The success of ABVP outgrows from its organizational strength, development politics and student centric activism in our campuses.
With the settling of admission season in many University campuses across India, the next ‘big event’ in line with the scheduled academic calendar is holding of Student Union Elections. In a country that resonates ‘largest functional democratic model’, and strengthens on its comfort levels of ‘democratic dividend’, the student union elections form a key democratic experiment for the youths who are likely to play a more dynamic, vibrant and participatory role in our society.
Despite not being a uniform practice in every educational campus in India, for example Indian Institute of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institute of Management (IIMs) have their own partially elected bodies like Student Senate and Students Affairs Council (SAC) respectively, the union polls in major Universities hold significance for the development and direction of student-youth politics in India. As we look back to the trends and results of student body elections in past years, the constant rise of Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of RSS, has transformed it to be a ‘dominant nationalist force’ across educational campuses in India.
If we go by some facts, in 2014 ABVP registered victory in two colleges under Sindho Kanho University in West Bengal after almost a decade and also got victory in University Law College at capital city of Orissa. (The Hindu, Dec 23, 2014) In 2016 ABVP won many campuses in the state of Chhattisgarh also bagging good number of Presidential positions. In the same year ABVP won Presidential position in Allahabad University student elections and very next year in 2017 swept students elections in Agra University. Much recently in 2018, ABVP registered victory in campuses of Nagpur University, Mithila University and bagged many Presidential positions in student body elections in Rajasthan. It also won comfortably in student body elections across Uttaranchal. It also captured 3 college student bodies in colleges in Kannur and 2 in Calicut, Kerala from the left leaning SFI.
Let us consider two of the most media covered student body elections in India, Delhi University and JNU. The fact is that in the case of Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) elections ABVP won all four positions in 2014 – after a gap of 14 years. They repeated this feat in 2015 and in 2016; three of the four positions went to the party. Similarly, in JNUSU polls ABVP registered victory after gap of 14 years in Central panel by winning the position of Joint Secretary in 2015. In 2017 ABVP registered ‘moral victory’ in JNUSU polls compelling combined left to put up joint candidates and emerged itself as ‘single largest student outfit’ in the campus, also winning majority of the Councillor positions.
These are not just references to some specific campus victories rather areas which have been left stronghold and non-approachable for ABVP. These electoral victories mark a process of transition positioning ABVP as more ‘robust student organization’ in India. The loss of popular support for Left-wing forces has compelled them to get involved in “reactionary politics” making them vulnerable within student community. While ABVP in last years has made electoral gains, riding on its organizational power and cogent activism within student community based on the values of wisdom, integrity and character building.
Interestingly, the rise and success of ABVP is not the outcome of any sudden political development rather reflection of its objective to built ‘ideal student politics’ in India based on constructive activism, non-partisan approach and engagement with wider educational community. Its rising organizational strength and discipline, development oriented politics and student centric activism has progressed this process in positive direction with time.
Moreover, in last years, ABVP has been able to provide an alternative model of student politics based on ‘constructive activism’ against ‘confrontational politics’ as propagated by left wing radical forces in many campuses of India. Left-wing forces have a long history of being obstructionist in their attitude when it comes to practise ‘ideological tolerance’ and ‘propagation of national interests’. And by facing up their challenge, ABVP has been able to garner wider support and acceptance amongst student community based on more ‘cultivated response’ built on nationalist framework and efforts to decolonize young minds.
The success of ABVP is based on two-fold principles, firstly being true representative of nationalistic force in campus politics and secondly by promoting positive student activism.
On the nationalist front, ABVP has mostly remained a ‘consistent ideological force’ beginning from its role and active participation in Temple movement, raising voice against illegal Bangladeshi infiltration, opposing Islamic terrorism and Maoist violence, Kashmiri separatism and its potent role as a force of ‘resurgent nationalism’ in campuses against anti-India forces. From the active participation in JP Movement to the Emergency years, ABVP has shown active role in all nationalistic movements.
It has also been actively engaged in promoting social and academic activities towards ‘discourse correction’ striving to shift the narrative from politics of appeasement, secession and divisiveness to relevant issues like national security, better border management, Indian diaspora, Act east policy and multilateralism, inclusive growth and economy, global governance reforms and counter terrorism. This also includes seminars and public talks on subjects related to Indic school of thoughts like as integral humanism, decolonizing Indian minds, cultural nationalism, social harmony and universal brotherhood.
On the student front, ABVP has been consistently fighting on the issues such as commercialisation of education, revision of scholarships, maternity benefit to girl researchers, SC/ST empowerment and inclusive admission policy, improving teacher-faculty ratio, faculty recruitment, easy education loans, transparency in competitive examinations, better infrastructure and educational facilities to students.
On the question of ‘women safety and dignity’, ABVP has been active under its Mission SAHASI program to impart them ‘self defence training’ and allow better sanitation facilities in educational campuses.
In addition, it has also been encouraging to promote individual talent by organising a range of extra-curricular activities under its ‘Talent Meets’ like as Pratibha Sangam and Rangatoran, Rashtriya Kala Manch (RKM), Think India Seminars, Student For Development (SFD) initiative and also under Career Guidance and Personality Development workshops. Under its ‘MeDeVision,’ initiative it seeks built a pan India initiative and provide active platform for medical students across India. Under its newly launched program of ‘Samajik Anubhuti’ ABVP seeks to build connect with rural India and work towards village empowerment.
Similarly, its World Organisation of Students Youth (WOSY) aims to build greater connect with foreign students in India and facilitate better understanding about Indian culture and history. While through its Students Experience Interstate Living (SEIL) it aims to develop discourse and awareness about issues and challenges in North East India. Moreover, the presence and activity of other like-minded organizations like My Home India, Swadeshi Movement, Vivekananda Vichar and Youth United for Vision and Action (YUWA) has made positive impression among student community also supporting efforts of ABVP to consolidate its position in our campuses.
Ever since its establishment in 1949, ABVP has seen constant rise in its performance and acceptability amongst student community. From 11 lakh members in 2003, its active membership has now reached to 32 lakh covering pan India organisational structure. (HT, 9 March 2017) ABVP has been able to strike out a fine balance between ‘academics and activism’ within the larger ‘nationalist framework’ in our campuses, broadening its reach and significance amongst educational fraternity.
As we look forward to the two most significant student body elections of JNUSU and DUSU, the ‘united leftist forces’ and ‘vestiges of Nehruvian schools’ are facing ‘crisis of credibility’ and ‘hollowness of ideas’. Given the context, the necessity of student politics and the ‘political temperature’ in these campuses is simmering for change and the student community is more likely to choose for politics of ‘development and dialogue’ led by nationalist forces under the banner of ABVP over ‘protest and incompetence’ that has become the hallmark of left-wing student unions.
* Written by Abhishek Pratap Singh
(The writer holds PhD in East Asian Studies from JNU and teaches at University of Delhi.)