AISA's All-India Strike
Daring to Scale Newer Heights
|Direct action by more than a hundred thousand students
Details of the September 19 strike and other forms of protests based on incomplete information received before editorial closing time.
Street fights and bold initiatives are the tradition of AISA since its inception. Undaunted by its limited organisational strength, its daring launch of an ideological-political offensive against the saffron brigade, especially the ABVP, in the wake of Ayodhya is now part of its splendid history. The call of Allahabad Convention for an all-India students strike is yet another crucial initiative at an important political juncture. Allahabad Convention is a turning point in the history of AISA because it evolved a comprehensive revolutionary democratic approach towards the new political dispensation at the centre, waged a struggle against all varieties of social-democratic vacillations in student politics, targeted the fire against de-ideologisation among student community in the wake of rampant liberalisation, and came out with a call for an all-India students strike not only as the most befitting response of the student community to the neo-liberal drift in the country but also in order to revitalise the role of the organisation and to powerfully articulate its views as the representative of the only opposition stream of the left student movement in the country.
The call assumes crucial importance in the context of 14 student-youth organisations belonging to all major partners of UF - who were considered to be part of the opposition under previous regimes - turning into appendages of the government. Also, many of these parties, now in power, failed to implement, and worse still, even failed to incorporate in the CMP, their promise of including right to work as a fundamental right in the constitution.
While the 'right to work' had never found a place in the governmental agenda, it had become a catchy slogan and a point of debate among the student-youth of the country. But the concrete dimensions and the thrust of the demand for education assumes varied forms in various states, education being primarily a state subject. AISA is successful on concretising the issues of education for various states, taking the concrete realities into account.
While privatisation of education is at an early stage in North India, it is reaching its peak in the southern part of the country where the state governments are hell bent on handing over government institutions to the private hands and granting sanction to newer and newer private institutions every year as in the case of 7 new capitation fee professional colleges in AP in 1996. A government women's arts college in TN has been handed over to a private management. In Karnataka, Gowda himself as chief minister earlier had given his blessings to backdoor method of capitation fee collection circumventing even the Supreme Court directive. A new form of privatisation seen in Kerala was by way of handing over the government medical college to co-operative sector by the earlier AK Antony government which has even led the left student organisations to make a farcical distinction between commercialisation and privatisation and thus making a retreat from consistent fight against commercialisation of education. In North and North Eastern India, powerful educational mafias are in the making. Assam Bailey School, owned by a multinational tea giant McNeil and Magor, collects Rs.67,000 for admission of kids to 4th standard; private courses have been opened in Lucknow University, accommodating more than 5,000 students, and these courses reportedly earned Rs.4 crores of profit in the previous years, thus paving the way for dual system in the university.
With western firms increasingly 'body shopping' in India, many of our Indian universities and educational institutions either go for a tie up with foreign universities or many of those foreign institutions open their branches here in such courses like management, software training etc., where they can mint money through this lucrative business. Thus, the fate of higher education in India is completely left to the market forces thanks to the Congress' liberalisation policies followed sincerely by the UF government. The UF's promise of 6% of GDP allocation to education is also not reflected in the recent budget and whatever may be its claim of increase in educational outlay, it has nothing to do with higher education as such. In this backdrop, one can easily foresee the dangerous implications of Private Universities Bill recently tabled in the Rajya Sabha.
Another important issue related to allocation of resources to education is the question of scholarship. This is a major problem right from the country's socalled premier institution JNU to the varsities in backward Bihar. On the one hand, scholarship has not been disbursed to the students for many years as in the case of all the students in Bihar, tribal students of Guwahati University etc., and, on the other hand, the available scholarship elsewhere doesn't cover even their mess bill. And dalit students are the worst sufferers. Moreover, many of the government hostels are in dilapidated conditions and in spite of legal obligation even the residential universities fail to provide hostel facilities to all the students.
69% reservation was one of the major poll issues in Tamil Nadu and every party, irrespective of its political tenets, had to extend its support to this demand. But the new CM who claims to be a champion of backward classes and whose party shares power at the Centre coolly asks for at least five years to implement this demand. Andhra Pradesh is witnessing a peculiar situation wherein the numerically large lower strata of SCs called Madhikas are up in arms demanding compartmental reservation within SC quota because they allege that the reservation benefits for SCs are cornered away by more developed dalit communities. Assam Congress government's controversial decision to include certain backward communities in the schedule of tribes has also raised divisive passions among students and has seriously affected the interests of the tribal students.
Campus democracy and educational standards are the worst casualties in recent times, particularly in Bihar and UP. In Bihar, student union elections have never taken place for more than 15 years. Laloo Prasad Yadav promised to hold union elections immediately when thousands of AISA students organised a 'Gherao Laloo' programme. But till date, he has not initiated even a single step in that direction. The AGP government is reorganising the college governing bodies so as to ensure greater hold of the ruling party politicians over them. Police firing on students, student hostels being systematically converted into shelters for PAC as well as mafias, mafia gang wars inside the campuses are the order of the day. Students have no stakes in policy-making and university curriculum are being tailored to the needs of the market forces and multinationals. Deterioration of educational standards and university administration has gone to such an extent that students, in some states, had to demand at least 180-days of classes in a year etc,. UP government, despite its committee for regularising academic calender, has not succeeded in this regard and the students waste precious years in the prime of their youth.
Assam presents a completely different scene of student politics where the political issues seemingly inspire the students more than the sectional issues. Migrants issue, tribal autonomy and the issues related to nationality question are the dominant issues there.
This being the multi-dimensional education scene of the country, AISA's effort to formulate demands and slogans, in consonance with the concrete realities of the state and in conformity with its revolutionary democratic position of Allahabad Convention, has indeed captured the imagination of the student community.
The dynamism unleashed as a response to the Allahabad call is quite an encouraging
one and the university-level conventions held at several major universities
and educational centres of the country such as Madras, Vishakapattinam, Bhuvaneshwar,
Patna, Arrah, Nalanda, Nawadah, Jehanabad, Samastipur, Muzaffarpur, Allahabad,
Lucknow, Benaras, Jadavpur, Guwahati, Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Karbi Anglong, North
Cachar Hills, Jaipur and Delhi etc., stand as an ample testimony to this.
The recent spate of initiatives by AISA has provided a new fillip to the student movement, and more importantly, the success of Sep.19 strike is indicative of the AISA's role as the only, left oppositional pole of student movement of the country. Moreover, it also shows that AISA has made a fresh start with its expansion in Jaipur and Lucknow universities and Mansa in Punjab and with its recent modest beginning in states like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Sep.19 will go down as yet another important milestone in the glorious history of AISA.