ABVP-SFS clash in Panjab University brought to the forefront the left's ideological conflict

ABVP-SFS clash in Panjab University brought to the forefront the left’s ideological conflict

Youth & Campus
Reading Time: 10 minutes

Clashes between students in colleges and universities are quite mundane. On 1 February 2020, a clash took place in Panjab University between the activists of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Hindutva fascism’s global wellspring Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and activists of the Students for Society (SFS), a leftwing students’ organisation striving for new democracy. This ABVP-SFS clash in Panjab University brought the ideological conflict within the left forces to the forefront. The ideological dichotomy that was fuelled by this ABVP-SFS clash in Panjab University actually reflected the dichotomy between two trends of leftwing people’s and students’ movements throughout the world.

After acting as a bully, a feral stormtrooper of Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Hindutva fascist government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its ideological master RSS, in different university campuses, after heckling, thrashing and brutally injuring students and teachers in other campuses of the country, after abusing women throughout India with sheer hubris, the ABVP faced the music in the Panjab University campus, where the SFS students physically resisted its aggression and attempt to gag free voice of other students. Now, after suffering a setback due to the SFS’s resistance, the ABVP, shedding its careless, aggressive image, is playing the victim card.

In a statement issued on the issue of ABVP-SFS clash in Panjab University, the saffron terrorist force of the RSS blamed the SFS of terrorising its people and of not respecting democracy and dissent. The students of Panjab University, happy over the fact that the ABVP has suffered humiliation at a time when the RSS and the BJP are trying hard to seize the political centre-stage in Punjab, didn’t pay heed to the growling of the organisation and its hoodlum burly leaders. Yet, there are certain elements within the left that empathised with the RSS’s stormtroopers and did shed tears seeing the ABVP wailing.

Clarifying its stand on the ABVP-SFS clash in Panjab University, the SFS has said in a statement:

“On 14th December 2019, Divyansh Sharma an activist of ABVP from UICET, posted vulgar and misogynistic comments about SFS activists from his Instagram account. Taking objection to the comments, SFS President Varinder, through a Facebook post asked Divyansh Sharma to apologize for his comments. But even after repeated reminders to ABVP leaders no apology was issued.

It has been a general trend by RSS/BJP/ABVP to threaten and intimidate people on social media by using foul language and giving threats of physical violence. The same has been witnessed time and again in cases of Gurmehar Kaur, Ravish Kumar, Kanu Priya and many others. The extent of this intimidation is such that people feel terror in even writing a post against RSS/BJP/ABVP on social media. This terror on social media is part of the larger terror that the fascist Sangh Parivar wants to impose upon the society. To eliminate this terror from the masses it becomes imperative to strike at the very source of terror.” (sic)

But the statement of the SFS, its clarification regarding the role played by Sharma and his hoodlums within the campus and their aggression didn’t go well with the so-called left and democratic students’ organisations.

Swaraj India’s student wing Youth for Swaraj (Y4S) also criticised the SFS for resisting the ABVP’s vandals. In a strongly-worded statement, the Y4S said:

“There cannot be a stronger promotion of state violence than by condoning violence as a means of expressing one’s dissent. And by calling the ideology of non violence hollow, SFS has not only insulted millions of people who are inspired by Constitution in their fight against this oppressive and nakedly communal regime but it has also distanced itself from the brave non-violent agitators at Jamia, Shaheen Bagh and numerous other places, who haven’t budged in their unflinching faith in constitutionalism even in the face of gravest provocations, both from state and non-state actors. Ironically, in this distancing, it has appeared closer to the “fascist” forces it is claiming to fight against.

We expect SFS to display an acuter understanding of history and not join RSS in its demonisation of our freedom struggle and sacrifices of the multitudes of freedom fighters. We also sincerely expect that SFS will display the maturity to understand nuanced differences and not let its blind fascination for violence come in the way of a united fight against this oppressive, nakedly communal and “fascist” regime.” (sic)

The Students Federation of India (SFI), affiliated with the champion of left opportunism Communist Party of India (Marxist), criticised the SFS’s resistance in unequivocal terms as well.

“Students’ Federation of India, Panjab University condemns the violence that took place on the night of 1st February, near Boys Hostel 3. Violence only signifies the attempts to crush dissent and hence should never be endorsed. In the particular incident, members of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarti Parishad and Students For Society were involved and we condemn the actions of all the individuals involved in this incident.

But at the same time, we all need to look at how the incident happened and who were the students whose incited comments that resulted in the scuffle. The comment of a cadre of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarti Parishad posted a vulgar and misogynistic comment on a social media platform about SFS (Students For Society), which led to the incident of 1st February. As we have all seen, ABVP and their goons have always behaved in such a manner and in many campuses across the country, the have been involved in vandalism and other forms of violence. Their misogynistic and ‘goon’ish behavior is not unknown to the students community; it was evident during the incident in Jawaharlal Nehru University in the recent past and it became evident again in Panjab University. They instigate violence and then foul cry the whole incident to be done by the Left. This needs to be understood and ABVP should be condemned by each and every students in the campus. Though the violence was incited by ABVP, the alleged action of violence by SFS members cannot be overlooked and needs to be condemned as this is not healthy for the campus environment. The alleged action of the SFS members also threatens the progressive movement of the campus. Such an action, using physical violence as means to tackle issues, by SFS which claims to be a progressive organization doesn’t fit into their claim.” (sic)

Though the SFI recognised the aggressive behaviour of the ABVP and its politics in the statement, All India Students’ Association (AISA), the student wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, strongly condemned the SFS by showing the “victim” ABVP leader Sharma as a mere “chemical engineering student”. In a statement issued in Hindi and Gurmukhi, the AISA launched a vitriolic attack on the SFS, calling its resistance “irresponsible, infantile”, etc. It expressed the apprehension that such action may, “because of the left inclination of the SFS, project the image of the leftists as anarchists before the liberals, minorities, who have plunged into the struggle in the present situation” in its statement signed by one Aman Ratiya.

AISA didn’t clarify what is meant by “the present situation” in its statement and how it’s different from any earlier situation? The signatory AISA leader Ratiya was found liking posts by the ABVP on social media regarding the ABVP-SFS clash in Panjab University. Whether the SFS members have done the right thing by getting involved in a physical clash with the ABVP is not the subject of discussion here. The subject lies somewhere deeper than that.

In the case of ABVP-SFS clash in Panjab University, it’s seen that the AISA, SFI and Y4S are particularly opposing “violence” ideologically and are equating nonviolence with progressive movements. Such an analogy is in no way conforming to the lessons derived from the history of social transformation in the world, the anti-colonial struggles of India, the students’ movements of the past. The protesting people have always resorted to counter-violence to resist the violence unleashed by reactionary ruling classes.

Can the AISA or SFI declare that they are divorcing themselves from the historic legacy of the Kolkata students who pelted stones demanding the release of Azad Hind Fauj soldiers in 1946? Do they deny that the peasants’ movements like Tebhaga and Telangana, were progressive because violence was embedded in them? Do they divorce themselves from the violent rampage of the students by burning vehicles or blockading railways during the emergency, which panicked the reactionary Indira Gandhi regime? Have they become the followers of MK Gandhi by vociferously opposing the politics of Bhagat Singh? 

As the AISA is a self-styled Naxalite students’ body, then does it today alienates itself officially from the legacy of the Naxalbari-inspired students’ movement in India during the late 1960s and early 1970s? Do they oppose the people’s resistance against the CPI(M) in Nandigram and Singur during the 2006-08 movements? 

The Gandhists reject all forms of violence and preach that only the path of nonviolence should be adhered to. The Marxists, contrary to the Gandhian philosophy, favour using both violent and non-violent means as per the situation. AISA, like SFI, is now showing allegiance to the Gandhian path, rather than the Marxist path. But was their idol Gandhi actually an evangelist of non-violence? Did Gandhi always remain consistent on the question of non-violence?

One must remember that Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence was only applicable to the oppressed and not to the oppressors. Gandhi didn’t oppose the rulers unleashing violence but forced the Indian people to discard the path of revolutionary resistance to ensure that the rulers have their say. So, Gandhi who became the saint angel of non-violence, didn’t mind giving a call to the Indian youth to serve the British imperialist army during the first world war. During the 1925 Calcutta communal riots, Gandhi supported the mayhem and opposed Chittaranjan Das’s “Bengal Pact”, which proposed peace between Hindus and Muslims. 

When the Japanese fascists were at the border of Burma during the second world war, he started his Quit India Movement against the British imperialists despite promising them loyalty at the beginning of the war because he wanted to be seen at the winning power’s side. He also said that he won’t finish the Quit India Movement even if it turns violent, which gave a cryptic endorsement to violence. 

Gandhi’s only allergy was anti-imperialist revolutionary violence, denying which, as self-styled Marxists, these AISA and SFI members have betrayed the teachings of Marxism very conveniently. We can see their own standpoint, like Gandhi’s, isn’t quite impressive on the question of violence. During the CPI(M)-led Left Front’s sclerotic rule for 34 years, the SFI was synonymous with campus violence and terror, which it used to keep the opposition at bay from the campuses. The SFI was accused of gory atrocities committed against opponents, especially the left-inclined students’ organisations in West Bengal; it follows the same modus operandi even now in Kerala. The AISA used similar muscle-flexing tactics in Bihar, where it has a strong presence. Then why do these organisations cry foul when the violence of the fascists is resisted by students? Why do they show hypocrisy in the case of ABVP-SFS clash in Panjab University? Is their opposition only to any violence against fascists during the latter’s rise?                                                                

On a debate televised by Aajtaak on 17 December 2019, it was found that the television anchor, two leaders of the ABVP, one leader of Jamia Millia Islamia and former student leader Kanhaiya Kumar reached an agreement that the “students never indulge in violence”. Using the Jamia Millia Islamia context, the government and the movement organisers have been saying the same thing, “students don’t indulge in violence”, “students don’t burn buses”. There is a stark difference between the statements “students don’t indulge in violence” and “students didn’t take part in violence” or the statement “students don’t burn buses” and “students didn’t burn buses”. There are two distinct politics here, two distinct narratives. Even though the statements that “students don’t indulge in violence” or “students don’t burn buses” are sans any historical evidence, there is a visible attempt to establish a particular political line behind such narratives.

What this narrative claim is that the “outsiders” are committing violence so let the police should take action against them. It means, these student activists are proposing that random youth from the neighbourhood Muslim ghettos of Jamia Millia Islamia, who are their co-citizens, are handed over to the police. Such student leaders and activists, in connivance with the corporate-controlled mainstream press, are trying to alter the political culture that united the struggling students within the campuses with the labouring and toiling masses outside the campuses, a culture that was created by the students’ movements, particularly during the Naxalbari-inspired students’ movements. To prove themselves non-violent, they are advocating the arrest of poor, uneducated, unprivileged youth of the Muslim ghettos by the police.

Due to such a bankrupt political standpoint, rather than opposing the sedition charges against Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) minority student activist Sharjeel Imam, he was disowned by the advocates of political empowerment of the marginalised. One could’ve vehemently opposed the sedition charges against Imam even after differing with his political myopia and infantile analogies. But the so-called cavaliers of the left students’ movements, remained mum and strengthened the hands of the RSS-BJP and the Hindutva fascist administration by showing indifference towards Imam. 

A similar political bankruptcy is making these ideologically-hollow organisations to demand an “impartial” investigation into the case of ABVP-SFS clash in Panjab University. Where the fight is against the Hindutva fascists empowered by the RSS-BJP, where the accused are left-wing, where the state machinery and the administration are controlled by the Hindutva fascists, there, how “impartial” or neutral could be an investigation or even the demand for such an investigation? When at the hour of the grotesque rise of fascism it becomes imperative to intensify active resistance and even mobilise the fence-sitters to the ranks of the resistance, at that point in time what would one call the demand for neutrality by a so-called “left” student organisation? Can’t this demand for “neutrality” be called an open endorsement of the Hindutva fascists?

Nonviolence, constitutionalism, etc, ideologies that the corporate-controlled mainstream media and the government are trying to establish as the principal form of people’s movements, have no supporting historical data. Many of the so-called anti-government struggles have divorced themselves, consciously or unconsciously, from the course showed by the world-shaking movements that transformed societies. This new form of people’s movement happens to be an ideology endorsed by corporate houses — domestic and foreign — to cage the potentials of mass movements within pre-set boundaries. The big comprador Marwari-Gujarati-Parsi comprador capitalists of Bombay helped to establish this ideology with the help of their money during the British imperialist occupation so that the kind of politics that Bhagat Singh represented could be bitterly opposed. The ruling classes never want any movement that doesn’t limit itself within the framework of opposing the government and wants to overthrow the ruling classes and their rule itself.

The most hilarious thing is that the student leaders deliver speeches on police brutality against the campus “kids” (Bachche). They call themselves “Bachche”. The course of leftwing students’ movements teaches us that everyone’s view has equal political importance. So no youth can be patronised as a “kid”. Yet, when the left student leaders are calling themselves “kids” it shows how instead of ideology, the corporate houses and the mainstream press controlled by them are commanding the verbiage of campus politics. 

No wonder as a result of this corporate-controlled political verbiage and ideological bankruptcy of the left, around 70 ABVP goons could enter the campus of the JNU, called a bastion of the left students, and could easily beat up leftwing students, thrash the president of the students’ union and enter hostels with sheer impunity. The RSS-BJP could mobilise the ABVP to terrorise the students of JNU because they knew there will be no active resistance due to the ideological bankruptcy of the majority of such left students’ organisations and this left and their flag bearers have nothing to do with Marxism or the communist movement.                             

Whatever slogans are raised by the RSS and its affiliates are fully comprehended by their members and they strongly believe in them. Like they believe in “Mandir Wahin Banayenge” (the temple — Ram Temple in Ayodhya — will be built at the same place where the Babri Masjid stood) or “Hindu Rashtra ho ke rahega” (the Hindu state shall be built). However, do all of them who raise “Inquilab Zindabad” (long live the revolution) believe in Inquilab at all? Isn’t Inquilab itself a very anti-Constitution and violent entity? The ABVP-SFS clash in Panjab University can be judged by various “experts” of students’ movements, yet, the matter of hope is that there are still organisations like the SFS that are not only fighting and resisting the Hindutva fascists like ABVP but also carrying out ideological and organisational struggle against the “left” that’s created by the corporate-sponsored mainstream press. The history is a witness that hugs, kisses, roses, votes and Constitution can’t prevent the rise and expansion of fascism. These can merely entertain the fascists. How the fascists are to be resisted is taught by history, enriched with people’s valourous struggles. ¡No pasarán! isn’t about providing relief.

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Soumo Mondol started his journey as a student activist in West Bengal. He is a radical Marxist thinker, a left-wing activist who fights for the cause of the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed people.

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