wing before taking off.
While still on your parent's dime and in no way an earning member of society this potential vote bank has realised it is a political power and will now wish to be wooed and vilified. JNU has, since 2016 and the February 9 protests been a hive of political dissension against the centre, cheerfully risking the mantle of anti-nationalism. Freedom of speech was stretched to the limit four years ago and the rage and indignation in the fallout survives to this day and serves as encouragement to others. 
It might well be said that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) inherited this campus chaos and that it was the Congress party which allowed many a university of nationwide standing to deteriorate into violent and hostile entities. Aligarh, Banaras, Allahabad, Lucknow to name a few. The political stain then inked its way to the universities in the five metros and the top ten cities with students ready to strike and scream at every pretext and India's divisive political segments only too eager to spur them on.
And spurring them on is exactly what they are doing, risking a whole generation and its commitment to being orderly and contributory citizens. With each passing day, this massive swathe of energy-filled, testosterone-driven army is inhaling the toxic yet alluring vapours of power.
It will get worse. The BJP will now wake up to the fact that this is perhaps the largest vote bank in the next election. Indian youth have not been inclined to vote in the past. Hence they have never been wooed with that target in mind. Instead, they have been romanced only to foment trouble for the state governments and the parties who wear the mantle of power. Now, they get this extra dimension and it is dangerous.
Then the nexus between them and the pinnacle of authority will become even more conciliatory, pandering to the whims of the student whose persona we can assume will then turn malevolent and even more shrill. Having got onto this tiger India per se, be it government or parent, faculty or media, has no clue how to get off it without being mauled.

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