Thursday, November 1, 2007

Political parentage of campus violence

WHO killed Assistant Sub-Inspector of Police M. C. Elias? This was question that was debated widely in Kerala after the violent incidents in the NSS Hindu College at Changanassery last week. All CPI (M) men from the party’s State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan downwards were certain that the ASI was killed by members of the pro-BJP Akhil Bharat Vidyarthi Parishad. All BJP men from State BJP President P. K. Krishnadas downwards were equally certain that he was killed by members of the pro-CPI(M) Students Federation of India. If one listens carefully to what political leaders say on such occasions, one can understand how faith saves.

It is meaningless to say that what happened at Changanassery should not have happened. What happened there could have been foreseen in the light of the violence that has been raging in several campuses for some time. When and where it will occur was all that remained to be known. A weakness of modern journalism is that it concentrates on events. It does not usually take note of the processes that lead to events. If it does, it may be able to recognize dangers inherent in a process and avert the likely event.

A study of the history of students’ movements will show that they have clashed with regimes from time to time. Students made a major contribution to the freedom movement in many countries, including India. In some countries they played a decisive role in sweeping away dictatorship and establishing democracy. If all students had buried their heads in textbooks, some countries might have had to wait longer for freedom and democracy. These historical facts do not justify the violence in our campuses today. Those who provide leadership to it are under the control of political parties engaged in power struggles. Their agenda is set by these parties. In the executive body of each of these parties there is one member who is in charge of its student wing. The first item in his table of priorities is narrow party interest, not broad national interests.

It may well be that students gravitate to various parties, attracted by the ideals that they swear by. However, when we take into account the recent history of the major parties, the possibility of some of them viewing student politics as a shortcut to high places cannot be ruled out. If it is all right for one to decide in his childhood that he wants to be a doctor or engineer and work for it, it is not wrong for one to set a political goal for oneself and work to achieve it. Political parties are indispensable for the working of the democratic system. We are familiar with the practice of big companies going to campuses to find the people they need and offer them jobs even before they pass out. A political party looking for future leaders in the campuses can be seen in the same light.

The real problem is that political parties use students’ organizations to serve their own interests. The violence in campuses is part of the effort to establish the party’s authority. The students who go at each other are the parties’ sacrificial offerings. Some recent incidents suggest that political violence, which remained confined to Kannur for long, is now spreading to other parts of Kerala. All parties have the duty to prevent this. The CPI (M) has greater responsibility than the other parties in this regard. First, there is reason to believe that it started the era of political violence by creating party villages and party campuses. Secondly, as the State’s largest party and one that wields power, it has the duty to provide leadership to the effort to restore peace. All over the world, attempts by the weak to resist the violence of the strong have often led to the growth of extremism. There are indications that this is happening in Kerala’s campuses.

At the time of writing, it is not quite clear whether ASI Elias was killed or died following a heart attack. Policemen on the spot cannot be faulted if they presumed it was a case of murder. However, the public pronouncements by official and party spokesmen have cast doubts on the ability of the police to conduct a fair investigation. There is prima facie evidence of police torture of those who were taken into custody. We need also to remember here that the CPI (M) has fractions in the State police.

Based on Nerkkazhcha column in Kerala Kaumudi of November 1, 2007

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