Ever since the present Modi government came to power, there appears to have been a clear set of orders issued from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) headquarters to its student organization, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), to go on the rampage in university campuses all over India. From getting specific parts of syllabuses changed under threat of violence, disrupting events by other student organizations on campuses, to forcing university administrations to intervene to curb freedom of expression, to filing police complaints against dissenters, they seem to have been acting according to a well rehearsed script, subverting democratic processes on campuses. After its recent electoral defeats in JNU and Hyderabad Central University (HCU), however, the ABVP’s role seems to have acquired an even more virulent feature. The game plan appears to be to provoke violence wherever possible so that rather than any kind of debate, however contentious, on issues such as nationalism, minority rights and caste injustice, what we are increasingly likely to see are violent standoffs between student groups, which have to be controlled by the police. These are often represented in the media as brawls between students, as if there were no ideology or political content involved, just two groups of students “clashing.” But of course, in each case ABVP is involved, and in some kinds of reporting it can even be made to appear that ABVP was somehow the victim.
This is the moment at which teachers need to finally accept that ABVP is not just another student organization. We have tended to take the position in our universities that we must not condemn or directly address ABVP, since we must not directly involve ourselves in student politics. Teachers must talk to administration, be publicly critical of its lapses, take all measures necessary to display and enact our solidarity with students under attack by this regime. While students take their own decisions on modes of struggle and so on, teachers see our role as supportive but with a critical distance.
However, now we may need to start thinking of ways in which we recognize the organization of the ABVP as a serious threat to Indian democracy. I don’t mean individual students, who would also be in our class-rooms, and with whom it may still be possible to continue a conversation, and whose examinations we will continue to grade with utmost probity. as we have always done.
But the ABVP as an organization has a specific role to play, as storm-troopers in the project of Hindu nationalism, and we cannot afford any longer not to face up to this fact frontally.