Sunday, March 6, 2016

Should students (be permitted to) involve in politics - 3

The real concern of those who oppose
If we dig deep, it is clear that the current spate of advises to students and admonishment of student involvement in politics, stems from
a) a sense that the investments in educating such students is not yielding labor for the market. Clearly folks are disappointed.
b) a fear of being questioned. Seldom does anyone like being questioned. 
c) more importantly, the fear and hatred for the left - the Commies and Maoists as they are now referred to. I wonder if many who liberally use these words even know what their philosophies are , or how Marxism is different from Maoism. Most just assume that the former group shouts slogans and organizes strikes, while the latter does not hesitate to use the gun. Without getting into the merits or demerits of the left wing philosophy, we know, that there is little left in the left today. To my mind, they haven't evolved a philosophy for India and will remain a fringe force, unless they are beaten up and made big. 

Students and politics
There are actually no valid reasons to justify an advisory to students on politics. Students beyond 18 are majors. It is for them to decide what they want to do. They are thinking individuals , for whom we may have certain responsibilities, but certainly not rights. They have their dreams and responsibilities. We can equip them with knowledge and skill to choose. But the choice is theirs. 

In fact it is important that students are aware of the world around them - including the political world. It affects them now and will affect them in future as well. They are the future and they will naturally be and have to be concerned about what is being done now - as it will decide what will be done later. Whether some one chooses to take a right wing stance or centerist stance or a left wing stance is her / his choice. 

There are just 7 things that we could do, and they are
1. Inculcate a value system which makes morality and personal integrity as non-negotiable values.
2. Inculcate sensitivity to the people in the world around 
3. Inculcate a sense of respect ( not 'tolerance') for plurality of culture, thought and action. 
4. Inculcate a spirit of questioning - irreverential questioning. 
5. Inculcate courage to take a stance and to call a spade a spade. 
6. Provide all information available so that he / she makes a well thought out, deliberated and educated stance. 
7.And pray to the Almighty, 

Cry as hoarse as we may - students will do what they please. Let them. Let a thousand ideas come forth. Let the ideas clash and evolve. Only then will we have a better tomorrow. 

Should students (be permitted to) involve in politics : 2

Examining the arguments against students involving in politics

1. Politics will spoil students - it will destroy them, make them corrupt
The basic assumption behind the statement that politics will spoil students, is that politics per se is bad. This is an assumption that is on extremely weak grounds. There are certainly bad, corrupt, scheming politicians around. But well, there are bad, corrupt and scheming corporations around too. There are those which plunder national wealth (recall the acute drinking water problem that Cocacola cause in Plachimada, those that cause irreparable damage to the environment (recall Union Carbide, HUL's dumping of mercury in Kodaikanal), bad corporations which sell products that cause harm to people (there are several examples to recall) , bad corporations which evade taxes ( again several examples to recall) , bad banks that mis-sell products to unwitting customers (recall that the regulator has recently intervened in this regard) bad banks that are involved in routing black money out of the country etc (recall the inquiries initiated on some of the foreign and public sector banks). Would we tell students not to work in and for Corporations ? Or are we going to send students to become sadhus in the Himalayas, so that they may remain pure, un-spoilt and un-corrupt.

I don't think the issue is with politics. It is about how students have been brought up as individuals. If they had been brought up as responsible individuals, who would seek and understand issues before forming opinions on them, if they are brought up as individuals who can introspect deeply and argue using facts instead of loud voice and violence and if they can disagree - yet live in peace, if they are brought up with a value system with integrity - nothing will affect them or spoil them. Else, it does not require a stint in politics to ruin them.

2. We subsidize the education with our taxes - not their politics. So they better behave.
The typical 'I have thrown you bones. Wag your tail and don't bark' argument.  Expecting students to be restrained and sticking on the four walls, buried into books, unquestioning and compliant, just because their education is subsidized, comes from a feudal mindset. Repulsive. Students are not slaves. They don't sell their souls to us for funding their education.  Also, what and for how long a student wants to study is his choice. The strata of the society she/ he chooses to serve and how she / he chooses to do so is entirely her / his choice.

And it not that we are pouring money into education. The total budgetary allocation for the entire education sector is about Rs 72 thousand Crores, of the total budgetary expenses of Rs 19.48 lakh crores and that is less than 1% of the GDP. A very poor allocation compared to global standards. Pittance. Compare this with the amount of direct and indirect subsidies that the government gives for corporations by way of incentives, concessions and by way of massive write offs of loans given to corporations - all these attempts to privatize profits and socialize losses. In fact, since these numbers are larger, why don't we look at chopping off the large value items first, before we look at these low value items.

And the tone of such posits is interesting. 'Our tax', 'My tax' they said. Well, if I had a right to decide where my taxes are to be spent, I would want not a penny to be spent on all the subsidies and incentives to corporations. Their contribution by way of employment generation or development is incidental to their process of increasing wealth to their shareholders. After all, organizations should survive and flourish on merit - not on subsidies and incentives. Only then will they be sustainable.

Also, I would also not want monies spent on 182 feet tall statues of iron or 200 feet tall flag masts - for, I think reality is more important than symbolism. (The national flag certainly does not lose its splendor if it is flown in on a shorter mast). I don't have that right to decide on any of these, so do people who now comment on spending on education.

On education, my view is this. Public education and healthcare are investments that the society makes on its citizens and ideally they should be offered free all through. There is a compelling economic rationale for this.We could do well to pick lessons from some of the European and Scandinavian countries like Sweden, Norway, Denmark in this regard. This is however besides the point. 

3. They are in colleges to study - not to participate in politics. If they want let them quit studying and involve in politics. 
Students are in colleges to learn - not just to study. Learning is a wholesome process. And society and polity are very much a part of the environment that students should learn about and deliberate. We live in a country where someone aged 18 can vote. And when we have given her / him this right, on what basis can we say that he should not participate in politics ? And how do we assume that a student who is active in politics is not studying and is not doing well in his academics as well ? 

And this advise to students, asking them to quit studying and involving in politics. Absolutely brilliant. I don't know if the folks who go about making such statements know that there are over 32 lakh students enrolled as members in ABVP. Try telling them this.

I cannot resist quoting the Hon'ble Union Minister for Urban development Mr Venkaiah Naidu who recently advised that 'Kanhaiya Kumar should focus on studies and not get involved in politics'. If only Mr Naidu and his ilk like Mr Arun Jaitley or Mr Gadkari, had followed what they preach now, we would have been saved of their presence in the Government. Mr Naidu conveniently forgot that he started his political career as a leader of the ABVP in 1973-74, after being elected as President of the Students Union of Andhra University Colleges. Mr Jaitley was an ABVP leader who then became the President of the Student's Union of Delhi University in 1974 and later the All India Secretary of the ABVP. Mr Gadkari worked for the ABVP as a student.

If Mr Naidu and his parivar are really serious about students focusing on their studies and not wasting time in politics, they should have disbanded the right wing aligned , largest students union , the ABVP by now and called for other associations to be disbanded. They wouldn't do that.

The real issue hence not about students joining politics - it is about joining 'Left' politics. If it is ABVP, there would have been no issue at all.

4. If they involve in politics, they ruin the hopes that their parents and society have on them
Oh what a genuine sounding concern ! But look deep, you will see that it is not the welfare of students that is the concern here.

Look at the courses offered by most of the Universities - and you will find most of them labelled 'Job oriented' courses. From institutions where ideas are born, nourished, debated and refined, Universities are increasingly becoming training yards for mercenaries for corporate warfare, where students are expected to focus on careers instead of learning and thinking. And the call to privatize education is just for the same reason.

We will need to remember that there is more to life than just earning a living.

Should students (be permitted to) involve in politics : 1

I heard it when I was a student and I hear it again now. 'Should students be involved in politics?'
Thanks to JNU, this question has come up again. The only difference these days the version sounds more like 'Should students be permitted to be involved in politics' 

Before I proceed on discussing the issue, let me qualify three things 
1. When I mean a student, I refer to someone, who has touched 18 years of age, for, at 18 they become eligible to vote. 
2. And when I say involve, I do not mean involvement in anti-national activities. 
3. And when I say involve, I also do not mean involving at the cost of their academic pursuits.

And on JNU. Apart from my view that that the entire episode is an attempt to divert public attention from more pressing issues on the economic front, I know very little of what actually happened in JNU. Nevertheless, it is tough to skirt the issue while discussing  about students and politics.

We are told that in JNU
a. Students were involved in seditious activities
b. Students worshiped Mahishasur
c. Students demanded serving beef. 

My view on these three issues are
a. I certainly condemn any anti-national stance. But, whether something seditious actually happened is for the courts to decide. I do not want to jump into conclusions based on doctored videos or data on number of used condoms and chips packets. 

There is no one way to define Nationalism. Nationalism to me is about people - not just land and boundaries. Land and borders are means - not the end of nationalism. Also, there is a sea of difference between being anti-national and being against the policies of the Government of the day - even if they are elected by a massive and brutal majority. Governments and those whose who hold the levers of the government are not Gods and are not above criticism. The legal position is that even judgments of the highest court can be criticized. The verdict of the courts cannot be disobeyed. Judges cannot be criticized. Motives behind the judgement cannot be questioned, but yes - Judgments can be criticized. And it is constitutional right of every citizen to question, criticize, chide, protest and demonstrate (loudly if needed, but non-violently) against actions of the Government that are perceived to be against the interest of the citizen. But, what actually happened in JNU and whether what happened was seditious are facts that we will know only over the course of time. 

b. As a practicing Hindu ( a phrase that I learnt from the Hon'ble HRD Minister) , I am perfectly okay with anyone wanting to worship Mahishasur or Mahabali or even Ravana - or remaining an atheist. The Asur communities revere Mahishasur and consider the Durga puja as a period of mourning. Mahabali is celebrated in Kerala. Ravana is worshipped by a brahmin sub-sect in Madhya Pradesh. Infact, while I would condemn Ravana for usurping Sita. I would in the same breath condemn Rama for a) suspecting the fidelity of his wife b) ditching his pregnant wife just because someone in his kingdom suspected her. I enjoy reading Ravanakaviyam as much as I enjoy Kambaramayanam. That does not make me a lesser 'Hindu' than anyone. And even if it does, one does not care.

Religion is a personal choice and the relationship between an Individual and the Supreme being an unique and personal one. Anyone who had taken an effort to read and understand the Upanishads would understand that this religion is wide and open for people to question, deliberate, discuss , disagree and ponder over. The strength of the 'Hindu' religion is its plurality - something that Abrahamic religions do not have. We have to cherish this plurality. In fact, it is an important duty to free the religion from these half baked belligerent, bigots of the parivar who in the name of protecting it , bring in so much of disrepute. 

c. I strongly support vegetarianism and would want all animals - including cows to be protected. But I know that food is a personal choice.  When, as a nation, we have no qualms about exporting beef, we should no qualms serving it to people who choose it.

So, apart from the fact that the second and third accusations actually sound amusing to me, there is nothing more on the JNU episode. 

Now, coming back to the question - should students be involved in politics, there are broadly four arguments that are advanced by people who oppose student involvement in politics.
1. Politics will spoil students - it will destroy them, make them corrupt. Sly politicians will use them for furthering their causes. 
2. We subsidize the education with our taxes - not their politics. So they better behave.
3. They are in colleges to study - not to participate in politics
4. If they involve in politics, they ruin the hopes that their parents and society have on them.

We will look at each of these in some detail in the next post.