Student unions, we've had enough!


Republica National Daily

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A futile banda (strike) crippled Kathmandu on Dec 24, Christmas Eve. Not only did the strike dampen the festivities of the day; but sent a wrong message so close to the Nepal Tourism Year 2011, for which all parties pledged not to use the banda. On Dec 23 evening, the leader of All Nepal National Free Students’ Union (ANNFSU) appeared on television to state that he would continue the agitation but wouldn’t call a banda. The ANNFSU leader showed “maturity”, at least on the TV screen. He had renounced a strike. A banda-free Nepal would be a new Nepal indeed! 

He had lied. On Dec 24 morning the radio announced the strike. Sure enough, buses stood motionless on street-parks. Since I trudge daily the eight kilometre route to work, idle vehicles didn’t affect me; but they disabled others. At Gaushala, helmeted policemen indicated that a strike would cripple Kathmandu. At the New Baneshwar crossing, waving from the police-van were some ANNFSU activists whom the security forces arrested. No one waved back, but these acted like recent CNN heroes.

The excuse for the banda? On Sunday Dec 19th the Nepali Congress aligned Nepal Students’ Union (NSU) members had assaulted ANNFSU’s Birendra Rawal with a khukuri at the Tri-Chandra campus (TC). The UML-fathered ANNFSU wanted the government to arrest the NSU miscreants. 

The ANNFSU "mercifully" declared that the strike would last only till noon. However, it had already done the damage. Most schools and colleges cancelled classes. Working mothers had to improvise some means of keeping their house-bound children away from mischief. A young mother I know goes to work after taking her child to school at 9:30 am. Because her husband attends office too, she had to take a day off from her annual leave to look after her child. The strike affected hundreds of other working mothers in Kathmandu and students writing the Bachelor’s Degree II year exams. ANNFSU, can’t you think of anything better than a banda to make your point? 

A week earlier, student unions protested the increase in the price of petroleum products. They might have had legitimate claims but why did they set alight a government vehicle in front of Pashupati Multiple Campus at Chahabil? Their counterparts did the same in Birganj. Ultimately, who pays for new vehicles to replace the burnt ones? You and me, the taxpayers. Thus, money that the government could have used to build roads or a water supply ends up for new vehicles. At the end of day (Dec 24), the ANNFSU secretary said that the banda was "largely successful". Madam, what’s your criterion for success? Ensuring that daily laborers go hungry? Keeping children away from school? 

The Tribhuvan University (TU) postponed some exams it was to hold between Dec 9-15 to placate the Maoist-hatched All Nepal National Independent Students Union-Revolutionary (ANNISU-R) which had its 18th general convention during the same dates. Imagine a university rescheduling its exams to satisfy a student union! We shouldn’t forget that the same union had blackened the faces of TU dignitaries, burnt its books and furniture. Yet, the ANNISU-R complains that TU’s standards are rotting, protests that private schools merely fleece its students, and so recommends that they should face the axe! ANNISU-R youths make good disciples of Chairman Mao who didn’t allow schools and colleges to run normally in China for 10 years, starting from the Cultural Revolution till his death. 

During the 1970s, Nepal had the reputation of being a peaceful country. That good name now lies in ruins as our students, supposedly the future leaders, make their campuses battle grounds. Quality education has very little do with their mini-wars. A national daily claimed that every student union fights to win elections to bag college expansion or renovation tenders. It’s the money, stupid! In July 2009, a ANNFSU member at TC opened fire in an attempt to win a contract for building a chemistry lab.

Mother parties keep mum over their student unions’ violence because their leaders too have climbed up the political ladder through hooliganism. Thus, the Nepali Congress couldn’t chide its students for using the khukuri on Dec 19. Neither did the UML warn ANNFSU not to call the strike on Dec 24. 

A few humble requests! First, violence in any form weakens the case you’re making. Shun it! Look at the Maoists’ loss of popularity since 2006. Just last month they killed a UML cadre, and now no party wants them to lead the next government. All student unions have used violence. During 2009, ANNFSU (UML) used a gun, one year later NSU (NC) utilizes a khukuri. Violence begets more violence. So for the ANNFSU to condemn the NSU is like the kettle calling the pot black. The police and the government hesitate to arrest the NSU miscreants this time because you yourselves were the villains the last time. They didn’t nab you! You appreciated the security forces’ leniency then, so they probably want to earn NSU’s gratitude too. Besides, knowing that you’re no better, they’ll hardly rush to do your bidding.

Second, if you continue to advocate violence, keep it to yourselves. Why call a banda and affect the whole of Kathmandu (or the city you manage to cripple) just because your union doesn’t win enough votes to bag the college-tender? Take khukuris and pistols to your campus activities; kill and get killed; but don’t expect the rest of the city to sympathize with your ill-conceived banda. Rather, expect curses.

Third, a plea to leaders in the mother parties. Some of you have reached ministerial berths and leadership positions now because of the hooliganism you practiced in your student unions then. Have the courage to say that you were wrong, and that your juniors shouldn’t follow your nefarious examples. No use shedding crocodile tears about impunity in the country when secretly you rejoice being goons as "students". Then, didn’t you carry more stones (to finish your opponents) in your bags than books? Now, your student unions behave similarly. Unless you apologize first, you’ve no moral authority to correct them. 

Student unions in our country inspire terror instead of joy, pessimism instead of optimism, and fatalism instead of progress. Students have every right to voice their opinion; and in a vibrant democracy, they should. However, violence brands its users as cowards. When sensible logic and worthwhile discussions fail, cowardice incites the use of pistols, khukuris, and bandas. Do we want such cowards to lead us as future presidents, prime ministers, and ministers of our country? No way!