Cover Feature

“AISA should do all it can to rollback the dangerous saffron mission”

– Dipankar Bhattacharya

[Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya’s speech at AISA’s Fourth All India Conference at Allahabad held on August 21-22]

Comrades, Eleven years ago, your journey had begun from this very hall in Allahabad. That was a difficult period. The global media were celebrating the frenzied demolition of Berlin Wall. Bourgeois ideologues were busy writing obituaries to ideology and history. You started your forward march against such a challenging backdrop.

That was also a particularly difficult phase in our national life. On December 6, 1992 saffron supremacists brought down the Babri Masjid. Secular forces in India were pushed back to the wall. It was at that darkest hour that the country also saw a new ray of hope. From Varanasi to Delhi, AISA’s triumphant march took campus after campus by storm. The rise of that red star at that crucial moment was the most reassuring sign for the future of India’s secularism and democracy.

Today, within a decade the situation has started shifting in a different direction. What Europe is celebrating today is not demolition of the Berlin Wall or collapse of the Soviet Union. Internationally, these are no longer the talking points. From Seattle to Genoa the world is witnessing a different kind of celebration. Celebration of protest and resistance: against the IMF and World Bank, against imperialism and MNCs, against WTO and Washington. The martyrdom embraced by 23-year-old Carlo Giuliani during the recent protests at Genoa against the G-8 summit meeting has few parallels in the recent post-War history of Europe. The revolutionary student movement of India has always played a key role in waging resistance against imperialism. In the rising international protests against the havoc of globalisation, AISA has to march in the forefront of the Indian contingent.

In our own country, the saffron regime stands thoroughly discredited and isolated. It stands exposed as the worst enemy of our national dignity and independence. With elections approaching in UP, the fascist saffron brigade is however desperate to rake up trouble. They have fixed March 12 as their latest deadline for construction of a temple at Ayodhya. Evidently at this juncture, we need a powerful resurrection of the red wave of AISA. We need a red storm to sweep away the saffron threats. Let your conference become a serious warning to all the fascist dregs of our society.

Comrades, you come from a tradition of student movement that has never been confined merely to the question of education and to the four walls of university campuses. You are determined to follow the trail blazed by Bhagat Singh and our own Comrade Chandrashekhar. Three decades ago Comrade Charu Mazumder had called upon student leaders to stop weaving webs of careerist dreams and get integrated with the lives and struggles of the workers and the rural poor. That call must continue to reverberate in all our assemblies. I am sure AISA will continue to uphold this key orientation of revolutionary student movement.

Coming to the sphere of education, it is today facing a dual assault: globalisation and saffronisation. The system of modern education introduced by Macaulay in colonial India was designed to produce clerks. Railways and clerks were the twin pillars of the colonial infrastructure. Today for the railways and clerks, you have the Internet and so-called knowledge-workers. For the designers of today’s educational system, the motives are probably the same as Macaulay’s. Yet just as the consequences of Macaulay’s education did not conform to his colonialist calculations, the ongoing attempts to globalise and saffronise education, to reduce education to a commodity produced for the exclusive consumption of the elite, will also meet with a similar end. Education will remain a weapon in the hands of the gravediggers of imperialism and fascism. Having said this, I must draw your attention to some of the key features of the ongoing elitist-obscurantist attack on education. The drive for privatisation and rampant commercialisation of higher education is being sought to be rationalised by creating a false dichotomy between primary and higher education. The constitutional commitment to provide free elementary education universally to all children up to the age of 14 years has been gradually watered down first to primary education and now to bare literacy. Literacy for the masses and higher education for the elites - this seems to be new motto of the two-tier education system being designed by Macaulay’s saffron disciples headed by Murli Manohar Joshi, the disgrace of Allahabad. The status quo feels threatened by even the extremely limited amount of social mobility unleashed by our crisis-ridden system of education and hence the desperate attempts to squeeze social mobility by privatising and commercializing education. While opposing fee hikes and privatization and commercialisation of education, AISA will surely emerge as the voice of all those who are daily being pushed out of the very domain of education. As for saffronisation, what we are witnessing now are not just stray attempts by saffron infiltrators in the domain of education - a complete framework is being erected and we must demolish this framework to advance the quest for a modern democratic secular system of education. Instead of smuggling in dubious saffron textbooks, the entire school curriculum is being redesigned to suit the saffron parameters. And not just school curriculum, even the universities and institutions of higher learning are not being spared. The centre for advanced Mathematics at Mumbai University is being closed down, while universities are being asked to teach Vedic Astrology, Vedic Mathematics, and Vedic rites and rituals. From history to science, and language to philosophy, the campaign for saffronisation has started acquiring sweeping proportions. And from Madrasas to Christian missionary schools, the institutions of learning run by minority communities are under systematic attack. I am sure AISA will do all it can to roll back this dangerous saffron mission.

A few words about the fortunate few who are able to receive higher education. These days there is tremendous craze for courses in IT. In California, they expand IT as India-Taiwan - while Taiwan supplies the computer hardware and India exports software professionals, the profit accrues to the United States! But it seems the IT market is getting saturated much sooner than expected. Many Indian IT professionals are now on their way back home. But the point I would like to make concerns not so much the market of IT education, but the myth of a knowledge-society and a knowledge-economy being spun around the boom in Information Technology. Knowledge is crucial for understanding and transforming society. Knowledge is enriched by, and in turn enriches, our relationship with Nature. But the myth of a knowledge-society and knowledge-economy seeks to remove the domain of knowledge and education away from the real society that education springs from and must return to. In India, this new mythology of knowledge-society makes us turn a blind eye to the real contradiction that is reflected, let’s say, in this stark and obscene contrast between mountains of foodgrains rotting away in overflowing Food Corporation godowns and the teeming millions toiling and starving away in the villages. This seclusion of knowledge and higher education from the sordid social reality often infects many of our friends in the intelligentsia with an arrogant and escapist ivory-tower mindset. AISA has to wage a relentless struggle against this escapist comprador mindset and champion a value-system that pulsates with the passion for securing social dignity and democratic rights for all our currently disempowered and deprived people. It is now time for me to conclude. But before I take your leave, let me underscore the urgent need for an organisation like AISA to reach out to the broad student community. At a time, when they are trying so hard to restrict entry to the campuses and change the very composition of students and the socio-cultural complexion of student campuses, it is all the more necessary to tap students in their formative years, to tap them in high schools and colleges. Of course we need to take a whole range of socio-cultural initiatives to develop closer interaction with this bigger audience of students. We can be rightly proud of the fact that while many student union leaders, including left student leaders from universities like JNU, are increasingly ending up as career politicians, crossing over to all sorts of bourgeois parties for a career, AISA has produced a role model like Comrade Chandrashekhar who laid down his life on the soil of Siwan after finishing two successive terms as JNUSU president. But must we also not ponder over the growing dropout rate in our student organisation? Whether we take Allahabad or JNU, is our organisation producing as large and regular a stream of revolutionary activists as before? I don’t mean just full-time activists in the narrow sense of the term, but revolutionaries who are active in thought and practice, no matter in whatever surroundings they find themselves.

Let me wish you a very successful conference.

Let the legacy of Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar remain ever vibrant in your careful custody.