Sunday, September 22, 2013


I had a long conversation with a Nepali student activist a few months ago. He belongs to one of the left parties and is perhaps pursuing his second master’s degree. During our conversations, he spelled out some classic communist jargons, as if to prove his commitment to left ideals. 

It seemed he was fascinated with terms like “class struggle” and “class antagonisms”. His personality—his plain dressing sense, the moderate pitch of his voice, the tone he maintained throughout the conversation as well as his body gestures—strictly followed the mannerisms of the leaders of his parent party. To hear him talk was similar to seeing a senile leader from his mother party repeat the communist clichés. 

Though it was a leisurely bhetghat over tea, political issues obviously crept in. He was very fond of talking about how his party (his parent party) was going to beat all others in the upcoming Constituent Assembly election.

I tried to veer away from hardcore electoral politics to issues like federalism, pedagogy, women’s problems, LGBT, etc. Eloquent enough on equations of electoral politics and arithmetic of votes, our leader was helplessly naive when it came to federalism. He said, “Federalism is nothing but an idea of foreigners to divide the country. It is like plotting of land that the real-estate people do in order to sell each patch for a profit.” Pedagogy was something alien to his vocabulary; he had seldom thought about it. At one point, he dismissed feminist discourse as useless rants by unruly women from wealthy families. His opinion on LGBT? He made some jeering remarks rather dismissively; he took it as an issue that would only interest bourgeoisie intellectuals. 

I remember the conversation often, and especially in those moments when issues related to student politics come up. Now as we are having student’s union election at my own university in Delhi, I am reminded of the conversation I had with this Nepali student activist in Kathmandu a few months back. A student of traditional understanding of politics, he showed glaring indifference towards a whole range of issues that present-day leaders and intellectuals are attempting to tackle. However, he did give me a peek inside the minds of how most Nepali student activists think and do. 

Recent news about student-politics in the Nepali press concerned forged admissions of hundreds of students at several campuses of Kathmandu, ahead of student union election. As the election for students union in the university was announced, student organizations were trying to increase the number of their sympathizers in the colleges. 

Though this was not something unique to Nepali student politics, the number of forged admissions this time was phenomenally large. Eventually, the election scheduled for June 6 was cancelled. And this activist, with whom I was having the aforementioned conversation, told me that he was way behind his rival organization in fudging college admissions. At least he was sincere enough to tell the truth! 

A Nepali leader in the making is invariably oriented towards power politics. Seldom does he engage with serious problems of society at an intellectual level. Neither is he provided training by his parent party, nor does he have to read and think about these pressing questions in his class. Classes and trainings were never mandatory for him. And if they were, they were not appealing enough.

 He tackles questions in his Masters examination on a whole range of social science issues and interestingly, passes with good scores. But how? He seeks the help of Nima Old is Gold (a collection of old questions and their solutions). Why would he unnecessarily put pressure on his brain when everything comes ready in a platter, fine thank you! 

Now comes the question: What does he actually do on campus? Very little. Off campus, he has an important task—to routinely pay visits to his mentor, the leader of his goot, the small internal faction in the mother party he identifies with. 

The moot question here is: How do we make sense of activities being carried out in the name of student politics? Is student politics a movement? How does one understand its evolution as a movement? Has it even evolved into a movement? 

Remembering the role of student organizations in previous Jana Andolans, which have changed the course of Nepali history, one feels like saluting them. But what happened after 1990? And what is going on now, after second Jana Andolan? The worst case scenario has already been stated above. 

Apart from a few successful political leaders, many who were at the helm of student organizations in and before 90s are now either disillusioned with politics or are heading NGOs (which have not lived up to the expectations of people) or private educational institutions, which don’t allow student politics to even peek from its window. I did my BA in one such private institution which was headed by an erstwhile student activist. Contrary to what he believed throughout his student-life, he never wanted his students to organize and form a union on campus. A middleclass man, he also harbors the same middle-class notion that politics in educational institution is not good. 

Interestingly, he has evidence to prove this. The evidence is that his ‘heirs’ at the university where he did his politics before are now up to no good. So “their politics” is not allowed in his campus. And it is a fact that well-off parents do not want to send their children to Sarkari campuses infamous for their “dirty politics.” Student unions do not exist in any private college. 

Had student politics been elevated to the level of a movement, it would have penetrated even the private institutions, if not exactly with the vibrancy one would see at government colleges and Tribhuvan University.

One of my friends, a rather disillusioned student-activist turned journalist, wrote in one of his columns, “Today where there are students, there are no unions. And where there are unions, there are no students.” If student politics were a movement in its real sense, this scenario would not have existed. As such, overhauling the entire student-politics apparatus is the need of the hour. 

Published in Republica Daily, on 2013-09-21 01:13:39. 


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