Students’ political activism has been a key political force in different parts of the world for a very long time. However, 1960s is often taken to be an important landmark in history in the western society with regard to student’s activism. Students’ activism has taken various shapes ranging from peaceful demonstration to militant student movement, like in the case of United States, where the Vietnam War became the key factor in stimulating the largest and most militant student movement in the American history.
Even in Japan, the renewing of the Security Treaty between Japan and the US in 1960 and various other issues initiated large scale of student protests ranging from peaceful demonstration to building break-ins and several physical confrontations with police. Almost all the Europrean countries have experienced strong students’ political movements. The issues taken up by the movements have also varied ranging from academic freedom, discriminatory policy practiced by the state and other institutions on various grounds, and opposition of state’s foreign policy. However, it is generally argued that in the western society, students’ movements died in 1970s and students since have not been actively involved in political movements.
Even in the developing countries, student political activism has been an important force and there are hardly any political upheavals where students have not played a major part. Take, for example, the role of Iranian students in overthrowing the Shah, students’ movements against the autocratic rule in Indonesia, student’s movements in the Latin American countries against the system which show the importance of students in political development. This power of students has not gone unrecognized by the state. Thus, in many parts of the developing countries where autocratic/authoritarian regime exists, students’ union and student politics are banned for they are perceived as threats to the existing system. But in other parts of the world where students do possess such privilege, students continue to be politically active and involved not only in fighting for thier rights but also in matters of state affairs and, on occasions, contribute to political unrest.
STUDENT POLITICS IN NEPAL
Nepali students have significantly contributed in the democratization of Nepal, whether it be 1950 that saw the end of over a century long oligarchic Rana Regime, or 1990 which marked the end of three decades long Panchayati System and 2008 that ended 239 year old monarchy. In all these developments, students have played a crucial role. Moreover, it would be unfair not to say that in the last movement for democracy, students were in the forefront, and were ahead of any other group or organizations, including their parent parties. A reason for this farsightedness could be the realization that they are responsible for the future of their country.
Nevertheless, in a state like Nepal, characterized by poor literacy rate and lack of accountability in the political elites in the government as well as in the opposition, student community constitutes an important element of public opinion. In the words of Philip G. Altbach (1984) “student activism contributes to social change in the Third World and focuses national attention on political and social questions that might otherwise be ignored by the political system.” In this sense, students’ unions do not merely represent the ideology that they adhere to but they also represent the whole community and the state.
However, a question that arises is, has students’ politics in Nepal lived up to its expectation? Many people doubt it and are of the view that political activism should be banned in educational institutions, for it has been the major element in the degradation of quality education in colleges and universities. Tribhuvan University, the largest university of Nepal which has been the hub of students’ politics since its establishment, today has been discredited for the same reason which has led to decreasing number of students’ enrollment over the years. Student politics, today in the view of general population, has become synonymous to goondagardi.
This accusation is difficult to be discarded because in the name of student politics many people are engaged in illegal activities, inter-party rivalries that often amount to serious violent conflicts in educational institutions, and regular strikes in colleges that often disrupt exams. But hardly any initiative is taken in developing college infrastructure. Moreover, few days back, one of the students’ organizations protested against the arrest of two people accused of being involved in serious crimes.
Instead of cooperating with the concerned authority to help find them the actual facts, the act clearly shows the disrespect of law by that particular student organization. The sad state of affair of the national politics combined with student politics has contributed to the growing detachment of the general public especially the youth. Student’s organizations have merely become an instrument of political parties to fulfill their petty interests. Student’s organizations have failed to live up to their expectation.
WITHER STUDENT POLITICS?
Student Politics is an integral part of political development and can play a crucial role in the process of nation building. As argued earlier, they constitute an important element of public opinion. Ideological differences among students’ organizations are natural but all ideology is committed to representing a community.Differences might be in terms of means. But the students’ unions in Nepal seem to be failing in contributing to wider population. Instead, they are serving as means to fulfill their parent organization’s interests. They seem to be following the footstep of the leaders of their parent organization, and in this case even if they emerge as national leaders tomorrow, we can hardly expect anything better from them.
It seems that students’ unions of Nepal need fundamental reorientation in their attitude. Students should be the ones to lead the nation and pave path for change and prosperity guide the political leaders who are lost in their own old perspectives. Merely registering for two or three courses (that has become a trend in student leaders to continue their college politics) does not make anyone an efficient leader. What matters is how you represent the voice of those illiterate, marginalised and poverty stricken population. It must be accepted that education forms the bedrock of development, so it is necessary that student politics, in no way, should obstruct it but instead fight for better quality education that is accessible to the mass. The student community should also make both general population and political elites aware of the consequences of various social, political and economic issues. In a country where the oppositions have failed to check-balance the government, students could emerge as such force.
The biggest pain in life is to see our dream, hope and expectation dying. Nepali people have stopped expecting from the political leaders. But the new Nepal that Nepalis have dreamt of demands equality, liberty and social justice in all spheres of life. It is still possible only if students recognize their responsibility towards their state. So student leaders, set a path for development we all will collectively join our hands and follow you to help you build new Nepal.
Writer is a student of M.Phil in International Organization from the Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament (CIPOD), School of International Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
(Source: Republica Nepal)