AISA's 8th National Conference

AISA's 8th national conference was held in New Delhi on 10-11 May, near the north campus of the Delhi University. The inaugural session of the 2-day national conference was addressed by CPI(ML) general secretary Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya, human rights activist Prashant Bhushan, DUTA President Nandita Narain, AIPWA secretary Comrade Kavita Krishnan and leaders of SFI, AISF, DSF and AIDSO. Around 300 delegates from Delhi, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Punjab, Chandigarh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Karbi Anglong, Madhya Pradesh, Maharshtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu attended the conference.

Welcoming the delegates and guests at the inaugural session, AISA's national president Sucheta De pointed that the conference was being held in the backdrop of several dangerous policy changes being mooted by the Modi government. She stressed that the student community and the student movement has the historic responsibility to oppose the systematic saffronisation of education, the choice-based credit system, the common Central University Act and RUSA. She called for a powerful student movement against the communal and corporate offensive of the Modi Government.

DUTA President Nandita Narain said that the proposed CBCS was just FYUP in another form, and should be opposed by another movement on the scale of the anti-FYUP movement. She underlined the fact that the blueprint of privatisation of education was put in place by the previous UPA government, and is now being aggressively pursued by the Modi government. Pointing out that various Indian governments are following WTO diktats to declare education as a 'tradeable commodity', she added that the script of selling out education is being written globally. Human rights advocate Prashant Bhushan also addressed the conference and said that sycophants and ideologues of the RSS are being placed at the head of all the institutions of our country. All dissent is being curbed and activists are being hounded. Prof Saibaba who is 80% disabled is denied bail, while communal killers like Maya Kodnani who has been clearly convicted is granted bail, he added.

CPI(ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya called for a bold and vibrant student movement (see text of speech below). Kavita Krishnan welcomed the conference on behalf of AIPWA as well as the All India Peoples' Forum (AIPF), and said that students have a historic role to play in challenging the ideological assaults of the ruling powers.

Vishwajeet, national secretary of AISF, Ashok, national secretary of AIDSO, Sunand, Delhi secretary of SFI and Ishan from the DSF also addressed the conference, and stressed on the need for collective, united resistance of left and progressive student organisations to the ongoing policy assaults.

During the 2-day conference, student leaders and activists deliberated in detail on the need to oppose CBCS, RUSA, the common Central University Act and the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations. Detailed documents on the intent and content of all these policies were presented at the conference.

A 57-member National Executive and a 115-member Council was elected. Comrades Farhan Ahmed, Ranjeet Kramsa, Rinki and Ranajoy were elected as Vice Presidents. Comrades Sunil Maurya, Ajit Kushwaha, Saikat Maity and Abhilasha were elected as joint secretaries. Comrade Sucheta De was elected as AISA’s National President, while Comrade Sandeep Saurav was elected as national General Secretary.

For a Bold and Vibrant Student Movement

(Based on Comrade Dipankar’s address at the inaugural session of AISA’s 8th National Conference)

It is significant that you are holding your 8th all India conference on the 10th of May, the anniversary of the historic people’s insurrection of 1857. Schooled in colonial historiography, for generations we have known the great uprising of 1857 as a mutiny of the sepoys. Subsequently we of course came to see it as the first war of India’s independence. But even then it does not convey the whole spirit of 1857. We tend to get an impression that the struggle that led to the eventual transfer of power amidst communal bloodbath and partition should be seen to have begun in 1857.

But 1857 had quite a different vision; it has left for us a distinct legacy. It was a revolt of the aggrieved peasantry and the peasant youth in the uniform of sepoys. It was driven not by the desire of restoration of Mughal or any other royal rule, but by the dream of a modern republic of the people. It produced the first citizens’ charter of modern India; it produced the first anthem for the people. The spirit of a people rising across the vast land spread from the Himalayas in the north to the sea-shores in the south to free their own beloved country and its from the clutches of colonial plunderers found its most eloquent expression in Azimulla Khan’s unforgettable lyrics ‘Hum hai Hindostani, Hindostan hamara’ (we are Indians, India is ours). Future India will surely pay due respect to this great legacy of 1857.

1857 was about a militant fighting unity of soldiers and peasants and traders and other sections of common people. It was about militant Hindu-Muslim unity against British colonial rule. It was about the people’s control over their basic resources, about their rights over land and livelihood. It was not a freak revolt, it was the culmination of a series of adivasi revolts and peasant rebellions and the flame remained alive even after the main revolt was overpowered militarily. This was indeed a glorious phase of anti-colonial progressive awakening. While adivasis and peasants and soldiers were rising in revolt in India, in another continent this was the phase of publication of the Communist Manifesto and the first attempt at founding a state on the basis of workers’ power and people’s democracy, which the world remembers as the Paris Commune. In today’s India when we are facing an all-out corporate offensive, the legacy and the spirit of the people’s resistance of 1857 become all the more relevant.

You have rightly put forward your motto: “fight to study, study to transform the society”. In our history we have come across periods when these two parts of the slogan got compressed into one, when formal education is relegated to the background and the battle for social transformation and people’s emancipation acquires immediate urgency. Bhagat Singh and his comrades, and countless other revolutionaries and fighters, had sacrificed their educational careers to plunge headlong into the battle for India’s independence. Again in the late 1960s and early 1970s, tens of thousands of students, including hundreds from India’s best colleges and universities, and even medical and engineering colleges, left their academic career to get integrated with the working people of India in their battle for emancipation. We cherish this legacy. In our own generation we have seen how Comrade Chandrashekhar translated this slogan into reality in his life and martyrdom. This commitment inspires us in our own lives and struggles.

We know that the modern education system was shaped in India during the British colonial rule. The colonial rulers needed an Indian bureaucracy, a whole army of clerks and employees to prop up the system of colonial governance. Even though the spread of education played an important role in shaping the anti-colonial awakening, it also served to perpetuate colonial prejudices. After Independence, the ruling elite refused to push for universal quality education, yet education did play a role in injecting a degree of social mobility. But the onset of the LPG policy framework and the WTO regime has transformed education into a matter of profitable business where privatisation and commercialisation have become the order of the day. With the BJP back in power at the Centre, we also have the added trend of all-pervasive saffronisation casting its shadow over the entire academic domain from basic textbooks and curriculum to history and science congresses and institutions of higher research and learning. And in Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ scheme, education is just a method of developing skills so India can become a low-cost manufacturing hub for global capital global capital.

From Macaulay’s scheme of producing clerks to serve colonial rule to Modi’s vision of turning Indian youth into cheap skilled labour for global capital foreign, education in India thus remains more a tool designed for the rulers than a weapon in the hands of the people. This is the context in which AISA today has to wage the battle for quality education for all. It has to encompass the entire educational scene from the rural poor children for whom basic education is being reduced to the mockery of mid-day meals to the domain of higher education which is being sought to be restricted as a preserve of the privileged. AISA must grow into an organisation that can represent and fight for the cause of the broad student community whether in the central and state universities in major urban centres or in schools and colleges in rural areas and small towns, whether in private educational institutions and commercial coaching centres or in government-run or autonomous institutions.

And AISA must also continue to serve as the bridge that connects the student movement for universal quality education and campus democracy with various strands of the wider democratic movement beyond the academic domain, be it the peasant movement for land and livelihood or the women’s movement for freedom without fear, the youth movement for dignified employment or the workers’ movement for decent wages and better working conditions. AISA has always been a moving force in the battle for justice. Be it the fight for justice for students like Sajid, Atif and Ishrat Jahan killed in fake encounters or intellectuals like Hem Mishra and Prof. Saibaba, who are subjected to detention and torture, be it the mass acquittal of culprits in massacres like Bathe and Bathani Tola or custodial killings like Hashimpura, the struggle for repeal of the draconian AFSPA or the defence of freedom of expression, AISA has always been in the forefront.

In the present juncture when communal hate and corporate greed are trying to dictate the terms of democracy and we have to wage a determined battle to defend our rights, the country needs a bold and vibrant student movement, a powerful Left movement. AISA has a big role to play at this juncture and we look forward to the onward march of AISA.

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