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Student Politics in educational institutes - pros, cons and solutions

Should there be politics in educational institutes? This is an extremely old question which has assumed renewed significance with the incidents at Jadavpur University. The article tries to provide an in-depth analysis of the topic, with various examples as well as a solution out of the current problem.

"Politics envelopes us like the coils of a snake and there is no way out but to wrestle with it."
- Mahatma Gandhi

"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other."
- John F Kennedy

Politics is mainly the distribution and balance of power between various agents and institutions. As such, there is absolutely no limit to the places where politics can enter. There is politics not just in the oft-seen political parties and pressure groups but also in cricket teams, in literary bodies and offices. In such a situation, how can we expect educational institutions to be freed from politics?

Politics is often looked upon with derision and hate. It is taken almost as a given fact that politics is the breeding ground for dishonesty, for corruption, for favoritism and nepotism. But the right kind of politics with the right kind of people participating is the only way to solve many of our problems.

A boon?

These general statements are true for student politics as well. In educational institutions, specifically in government universities and colleges, there can be a plethora of problems that can be faced by the students. There can be general problems with infrastructure (poorly constructed toilets etc) or problems with the examination procedure (lack of transparency) or problems with receiving scholarships or anomalies in the appointment of professors. As such many of these problems cannot be solved by individual students approaching the college authorities. These need a well-organized body to represent the case of the students in front of the college authorities and if the demands are not met, then there should be a body to conduct agitations as well.

Student politics over the years has led to momentous events that have changed the face of an entire nation. The personnel of the anti-apartheid struggles in South Africa was provided mainly by the students as leaders like Mandela were imprisoned. The Soweto Agitation was the best example of such a protest. Although it was suppressed violently, the international sympathy garnered by this protest led to pressure on the South African government. The protest against the erstwhile dictatorial regimes in Pakistan and Bangladesh (especially during the Ershad era) had also been effectively organized by students.

Disruptions, disruptions and more disruptions

Yet somehow I feel that student politics has led to worse than good. This is mainly because of the disruptive nature of student politics. Classes are boycotted and even students who do not want to participate in the strikes are forced to do so because of peer pressure. The case of JNU or Hyderabad a couple of years ago or the case of Jadhavpur a few days ago points at the disruption that student politics can create. Do remember that these institutions contain some of the best students (especially JNU) of the country. The finest young minds which should have been involved in academic and research work were agitating for issues which had no manifest relation to the university at all.

In my own case, I do not need to go too far to see the kind of disruption that student politics can create. I am currently enrolled in Cotton University, the hotbed of student politics in Assam. Although in the current period the disruptions have lessened significantly, there is nevertheless some amount of it. I can point out exactly three students who have had to miss almost all of their classes in the last week or so because they were busy campaigning for the candidates of various student unions. The disruption of studies is even greater in the hostels. What's more, many of these students believe that they can get away with lower marks or less than normal attendance due to their proximity to the student unions.

In fact, in certain cases, this brand of disruption politics which was once touted to be so beneficial for the students has created numerous hardships for them. The case of the Hyderabad University which was alluded to in the last paragraph is a prime example of this. Issues which had absolutely no connection with the welfare of the students like the issue of Yakub Memon getting death penalty were being raised. Then there was a confrontation between two rival student unions, and eventually, after a Union Minister entered the fray, and then there was a suicide. Then rewind the clock a good 35 years or so and you get the Assam agitation. In the name of expelling "foreigners" from the state, a complete academic session was lost in the government institutions of the state plus numerous disruptions thereafter. It is a different matter that nothing concrete was achieved even after all that.

Then there is the case of Bangladesh. Here, although student unions had played a massively crucial role during the period of General Ershad, since then there has been a gradual decadence. Student unions have become more like armies of goons, extorting money from traders and freshmen and also taking money from prospective job-seekers and then putting pressure on the college authorities to appoint these people.

The way out

The pros and cons of student politics thus require us to create some sort of a workable balance between the two tendencies. On the one hand, we need student politics and on the other hand, we need a disruption-free study environment. So what is the solution to achieve the two? I think that one way to achieve this is to have a different form of student politics, one in which the student unions sponsored by 'outside forces' (i.e. those sponsored by parties or various pressure groups – eg. All Assam Student Union) will not be able to contest college/university elections. In place of these organizations, the candidates should be encouraged to contest on an individual basis. This would ensure that whoever wins the elections, only the actual demands of the students are raised. It would also help in ensuring the internal autonomy of the student body. Quite often it is seen that the student 'leaders' merely function as pawns in the hands of the major political parties. They cannot have any say of their own and very often to please their 'masters' they give statements that shouldn't have been given. Freeing the students from the stranglehold of the various unions would help in creating a more positive environment in the institutes of higher education.

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Author: DR.N.V. Srinivasa Rao30 Sep 2019 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 3

To cut a diamond we should use a diamond only. So everyone should have some knowledge about politics and hence it is required to learn politics.

But the student politics should be restricted to the campus and student's problems only. There should not be any interference from outside politicians. It is better if the student organisations does not have any affiliations to the political parties. The student leaders should not come out for general issues except issues related to their purview.

The author has brought the importance of positive politics on campuses and the importance of training in politics to the students very well in the article.

Author: Varghese01 Oct 2019 Member Level: Gold   Points : 3

I don't appreciate politics in schools and colleges but yes, it helps us understand our democratic rights in a better way. When there are fights, hartals, stoppage of class etc in the campus, it may give way to political understanding but it also leaves a bad impact on many. The school and college politics should be free from the actual political party interferences.

I have seen the interference of political parties inside the campus in Kerala and the effect it has on students. It does more harm than good to the budding students. Some even take advantage of it and many fall prey to it.

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