SEPTEMBER 27 was the 110th birth anniversary of the hero of the generations of Indian students and Youth, Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh. This year’s anniversary saw the streets of Shimla, capital of the hill state of Himachal Pradesh, reverberating with the slogans, dreams and aspirations of that 23 year old-starry eyed youth. It was the occasion of the inaugural rally of the All India University Students’ Convention and apart from the leaders of the university student movement across the country, hundreds of students from the various districts of Himachal filled the streets of Shimla with energy and enthusiasm. The rally went through the Shimla Bazaar and ended in a public meeting in the Sabzi Mandi grounds. While the public meeting was chaired V P Sanu, all India president of SFI, the speakers included Vikram Singh, SFI general secretary, Rakesh Singha, first state president of SFI in HP, Suresh Sarwal, SFI HP secretary, Vivek Rana, SFI HP president and Satarupa Chakraborty, the newly elected JNUSU general secretary. Rakesh Singha, who was the main speaker in the public meeting, drew widest applause when he said that today there is a direct fight between the two ideologies, one represented by the white flag of SFI and the other represented by the regressive forces like RSS-ABVP. He said that the future of this country lies in the outcome of this ideological fight and expressed full faith in the ability of SFI to advance this struggle by brave and valiant interventions across the country.
The convention formally started with the hoisting of SFI’s flag by all India president V P Sanu. The inaugural session of the convention was held in the auditorium of the Himachal Pradesh University and was chaired by Sanjay Chauhan, mayor of Shimla and chairman of the reception committee for the convention. Eminent Marxist economist Prabhat Patnaik, while giving the inaugural lecture outlined the trajectory of the current educational policy in our country. The attacks over the public institutes of higher education is part of the larger process of the commodification of education. This finds resonance with the Hindutva project’s assault on thought and imposition of regressive, unscientific and irrational thought system. In such a situation, the role of student movement against this twin threat becomes extremely important not only for the immediate interest of the country and the education system, but also for the long-term struggle in defence of country’s intellectual sovereignty and self-reliance.
This university convention is being organised at a time when student movement has been in continuous struggle against the RSS-BJP’s assault on the educational institutions and these continuous struggles have led to significant advances as well. It is quite interesting to note that university centres and institutes of higher learning like HCU, JNU, Jadavpur, Allahabad University and FTII have emerged as the centres of resistance against the assaults on education. This is not to suggest that struggles and movements are not happening in other centres, rather due to the very position of these centres in the larger process of knowledge creation and the ‘public sphere’, the movement in these centres have had a catalytic effect elsewhere as well. This process has brought new questions in front of us, whether it be the increasing synchronisation between the Left and Ambedkarite forces or the new assertion of the hitherto marginalised section – student movement in this period has creatively applied new slogans to build greater unity among the student sections. The massive electoral victories in the students’ union elections in EFLU, JNU and HCU (results for HCU were announced on the last day of the convention) show the trajectory of this very process.
All this however is too little, given the uneven development of the student movement on one hand and the strength of the reactionary forces. The successive all India conferences of SFI have been highlighting this lacunae as a major impediment in any meaningful resistance against the policy offensive at the All India level. No rectification in this situation is possible if we are not able to make headway in the university centres. This is essential given the impact of these centres in adjoining districts and the ideological struggle in the region. Hence, the convention was not merely a routine organisational task, rather expressed the urgency within the movement to spread to new areas and gather energy to combat the reactionary forces.
Various committees were elected for the proceedings of the conference and the formal session started with placing of the condolence resolution by Sunand. V P Sanu presented the draft political-organisational report on the behalf of the CEC. This draft report identified the major policy level, political and organisational challenges in front of our movement in the university centres. While the policy level threats have been pointed in the preceding sections, it is important to reproduce some of the main currents among the university students, as shown by the draft report. This includes the increasing individualism among students, which is being perpetrated by the neo-liberal thought system. This period has also seen some of the sectarian caste based identity groups whose main agenda is to isolate the Left and prevent any joint actions between the Left and Ambedkarite forces on the question of social justice. The report identifies this as a major challenge and proposes a dual approach in dealing with them: on one hand, actively taking up the issues faced by the students of the oppressed sections and on the other initiating a political-ideological dialogue with such forces. The report underlined our failure in realising the importance of university organisation and taking adequate steps to overcome the weaknesses.
The self-critical tone and tenor of the report, along with the possibilities, which it identified, created ground for a rich discussion with a total of 23 speakers taking part in the discussions on behalf of the 163 delegates from 98 university centres. (Apart from 52 CEC members, which make the total delegates 215)
Separate sessions on the new National Policy on Education, on the possible alternatives to the neo-liberal education regime and the experiences of the academic reforms were also held. Abha Dev Habib, EC member of Delhi University, explained in detail the policy thrust in the draft document of the NPE and showed how it carries forward the assault of commercialisation, centralisation and communalisation, which has marked the educational policy of Modi regime. M A Baby, former all India president of SFI spoke in the session on ‘alternatives’ and he underlined how governance is an important area of struggle for alternative to the neo-liberal regime. He outlined the experiences of the Left-led governments in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura and underlined how the question of alternatives in education cannot be detached from the struggle for larger socio-economic alternative, in a situation when the State power effectively is in the hands of the central government. In the session on the experiences of academic reforms, the state committees of HP, Kerala, Assam and Delhi presented the experience in their states and our intervention. This was important given the fact that the impact of academic reforms has been extremely uneven across the country and so have been the interventions from our organisation. However, the policy direction as defined in the overarching Rashtriya Uchhtar Shiksha Abhiyaan (RUSA) makes it clear that these reforms are going to affect all states, eventually.
Vikram Singh, SFI general secretary, gave the reply to the discussions and streamlined the basic tasks in front of the organisation now. This first includes giving utmost priority to the universities and deploying adequate cadres in the states for them. It also requires adequate effort on part of the state leadership to prepare itself for the debates and challenges in the university centres. A systematic and time bound approach with multifarious activities is going to be the key to our organisational advance in such centres.
A 20-member University sub-committee was elected during the convention, which in turn elected V P Sanu (centre) as convener and Soham Mukherjee (WB), Novel Thakur (HP) and G Suresh (Delhi) as co-conveners. This sub-committee along with the CEC and the state leadership will have to work in the coming days to concretely implement the direction as outlined by the Shimla Convention. The convention ended with the clarion call to make rapid progress in the university centres and build them as centres of resistance against the anti-student, anti-education and anti-national policies of RSS-BJP regime.