KARL Marx and Friedrich Engels, the immortal heroes for the working and toiling masses of the world, not only showed the path of liberation to the working class, but together also encompassed one of the most historic friendships that world has ever seen. This friendship of two of these greatest intellectuals of the working class led to brilliant exchange of ideas. In one such exchange of ideas, Engels wrote to Marx that universities are the battle fields of ideas, Marx responded saying ‘Yes, universities are the battle field of ideas and ideas of the ruling class are the ruling ideas in every epoch’. This battle of ideas can be seen even now in the present era and Himachal Pradesh University is one of the best places to see this battle unfolding where student movement led by the Students’ Federation of India is continuously fighting for ideas of working class and the authorities are imposing the ideas of ruling class.
Himachal Pradesh University is one of the few universities in India in terms of having low fee structure and access of education to poor sections of society. In the times when crimes against girls and women are increasing day-by-day, it is one of the safest places for girls amounting to more than 70% of students of total enrollment.
Here we can see poor students from every corner of the state coming, fulfilling their dream to study higher education and making their careers in different areas. This is a place which is giving an equal opportunity to all to uplift their lives through higher education, in spite of economic inequality prevailing in the society. The Himachal Pradesh University is inculcating human and social values among the students so that when they are serving the public they are more sensitive.
This scenario in the university is not due to the will of subsequent state governments of the state because these qualities and culture is lacking in other two state universities of the state, which are having higher fee structures and values of consumerism also dominate there. This democratic culture where young minds are nurtured to become more sensitive for public issues and against injustice is a result of continuous and glorious history of student movement which has been continuously led by the Students’ Federation of India.
To create this atmosphere on campus and to fight for the rights of the students, student union elections and the elected student unions have played a decisive role. Most of the historical struggles have been fought under the banner of students central association the elected student union of campus and same applies to the colleges of the state. Not only struggles but most of the other activities of college and university students like youth festivals, sports meets, and cultural functions are a result of initiatives taken by elected student unions. It is worthwhile to mention here that right from 1979, student union elections in HPU are won by candidates of the SFI.
State governments and Himachal Pradesh University Authorities have always considered elected unions as a hurdle to the implementation of their anti-student agenda inspired by the neo-liberal policies. Whenever there is a proposal of fee hike, simultaneously there is an effort to curtail the democratic rights of the students. On August 26, 2014, the same was repeated when Himachal Pradesh University authorities in a meeting of the executive council banned the student union election for one year in the university campus and affiliated colleges of state. They are proposing to form a nominated student union.
BACKGROUND OF THE DECISION
For last two or three years, the state governments and university authorities have been proposing various fee hikes but due to the agitation of student unions they were not succeeding in their efforts. At the same time, the university implemented Rashtriya Uchhtar Shiksha Abhiyaan (RUSA) last year which attracted a mass resistance from the students. Throughout the last year, students were fighting against this RUSA. Teachers were also on the roads against this. SFI led student union of campus and colleges was able to lead this agitation very successfully. At the beginning of this new session, authorities who were planning to implement the fee hike were also feeling the heat of protests against RUSA which has collapsed the academic system of state colleges. In this background, university vice chancellor A N D Bajpayee started the advocacy to ban student union election citing the examples of violence in the colleges and campus.
SFI led SCA initiated a mass student movement against the proposed fee hike which got immense support of students. A N D Bajpayee was convinced that if elected student union will be there or any space for democratic voice will be there, then the decision of fee hike and its implementation is never going to be possible. So in a planned manner he championed the issue of campus violence through his near and dears. Finally in the executive council meeting where three nominees of state government are there, the decision to shut down all the voices of democracy and opposition was taken. In the same meeting the decision of massive fee hike was also taken.
VIOLENCE AND ELECTIONS
The reason of violence to ban student union election is fully wrong and misleading. Violence cannot be a reason to suppress the democratic voice of students. It’s a part of general campaign of ruling class about student politics. The nature and cause of violence that takes place in campuses has to be analysed. Firstly, during student union elections the incidents of violence are negligible. In fact student union elections make student organisations more responsible. Most of the cases of violence are sponsored by the political parties like the Congress and the BJP through their goons to attack leaders of the SFI and on occasions to attack general students to break the unity of students and create an environment of fear, so that students can be stopped from joining the SFI. Most of the time the police does not act according to the law and instead of taking action against culprits they arrest leaders of the SFI. There are many incidents when the ABVP or NSUI goons have attacked the SFI leaders and police have arrested the victim. Historical incident of Sanjauli college is one of the examples when Congress goons attacked SFI leaders who were agitating against authorities. In this attack the then state secretary of SFI Dr Onkar Shad was severely injured. Same is the case of October 2013 when ABVP leaders attacked SFI leaders with sharp edged weapons when they were coming to campus. It was like there was no police to stop them in campus and they were fearlessly carrying swords and ‘khoonkaries’ for hours in the campus. After this incident the students of the campus got agitated and under their pressure these culprits were arrested and they got bail after nine months. Interestingly most these students are near to A N D Bajpayee who is giving baseless reasons. Even after their bail, these culprits or more specifically goons of ABVP are residing in hostels in front of police and nobody is stopping them. The same culprits attacked SFI leaders on breakfast tables with ‘Desi Katta’ (Revolver) and provided a pretext to VC Bajpayee to start his campaign. Many a time violence is used by authorities and the government to defame and weaken the student movement. The relationship of ABVP with A N D Bajpayee is known to everyone. The VC on one hand is protecting the culprits and giving a fillip to violence and on the other hand banning student union elections due to violence.
Professor Arun Diwaker Nath Bajpayee having a close relationship with RSS second-in-command, Soni has been in the controversy right from his appointment as the VC of Himachal Pradesh University. A well known figure not for academics but for his academic and financial corruption in Reva University was fired from his duties by the governor of Madhya Pradesh on account of corruption. He is known for his dictatorial style of working and he started in the same fashion in HPU also. Last BJP state government appointed him amidst all round opposition from academicians and even from BJP’s own cadre. Here also Bajpayee followed his old style and soon cases of his corruption as well as undue expenditure of university funds for personal luxuries became a common talk. He tried to crush the student movement, tried to implement fee hike but failed due to the organised struggle of the union. He tried to lure the union leaders in all possible ways, but very soon realised that he can’t play with the honesty of the SFI leaders. He took this defeat personally. On many informal occasions he cited that his main aim is to uproot the SFI from the HPU. He was always trying to ban union elections. For the last two years he dissolved the elected union before the completion of its tenure. But his decisions did not make a difference because the union enjoyed the same support of students. After the change of the government, he started to please the Congress and conferred honorary doctorate degree to Congress leaders. Having close relations with the head of the university and the state saved his post and he got an extension for six months.
ROLE OF STATE GOVERNMENT
Many people are seeing the extension of Bajpayee’s tenure as a surprise as the state chief minister is against him but it is no surprise for us. In fact for a feudal landlord like Vir Bhadra Singh, Bajpayee is one of the most suitable people to implement his policies. The Congress government is implementing its agenda through Bajpayee. The chief minister is well known for his anti-democratic approach. He was the same person who had banned student union elections in the past from 1986 to 88 and 1994 to 1999 on the same grounds. Again this is an effort to suppress the voice of students and advance the anti-student agenda in the absence of elected student union. The vice chancellor has full support of the Congress government on both these decisions. In fact the chief minister has defended the decisions including the implementation of RUSA in a function at St Beats Girls College, Shimla.
MASSIVE FEE HIKE
It is important to mention here that the Himachal Pradesh University is one of the few universities where the fee structure is very low and affordable to poor students. This is result of the democratic movement. But now authorities have proposed a massive fee hike even to the extent of 10 times. For example a private candidate can appear in exams paying fees of 100 rupees only, benefitting girls, Schedule Castes and tribals, who can’t attend regular classes. But in the new proposal, the same fees will be 1000 rupees. The fee of duplicate certificate has been increased from Rs 300 to 1200, fee for provisional certificate from Rs 500 to 1500, examinations form fee from Rs 200 to 2000 etc. This is the reason behind the intention to ban union elections. Students are already in struggle against this fee hike.
Himachal Pradesh University’s VC is lying when he says that the university is not in a position to hold union elections. This is due to the reason that results of under graduation classes are pending for the last nine months. The cause behind it is again RUSA due to which the whole examination pattern has been changed. There is a scarcity of staff at all levels. Even teachers are involved in preparing results and making all eateries. Thousands of the first year students will not be able to contest elections due to pending results. According to Lyngdoh recommendations, candidates should have passed when contesting elections. When results are not there, one can understand the grave situation created by the RUSA.
ATTACK ON DEMOCRATIC CULTURE
The policies of the chief minister and of the vice chancellor are against democratic values. This is also true for this neo-liberal economic regime. These polices don’t tolerate any voice of resistance. We can witness this in our society where attacks are there on democratic rights. Even right to form association and right to strike is under scrutiny. We have witnessed fresh attacks on right to expression in the case of Kerala students, who were booked by the police for raising their voice against Modi. Himachal Pradesh University can’t remain unaffected from this. Already there is a ban on slogan shouting in campus by the intervention of the court in the case of State v/s Anjana Chauhan. This case was also planted by one of the Congress teachers’ leader giving false reasons in the court. Students can’t hold rallies and can’t address classes. Five SFI leaders are expelled from the Centre of Excellence Government College, Sanjauli including SFI campus secretary and president for their involvement in protest to hold student union elections and against fee hike. It means that already there is an attempt to prevent free thinking and exchange of ideas so that ideas of the ruling class can rule. The VC is ensuring this by his dictatorial approach. He has gone to such an extent that he is openly threatening to close down the university for indefinite time if students protest against his decision to ban elections, as if the university is like a factory of his personal ownership and he can close its door any time.
This democratic right of students was gained after long struggles when direct elections were held in 1979. Even then the Congress men had disrupted the democratic process and the results were withheld for fear of victory of the SFI. Only the result of vice president was declared and SFI candidate Shyama Prasad was declared winner. Before that indirect elections were there, again there is an effort to hold indirect elections and propaganda is there that ban on elections is not there but nominated union will be there for one year. This is another way to befool students since the government knows clearly that there will be anger among students on banning elections. Hence they are playing the card of indirect or nominated SCA, so that students do not protest. The authorities will form student unions of their will. Their proposal is to form a union from the toppers in academics, sports and culture. But it is generally seen that if one is excellent in academics or sports it is not necessary that he is interested in student politics and education issues. In this way, the administration wants to suppress student’s opposition on fee hike and RUSA.
But students cannot be tricked in this manner. There are huge struggles going on throughout the state. Students are turning in huge numbers in these protests. The need of the hour is to form broader unity but unfortunately the ABVP and the NSUI do not understand the urgency of the situation and are fulfilling the requirements of their parental parties. The NSUI is trying to justify the state government by saying that this decision is of the university alone and the Congress government has nothing to do with it. Being a student organisation, the ABVP also cannot deny for struggle openly, but they are saying that they will fight on their own.
The VC’s next target is teachers. On many occasions he has said that he wants to ban teachers’ elections as well. After banning the student union elections he stated in the media that his next target is teachers. Himachal Pradesh University has a legacy of joint struggles, be it against corruption or for defending democratic rights. Infact, Himachal Pradesh University presents a classical example where students have been extending their support to the working class and vice versa, due to which many historical struggles have been fought and won.
Once again there is a need to wage such struggles against this attack of the ideas of ruling class, because our experience of history shows that these attacks will not be limited only to students. Students are their first target; they want to change over the entire education system so that they are suitable for private and foreign players. RUSA, fee hike, ban on protests and now ban on student union elections, all these steps are moving in the same direction. It is time to wage a joint struggle against these attacks not only in the campuses and the university but at the ideological level also. The mainstream media is already striving to create an opinion advocating for the ban, inspired by the the general campaign that students should abstain from politics. So it is the duty of all progressive democratic minded people to extend their support to the struggles of students of Himachal Pradesh.