The Spectre of Campus Activism Haunts the Liberalisers and Saffronisers

And the people in the houses

All went to the university,

Where they were put in boxes

And they came out all the same,

And there’s doctors and lawyers,

And business executives,

And they’re all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same.

– Malvina Reynolds, 1962

Like the Birla-Ambani Report of Vajpayee’s days; like the Report of a World Bank Task Force on Higher Education in Developing Countries, February 2000, of which Manmohan Singh was a member; like the Lyngdoh Committee report, the TSR Subramanian Panel report on the New Education Policy has spent several pages recommending the restriction of campus activism. The TSR Subramanian panel imagines that the vast, ‘silent’ majority of students are adversely affected by student activism. It then recommends that the Constitutional liberties and freedom of association be restricted. It seeks a “large public discussion” on the question of restricting such freedoms – but a discussion in which it, strangely, wants “vocal segments of the community who are votaries of ‘free speech’” to be silenced. It further recommends that “student groups explicitly based on caste, religion, or any political party should be abjured through the statues governing the universities and institutions.”

How do we read these recommendations in light of recent events? The Government of the day chose to brand Ambedkar Student Association and Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle as explicitly ‘casteist’, while the ABVP that violently imposes casteism, patriarchy and Hindu fundamentalism on students is deemed ‘nationalist.’ The Government of the day has made no secret of its hostility to free speech and dissent, even as it has nurtured hate speech. The Panel Report, then, sits well with the Government agenda of delegitimizing dissent on campuses. Dissenting student movements are branded as a ‘distraction’ while a fictitious ‘silent majority’ is projected, with no basis in fact, as victims of the movements!