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Students’ stir have always marked India’s political path

New Delhi: As students protest against the Centre’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), it will be interesting to watch how the government and Opposition will deal with it. India’s political journey is marked with landmark political mobilisation that originally started as student/ youth movements.

How the ruling side and Opposition will deal with the ongoing student protests and, whether the agitating students will be able to sustain the movement, will be keenly watched, especially since youth forms India’s largest electoral segment that often rises above communal lines to join hands on issues that stir their consciences and affect the collective future.

The four main streams of Indian politics –– BJP/Sangh Parivar, Congress, Samajwadis and Communists – have a shared history of either riding their respective political movements on student movements when they were in Opposition or, had faced the wraths of such movements when they were in the government.

In fact, many present top leaders of BJP, Congress, Left Parties and Janata Dal splinter groups and many regional parties had cut their teeth in the student-youth movements before emerging on the big stage. Today, many find themselves on opposite sides in dealing with students’ agitation against the CAA.

India’s ‘Freedom Movement’ had many glittering chapters in which students hit the streets to provide impetus to the Mahatma Gandhi-led Congress struggle against the British. The history of Independent India has witnessed many landmark political movements that started from student movements.

The JP Movement against Indira Gandhi regime and, later, against her Emergency, got the initial breakthroughs with the students’ Navnirman Movement in Gujarat and then in Bihar. JP even picked up the then student leader Sharad Yadav to be the “people’s candidate” in the historic Jabalpur (MP) Lok Sabha by-poll where the defeat of Mrs Gandhi’s candidate not only cemented Opposition unity but also triggered events towards the imposition of Emergency.

Leaders such as Lalu Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan, Nitish Kumar, Sushil Modi and Ravi Shankar Prasad were among those who emerged through those student agitations and PM Modi too is reported to have participated as an ABVP activist in the Navnirman movement.

It was the leaders of the Youth Congress and NSUI who acted as Indira Gandhi’s stormtroopers when she made the triumphant return by humbling the Janata Party comprising RSS-Jan Sangh, Samajwadis, Marxists and Congress rebels. Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kamal Nath, Ahmed Patel, Anand Sharma, Digvijaya Singh, Ashok Gehlot and Tariq Anwar were among the then student-youth leaders who rallied behind Indira/Sanjay-led Congress fightback.

Students and youth again provided firepower for Opposition leaders including VP Singh, AB Vajpayee, LK Advani, George Fernandes and Jyoti Basu in stirring the anti-Bofors agitation against the Rajiv Gandhi regime. Young Indians played important roles in the subsequent Mandal/Kamandal movements too.

It was the agitating students and youth who fanned the anti-corruption movement of Anna Hazare in Delhi against the UPA regime, which the BJPled opposition tapped effectively (culminating in the Modi-led BJP rallying the support of a large section of youth in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls despite Congress positioning Rahul Gandhi as “the youth icon”) just as Arvind Kejriwal & Co used it to launch their AAP in Delhi.

On regional fronts, if the Assam agitation was led by students who later emerged as AGP leaders, in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee tapped student/youth participation to turn the tide of Singur-Nandigram agitation wreck the Left rule and, in Kerala, it was the students wings of the Communist Party and Congress that locked horns during the “Liberation Movement”.

No wonder, political leaders across the divide are closely watching the anti-CAB protests by students.

Source: Economic Times