When the BJP-led NDA government had come to power in 2014, it enjoyed the support of the young voters.
The ‘right connect’, developed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with aspiring youths by selling dreams of good days in future seems to be breaking up if one analyses the series of disillusionments over the authorities decisions in major universities and institutes and the recent losing streaks of the RSS-BJP's student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).
The latest development, the use of force on girl students of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) on the night of 23 September, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on a visit to his Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency, poses a question whether the youth of the country continue to support the BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi or not?
The poser is relevant particularly in the background that Modi was hugely popular with the youth and the BJP-led NDA government had come to power in May 2014 enjoying the support of the young voters.
Available video footage and media reports clearly establish that the state police had used force on protesting girls who had been trying to draw the attention of university authorities to an incident of molestation of a first year hostel resident by three bike-borne men outside the university hostel.
On the night of the lathi charges, protesting girls were trying to meet the Vice Chancellor to apprise him of the safety situation, but as they tried to enter his residence, guards tried to stop them. Soon the police arrived on the scene and used lathis to disperse them. Several students received injuries in the process.
The tragic incident is not only demonstrative of the insensitivity and unresponsiveness of the university administration and also that of the state police that chose to use force on girl students, but also reflects a growing feeling of frustration and unease among the youth across the country.
It began within few months of the coming to power of the Modi government in New Delhi. Brimming with confidence arising out of a massive victory in the 2014 general elections, the government in New Delhi started intervening in the affairs of centrally held institutions and universities through appointments to key posts with a long-term objective of changing the political narrative that until then was under the control and influence of liberal and left ideologues.
To name the few institutions that came under focus were the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), the University of Hyderabad (UoH), the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), and others.
In the ensuing ideological tussle, peace in academic campuses was disturbed with student community sharply polarised politically. Dissent and criticism of any of the policy or change of either the government or an academic institution came to be labelled by the students owing ideological loyalty to the RSS-BJP as “anti-national”. Reigning narrative came to be reduced to national versus anti-national.
Several ministers in the Modi government like the then Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani and the BJP spokespersons were aggressively involved in the ideological battle declaring dissenting youth and protesting students as anti-national.
Results of the deepening of divisions became evident in the recently held elections in student unions.
In the student union elections in different universities and colleges across the country, including in the BJP ruled states, the performance of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student arm of the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS), has left much to desire.
ABVP candidates lost all seats in the UoH whose results were declared in the third week of September. A coalition of student groups comprising of organisations representing Left, Dalits, Tribals with the support of Rohith Vemula’s Ambedkar Students’ Union , defeated the ABVP.
In all, three Dalits, two Muslims and an Advasi won the UoH student union elections and the ABVP failed to win even a single seat. A student activist and research scholar Rohith Vemula had committed suicide on 16 January 2016 in his hostel room alleging caste-based discrimination against him by university authorities.
The ABVP has faced similar defeats in the recently held elections in the JNU and the Delhi University. While a United Left Alliance won all the seats in the JNU, the Congress’ student wing NSUI (National Students Union of India) won two top posts leaving two for the ABVP.
The ABVP also failed to win a single seat in the Punjab University, Chandigarh. At the University of Rajasthan, Jaipur, the ABVP and NSUI shared two seats each while the former had swept the election in 2016 winning all the seats. The ABVP and the NSUI shared equal number of seats at the Mohanlal Sukhadia University in Udaipur. The NSUI won three seats at the MDS University in Ajmer leaving one seat to ABVP. The ABVP fared better at the University in Kota, Maharaja Ganga Singh University in Bikaner and Jai Narayan Vyas University, in Jodhpur winning majority of seats.
There are reports of unrest in other campuses also, raising doubts over the popularity of the BJP-led governments at the Centre and states.
There could be many reasons for the erosion of popularity of the BJP among the youth, the prominent being the lack of employment. Slowing down of the economy and measures like demonitisation have created a sense of drift among youth. Sharpening of ideological divide, erosion of liberal environment in university campuses are other sources of disillusionment among the younger generation who were promised better future by the BJP during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and subsequently in state assembly elections.
The government’s relationship with the younger generation began to change almost in the first year of the Modi government when students of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) went on an indefinite strike in protest against the Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s surprise appointment of television actor turned politician Gajendra Chauhan as chairman of the institute. Chauhan had joined the BJP in 2004 and had extensively campaigned for the parry in the Lok Sabha elections.
Chauhan’s appointment was seen as a largesse showered on him by the Modi government. Students were disappointed over Chauhan’s appointment to the prestigious institute, particularly in the background of his being a second level actor.
The government did not budge and the strike continued for 139 days, creating not a very positive impression on young minds.
High handedness and insensitivity was again on display when JNU student leaders were charged with cases of sedition for their alleged raising of anti-India slogans at a function held in memory of Afzal Guru, hanged in 2013 after his conviction in the Parliament attack case.
The BJP-led government wanted to demonstrate that it was tough on anti-national elements and was keen to send a political message to its constituents that it was more national than others. The JNU became an ideological battle-ground between the Left liberals and the RSS with the later claiming to be the true nationalists.
In 2014-16, fights in some of the colleges of Delhi University between groups owing allegiance to the ABVP and others representing Left and the NSUI broke out. The ABVP had swept the student union elections in 2015. In 2016 too, the ABVP had won three seats, losing one to the NSUI.
It is too early to say whether the BJP would have to pay a political price in the coming assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh this year and in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram next year. There is no doubt that disillusionment has set in among the younger generation. Youth’s anger, anxieties and anguish, if not addressed adequately, may adversely influence the political fortunes of today’s ruling dispensation.
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Satish Misra was Senior Fellow at ORF. He has been a journalist for many years. He has a PhD in International Affairs from Humboldt University ...Read More +