The recent clash at the Delhi University's Ramjas College between the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and the All India Students Association (AISA) did not happen in a vacuum. Rather, the incident, triggered by attempts to bar two Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students from a seminar at Ramjas College for their alleged "anti-India" stance, symbolises a greater ideological battle. It is an outcome of the cloak-and-dagger game between the Left and the Rashtriya Swayasevak Sangh (RSS).
This particular incident and the fallout in terms of pitched battles between the ABVP and the Left — both online and offline and supported by different sections of society — is a reflection of the ongoing, intense ideological war between the Left and the RSS in the country. The stakes are high and so is the intensity of the battle.
There were attempts to position these battles as the 'ABVP versus the rest.' But that may not be the case.
The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) is one of the front organisations of the RSS and has been active in University campuses across the country. The organising secretary of the ABVP is an RSS Pracharak (full-time cadre). However, the organisation retains autonomy in its daily functions.The ABVP has been on the forefront of the JP movement of the 1970s and many of its leaders were arrested during the Emergency (1975-77). Atleast a dozen ministers of the current government at the centre (including some senior Cabinet ministers) have worked actively and fought student elections on the ABVP platform while in university.
There was a time that the ABVP was considered to be the nursery for grooming leaders for the Bharatiya Janata Party and its erstwhile avatar, the Bharatiya Jansangh. Over the last couple of years, however, the ABVP adopted a new role of countering Left propaganda in university campuses. This is a significant transformation as the organisation is no longer focused on the electoral politics of student unions, but is also mandated to take the ideological battle to the rival's camps in educational institutions of higher learning.
In 2016, the ABVP had won the Delhi University Students' Union polls handsomely.Indeed, it has always been a force to reckon with in DU as well as in several other university campuses across the country. Its footprint has been expanding rapidly, though it is still finding it difficult to establish itself in some of the last 'red bastions' like JNU. The Left is also not taking it lightly, and has tried to counter the ABVP's expansion by craftily associating incidents at campuses to larger issues like "dalit identity" (as what happened in the case of the suicide of Rohit Vemula of the University of Hyderabad) or of "freedom of expression" (as in the incidents at JNU and DU). However, to view the incidents at Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru University or University of Hyderabad from the perspective of either "freedom of expression" or "dalit identity", is to lose sight of the bigger picture.
These incidents are the outcome of a much larger ideological battle between the Left and the RSS.
The nation is aware of their long-standing conflict in Kerala, simmering since the 1960s. It is interesting, in fact, that the incident at DU happened around a week before the RSS cadres were set to hold a nationwide demonstration against the killings of RSS members in Kerala by the Left cadres. This was the second such demonstration by the RSS on the killings within a of a couple of months,showing its resolve to call attention to the issue. The RSS claims that more than 300 of its cadres have been brutally murdered in Kerala by the Leftists since the 1960s. The Left has also made similar counter-claims. In 2016, the Left Democratic Front had won Assembly polls in Kerala and formed the government. Since then the friction between the RSS and the Left has worsened.
However, the immediate genesis ofthese clashes between the ABVP and the Left-backed student organisationsin university campuses can be traced to the Bharatiya Janata Party's landslide victory in the Lok Sabha polls of 2014. Subsequent developments in Kerala have added fuel to the fire.
The RSS has always believed that the country's academic institutions and university campuses have been 'infiltrated' by the Left since the early 1970s with the support of Congress.
After the BJP government came to power in 2014, a priority in this government's agenda has been to reverse this trend; to rid university campuses of the influence of Marxist ideology, be it in the curriculum or in key institutional positions.
The Left saw the impact soon enough, as appointees of the previous governments were replaced at a rapid pace. New vice chancellors have already been appointed in most of the important universities and they are known to be not leaning towards Leftist ideology. With the BJP ruling in a number of important states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Jharkhand, Gujarat, and Assam, the changes are happening not only at the Central educational institutions but also the state universities. For example, RSS-backed teachers' organisations like the National Democratic Teachers’ Front have bounced back, winning the crucial Delhi University Teachers' Association early this year after a gap of several years. It is yet to be seen, however, whether this is a temporary phenomenon or will pick up greater pace.
Perhaps one of the most significant events which largely went unnoticed but is reflective of the turning tide in the academe was an international conference on "Idea of Bharat" organised jointly by the RSS-backed Bharatiya Shikshan Mandal and the Indira Gandhi National Open University. The conference was held at the IGNOU campus in Delhi from 23 to 25 February 2017. Interestingly, the conference was inaugurated by President Pranab Mukherjee, along with the Union Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javdekar. The keynote address was delivered by the RSS joint General Secretary Suresh Soni. Top RSS brass were present at the conference throughout the three days and mingled withthe vice chancellors and academic experts who presented more than 125 research papers on the "Idea of Bharat". This may be considered as a show of strength by the RSS as far as its presence in the academe is concerned. Representatives from 24 states and more than half a dozen countries participated in this conference and discussed various issues, ranging from Science and Technology to Art and Culture within the framework of a non-Left paradigm.
The RSS has realised that the Left has been marginalised as far as electoral politics is concerned. Except in Tripura and Kerala, the Left has failed to form a government elsewhere and its numbers have been reducing drastically in Parliament as well as in a handful of state assemblies where it used to have a presence. The last bastion of the Left is university campuses where they still have a strong presence amongst faculty. Amongst students, the Left-backed student organisations do not hold as much sway as the ABVP or the Congress' student wing, the National Students Union of India(NSUI).
At the same time, the Left also realises that it has been pushed into a corner and must now fight for its very survival. Thus, it has taken a tactical stand of positioning itself as supporter of "liberal values". Thus, every ideological clash with the RSS or the ABVP is being turned into a fight for liberal values like "freedom of expression" or "rights for dalits". There are clear indications that the pitch of this contest between the RSS and the Left is going to get even shriller, with more and more campuses turning into ideological battlegrounds.
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