Till date, all activities by political parties are banned in campuses across Maharashtra.

Maharashtra student politics bloody past Why Kanhaiyas visit to Pune is raising tensions
Voices Campus politics Wednesday, April 06, 2016 - 10:22

The media hype generated by Kanhaiya Kumar, president of the JNUSU might have died down, but the Students’ Joint Forum (SJF) formed for the purpose of Kanhaiya’s Pune visit seems to be crystallising into reality. He is slated to be in the city after April 14, which is Ambedkar Jayanti.

The preparations come despite an appeal by Vasudeo Gade, Vice Chancellor of Savitribai Phule Pune University, not to hold any event that would vitiate the environment of college campuses in the city.

The SJF, comprising student members from Fergusson College, the Department of Mass Communication and Journalist Studies and the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) have taken it up as a challenge to counteract the recent visit of Alok Singh, president, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) of JNU, to several college campuses in Pune.

It is Singh who stirred the hornet’s nest by barging into colleges, a tradition that has been shunned by Maharashtra in 1992. This was done through an amendment in the Universities Act of 1974, after Owen D’Souza, a pro-Congress NSUI candidate and student of Mithibai College in Mumbai, was murdered in 1992, during the college’s class representatives’ elections.

Till date, posters, pamphlets, banners and campaigning by political parties for their student political affiliations are banned in all college campuses across Maharashtra. There have been moves to nullify this amendment since 2014 but no final call has been taken.

Singh, without official permission from the college authorities, succeeded in holding informal meetings to talk about ‘The truth of JNU’ with particular reference to the controversial February 9 event at JNU where anti-national slogans were shouted. However, his presence was contested in Fergusson College.

A verbal dual ensued when Sujat Ambedkar, grandson of Babasaheb Ambedkar, protested against Singh’s talk without permission from Fergusson College authorities and the meeting fizzled out. ABVP, which has launched a campaign across Maharashtra to organise ‘The truth of JNU’ series of talks, caught the ire of other student political organisations as they protested against one ideology being promoted.

It also impelled the students of the Department of Mass Communication to invite Kanhaiya to their college, their argument being that they would like to be exposed to different kinds of ideologies and not just that which the ABVP is propagating.

It is almost certain that the JSF will get permission for Kanhaiya to address students in Pune but questions remain about the success of the events. Firstly, under the banner of the newly formed Pune Vidyarthi Chalwal (movement), student political organisations from across party lines have made a formal pledge by signing a resolution that they will not barge into college campuses and disrupt the academic atmosphere. For this, they sang the national anthem on a Sunday evening, at the historic Shaniwar Wada.

In fact, in a surprising turnaround, even the ABVP, which started off the controversy, is a signatory to the pledge. Hence, with so many student organisations having come under one umbrella to keep up the high traditions of the academic environment in college campuses, would the JSF make inroads through Kanhaiya?

Secondly, states a senior journalist, “It is unlikely that any college in Pune would like to have any trouble in their campus, after recent incidents in universities in other parts of the country. They would play it safe, particularly Fergusson College which has a rich tradition of keeping any such trouble at bay. Kanhaiya’s lecture in the Department of Mass Communication seems the only feasible venue at the moment.’’

Leading advocate and prime trustee of Deccan Education Society, Vijay Sawant states that, “Fergusson College has traditionally kept up the spirit of solving any college related issues within the campus itself since the 1960s, when trouble similar to the now, brewed. So, not only would any ‘outsider’ not be allowed to hold political-affiliated functions; the pledge by student political bodies across various ideologies would ensure that his visit would be a flop.”

Remembering the 1968 incident which put Fergusson College one up on the others, Sawant says, “At that time, various leftist organisations had literally paralysed many colleges and universities in North India. Steadily, this infiltrated into Maharashtra, but owning to the strong academic environment, the impact was minimal. However, they called for the closure of all colleges in Pune. While the others promptly abided by the call, we, at Fergusson College decided to thwart it. I was in Pre-degree at that time. The college academic year had started just a fortnight before and students hardly knew each other. Nonetheless, the spirit of unity was high and we all formed a human chain to stop the morcha of the leftist organization from advancing into the campus. We succeeded and then gathered below the historic Banyan tree and formed the Fergusson Mitra Mandal.”

This forum, to date, has the staff, faculty, students and the Class IV employees as members and resolves issues pertaining to the college. Adds Sawant, "We don’t want outsiders, who under the garb of protesting against fee hikes or any other issue, take the opportunity to increase membership of their organisations. I say, what happens with such activity? Well, colleges are closed, and the matinee shows go full, so where is the seriousness of the organisers in taking up such issues? They just want self-importance and attention by the media, which is giving a lop-sided view.”

Law student Namrata Mukherjee of NUJS, Kolkata, an Associate Editor at the Journal of Indian Law and Society, writes in her blog, “…empirical evidence has showcased that campus politics have ended up doing more harm than good. Not only are students subject to violence and coercion in institutes where campus politics is prevalent, but the quality of education also tends to suffer on account of the frequent disruptions by such bodies, which often resort to mob tactics to get their demands heard.”

She adds, “Recognizing this, some of the best educational institutions of the country like the IIT’s and IIM’s have gone ahead and banned politicization of student unions, with some States like Maharashtra and Kerala completely proscribing student union elections.”

She further writes, “… The judiciary of the country has also taken note of the negative externalities associated with politicisation of unions, as reflected in the Kerala High Court’s judgment Sojan Francis v M.G. University wherein the Court declared that right of the administration of higher educational institutes in maintaining order and discipline includes the right to ban political activism on campus and such prohibition does not violate rights guaranteed under Article 19(1) (a) and 19(1) (c) of the Constitution.”

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author

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