People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 36

September 08, 2013






Why the Students are

Marching to Delhi on Sept 10


Ritabrata Banerjee


EDUCATION in India continues to be in a poor state despite the otherwise relatively high growth rates the country has achieved.  This is mainly because of continuing neglect of successive central governments to provide more resources to the education sector. The small increase in spending during the UPA-I regime, due to pressure from the Left parties, was also far from sufficient and reached nowhere near the promised spending of 6 per cent of GDP and 10 per cent of the budget on education.


The UPA-II government waged a renewed offensive in the field of education through commercialisation and centralisation. Attempts are being made not only to push for increased commercialisation and opening up of the education sector to foreign players,  but also to fundamentally change the structure of education sector in the country. The thrust is to fundamentally curb the democratic values in the realm of education policy and make it subservient to the whims and fancies of the market.


In this context, the Students Federation of India (SFI) is organising ‘Chalo Delhi’ march on September 10, 2013 on the three central demands: “Spend 6 per cent of GDP on Education; Say No to Commercialisation and Centralisation of Education and Ensure Democratic Rights of the Students in all Campuses”. Along with these three central demands, state-specific demands are also being chalked out and intensive campaign is going on in the campuses throughout the country to make success this rally. Representatives of 40 lakh students will assemble in Delhi on September 10 to voice the just demands of the student community.


The most dangerous step in the direction of commercialisation and opening up of education sector is the Higher Education and Research (HER) Bill 2011. The defining feature of this Bill is that it takes away all rights of policy and decision making in education from democratically elected bodies like the parliament and state legislatures and gives sweeping powers to a seven member body. Similar steps can also be seen in the field of school education where attempts are being made to undermine the autonomy of state boards by talks of uniform syllabi and curricula. All this is being done in the name of “reforming and rejuvenating” the education sector in the country. While the government is not showing any inclination to increase resource allocation for the education sector, it wants to acquire all powers to implement its ‘one-size-fits-all’ policies.


Education, especially in a country like ours, which is marked by large diversities, cannot be straight jacketed. It has to be participatory and democratic, where diverse sections can both relate to and benefit from attaining education. A top down approach, which is the hallmark of the HER Bill can never address the problems prevailing in the education sector in an effective manner. It fails logic to argue that a clique of some individuals, who will have no accountability whatsoever to the common people unlike elected legislative bodies at the centre and the state, would get rid of all the problems plaguing the education system today.


It is important to understand that the driving force behind all these measures is not the intention to drastically expand the education system and strengthen it. The primary motive is to cater to the needs of the market and undermine the progressive content of education in the country. To take an example, the former human resources development minister Kapil Sibal, during his tenure, called for having identical syllabi for science and commerce streams at the higher secondary level across all states. One might ask why he excluded humanities or social sciences in this.


The answer is clear. Science and commerce streams have a direct relation to the needs of the market today. The ruling elite in our country need supply of a skilled labour force to compete in the world market. That is not the case with social sciences or liberal arts which have no direct contribution to material production in the country, and in fact pose a challenge to the imperialist hegemony which would want us to interpret our society in a particular manner. What Sibal and the present HRD minister want is to discourage people from questioning the fundamental divide and dichotomy which marks the uneven and unequal growth process, a result of neo-liberal policies over the last two decades.


This market-oriented approach seeks to demolish all the earlier recommendations and suggestions by committees appointed by the central government itself. These policies undermine the federal aspects of our Constitution. They create a fundamental divide between the stakeholders and policy makers. There is an urgent need to expose the real intentions of the government’s push for “radical reforms”. Also, there is a need to wage militant struggles, along with other democratic sections in the society,  to pressurise the government to commit more resources to the education sector.




The question of democratic rights of the students in the campuses is facing a very serious threat with the onset of the neo-liberal era. The Birla Ambani Report (2000) and the proposed Model Act for Universities during the tenure of the BJP-led NDA government viewed students’ unions as an impediment in the path of implementing the privatisation and commercialisation agenda. In the name of preserving the academic ethos, they took a stand against elections. Due to widespread opposition, both these initiatives were eventually dropped.


The issue of student politics was brought to the notice of the Supreme Court as a result of a long drawn legal battle in the Kerala courts, where prohibition of student politics by the then UDF government was challenged. The Lyngdoh Committee was constituted by the MHRD, as per the order issued by the Supreme Court on December 12, 2005, to streamline students’ union elections. The purpose of the committee was “To frame guidelines on Students’ Union Elections in Colleges/Universities”. The committee, in its report submitted on May 23, 2006 upheld the right of student organisations to work freely among students. It advised flexibility in the conduct of elections to students’ unions as per the requirements of different campuses. In fact, the Lyngdoh committee made it mandatory for all educational institutions, including private ones, to hold students’ union elections in some form or the other.


However, most educational institutions in our country continue to ignore these basic recommendations of the Lyngdoh committee. Even at the stage of preparing its report, the committee anticipated this problem. It felt that certain state governments prohibit political activity or students’ union elections and that it would “be prudent for the central government and/or the Hon’ble Supreme Court to lead the way in the matter, and to impress upon the concerned state governments the need for a healthy student democracy, and, consequently, the need to amend any prohibitory statutes that may be in place.” Unfortunately, no proactive measure has been undertaken by the judiciary against the violation of this basic recommendation.Ensuring the right to hold students’ union elections is essential as it becomes a site for the battle of ideas and it provides a platform for collectively addressing students concerns.  




Barring a few states, student union elections are not held in most of the states. Bengal was an exception with regular elections. But ever since the Trinamool Congress formed the government, there has been an all-round attack on the democratic rights of the student community. There have been continuous attacks on the activists and sympathizers of the SFI. In the year 2012, 103 elected unions were forcibly captured and no elections were conducted in them. The ruling party has been openly helping and guarding the miscreants.


In 2013 the state government put a ban on the student union elections. While fighting for the restoration of elections, on April 2, 2013 our beloved Comrade Sudipto Gupta was cold-bloodedly murdered in Kolkata. The series of events since then clearly reflect the values for which Sudipto Gupta laid down his life. The mass upsurge of anger and grief transcended the boundaries of the state in which he lived, and today he has joined the ranks of those young men and women who, in the course of our history, have been murdered by the ruling classes, just because they dared to dream of a better world, a world free of exploitation.


With the entire state machinery of West Bengal acting as the arm of the ruling party, little progress has been made in bringing the guilty to book. The situation in the state has only worsened further, with a campaign of vicious terror being unleashed across the state. Trinamool supporters ransacked more than 1500 offices of the Left parties and student organisation, vandalising and setting on fire most of them. Presidency University was vandalised; students and teachers were indiscriminately attacked and the century-old Baker laboratory was damaged by the Trinamool goons who barged into the campus. A first year student and SFI activist, Santosh Sahani of the Surya Sen College in Siliguri was jailed just because he participated in a rally against the Trinamool terror.


It is in this context that Comrade Sudipto’s martyrdom becomes even more relevant. He died fighting for the restoration of campus democracy in West Bengal, and today when we pledge to carry forward his legacy then it can be only through the further intensification of the struggle of democratic rights in West Bengal as well as in the entire country.


In the last two decades of neo-liberal reforms, ruling classes have systematically acted to depoliticise the campuses; but instances such as the large scale participation of students and youth in protests after the Delhi Gang rape exposed their biggest fears. The fight for campus democracy in essence is simultaneously a struggle against the neo-liberal model of education. And as Sudipto’s martyrdom had taught us, the fight for the democratic rights of one section of society in essence is also the struggle for the democratic rights of all the sections of society. Comrade Sudipto Gupta and our other martyrs had committed a crime! The crime of our brave hearts was that they cherished the values of democracy, national unity and integrity, social and economic equality and decided to promote these values. They were murdered because they directly challenged the authority of the ruling classes and their agents. Our comrades have been slain. These brilliant flames have been put out. But these have generated hundreds and thousands of sparks that continue to glow with determination. Spreading like wildfire, they are conveying the message that we shall advance to a better future and those who are obstructing this will be consumed by the raging torrents of history. Our enemies have succeeded in killing our comrades but they cannot kill their ideas. The ideas of Comrade Sudipto, Comrade Rohit (killed by ABVP goons in Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh for protesting against eve teasing) and others remain to be the dominant ideas of most of the campuses in our country. They have proved that “Rivers in spate cannot be held back by straws.”


Let the Parliament Street in New Delhi be flooded with thousands of Sudiptos on September 10. Let the thunderous slogans of thousands of Sudipto echo throughout the country from the Parliament Street of the capital. Let, from the very womb of challenges, the process of a forward movement emerge and carry the glorious legacies of Comrade Sudipto and our other undying martyrs - and their spearhead – the SFI - forward.