The members of student unions are mostly youths. In the current situation of the demographic dividend, the role of youths to spur economic growth cannot be ignored
“All power to imagination.” In the late 60s, the walls of the factories and streets in France were covered with slogans like this. These slogans, mostly leftists, were chorused by one-fifth of the French population against capitalism, consumerism and traditional institutions. Interestingly, this unrest was stemmed by a few campus students for sexual liberation in dorms, but it led to snap legislative elections.
The same year, in 1968, students in Poland, Germany, Spain and across the globe protested especially against authoritarianism and imperialism. These protests collectively resulted in the social revolution in these regions. As a matter of fact, having realized the strength of students from these global phenomena, our own history of organized student protests in 1947 and students’ participation in the 50s rebellion against the Rana regime, the Communist Party of Nepal and Nepali Congress formed students’ unions, namely ANNFSU and NSU respectively.
These narratives are relevant because unlike its impact in history, the role and future of student politics in Nepal have become questionable. The core of politics is to discourse on agendas and find political solutions to problems. However, our student politics is still far off these agendas. In recent years in the political stalemate of Nepal we have witnessed the utmost passiveness and reluctance of our student leaders towards socio-political and global issues. As a result, our universities and campuses have become a breeding ground for intellectual, moral and emotional failure. And this is why the necessity of student politics in our campuses and universities has been questioned from time to time.
Many argue that the purpose of attending colleges and universities is to pursue a degree and get a good job. This is more apparent in middle-class families who want their children to study well and secure their livelihood.
People don’t want students to engage in political activities due to its connection to money, violence and muscle power. Others argue that educational institutions should make students politically conscious and teach them to ask questions. The purpose of an educational institution is not only to instruct the curriculum but also to produce equally responsible and aware citizens by facilitating dialectical research. The student unions, on the other hand, act as a link between students and the campus administration, make the administration accountable, help them organize events and address grievances faced by students. So it is almost contradictory to the practices of democracy and liberty to expect apolitical campuses and universities.
However, the incompetence of our student leaders and several other anomalies in student politics cannot be neglected. The political storm that India witnessed last year after the suicide of a ‘Dalit’ scholar at the University of Hyderabad and episodes of events in Jawaharlal Nehru University have several lessons. In these rows, students used their political platforms, under the norms and values of democracy, to take political stands and questioned their laws and policies, advocated social justice, and also sought the definition of nationality. It was seen that the student leaders had clear policies and strategies based on their political inclinations – the progressive left or the traditional right.
Contrary to this, our student unions are mere sister organizations of mainstream political parties. Many of the leaders in the working committee of the student unions have come into power from the favoritism of political leaders. This is why their actions and strategies are frequently dictated by their parent political party. For example, during the Madhesh agitation in 2015, no student unions played a proactive role in ending the political deadlock. Student leaders acted as an audience and relied on their leaders for their on-record statements in the political crisis.
Unfortunately, student politics today is diluting the legacy of youth leaders such as Gagan Thapa and others who tirelessly fought for progressive principles such as republicanism, federalism, and inclusive democracy.
The organizational structure and the activities of the students’ unions seem obsolete in context to the social and political reforms in the country. Many students’ unions don’t reflect inclusiveness and wider participation from all sections of the society. Many student leaders make politically-incorrect statements publicly underestimating the basic values of pluralism. Student leaders have to realize their responsibility in social transformation and nation building. The members of student unions are mostly youths. In the current situation of the demographic dividend, the role of youths to spur economic growth cannot be ignored.
Lately, Tribhuvan University has decided to conduct the elections of Free Students Union (FSU) in its constituent and affiliated campuses. If everything goes well, the FSU elections are expected to be held on the last week of February. The committee of the FSU will act as a representative body elected by the students that can keep a check on any administrative actions, question financial irregularities, misuse of authority, arbitrary appointments and confront archaic rules of code and conduct imposed by the campus. These elections are imperative to strengthen the roots of democracy and for the benefit of the students.
A version of this article appears in print on February 15, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.