Is student politics necessary?

Does not student politics today look like adolescent mischief? Are not the young minds being manipulated in the name of student politics?

Kasam Pokhrel

  • Read Time 3 min.

Two years back, our class was going on. We were being taught the History of Literary Criticism. When our teacher asked everyone to open the course book, Minmaya Mahato (name changed) stood up from her seat. She said, “Ma’am, I don’t have the book. Are our textbooks available in the college library? Can we get a scholarship for books?”

“I’m not sure whether this book is there in your library. And, I don’t have any information regarding scholarships for books. You may consult some student leaders around,” replied the teacher. “They will help you.” 

I did follow her. I came to know that neither she got one nor did I see a single member of any student union providing the pupils in need like her with necessary things such as books.  But I see the student union members while entering college and while returning home from college. I see them standing like a tree, talking to each other. “Will their conversation ever end?” this humble self asks me. “Is student politics necessary?”

There are incidents of student politics resulting in tragedies. The murder of Biswajit Das in Bangladesh in 2012, violence in Jawaharlal Nehru University in India in 2020, and perennial strikes in Tribhuvan University are instances of student politics affecting academia. So, many have begun to say student politics is unnecessary. 

Yes, they are right. Student politics seems to be useless. It now has become worse than it ever has been. Student politics will be necessary only when student unions stop prioritizing the individual ambitions of particular leaders and the organizational mission of certain political parties over the reforms in universities and colleges.

Let’s consider the following questions. Does not student politics today look like adolescent mischief? Are not the young minds being manipulated in the name of student politics? 

Needless to say, students have led the process of great transformations around the globe. Student politics has also somehow contributed to this transformation. Students have stood for peace and raised voices for justice. For example, students protested the action of the United States of America in Vietnam in the 1960s. However, student politics in the Global North is seen to have gradually declined since the 1970s (Verma, 2016). “A Social Imaginary for Collective Becoming: Occupy and the Nature of ‘Real Participation’”, Chapter 16 of a popular book When Students Protest: Universities in the Global North by Bessant et al is an interesting read regarding active participation of students in protests and politics.

In spite of incessant efforts of power elites and state institutions to suppress student politics, the role student politics played in the past cannot be undermined. It is unfair to discredit the relentless struggle of the students in various periods of history, with issues ranging from anti-colonial movements to anti-war campaigns, from civil rights and democracy movements to anti-racism, anti-misogyny, and climate action as of recent.

It is when student politics becomes the means to drive the change and serve the needs of the students that everyone will say ‘yes, student politics is necessary.’

In Nepal too, student politics has some brighter sides. In the context of Nepal, student politics is said to have commenced along with the start of the Indian Independence Movement. “Jayatu Sanskritam” is considered to be the first movement of student politics in Nepal. Be it Gangalal Shrestha, who was hung in 1997 BS, or the students who sacrificed everything for the victory of the land and its people in the first and the second people movements and beyond, student politics has been a major contributor to the transformation of Nepal to this Federal Democratic Republican State. 

Today there are political party-affiliated students unions such as Nepal Students Union, All Nepal National Free Student Union. But unfortunately, according to Amanda Snellinger, the dream of “New Nepal” seen by Nepali student leaders has been pie-in-the-sky.

Student politics has become a reason to worry in Nepali academic institutions. They have promoted dirty politics in the universities.  Now and again they are found to be involved in disrupting studies and creating violence inside colleges and universities. In other words, student politics has become another name for vandalism and violence. 

Thus student politics can become relevant only when it contributes to creating better teaching and learning activities in academic institutions. With regular leadership training, punishment of lawbreakers, eradication of nepotism, a better understanding of academic needs of the time, and readiness to solve the problems, student politics can still become necessary for country like Nepal. 

It is when student unions act for the welfare of students in need that many Minmaya Mahatos may appreciate their deeds. It is when student politics follows the path of self-improvement that students will feel its need. It is when student politics becomes the means to drive the change and serve the needs of the students that everyone will say ‘yes, student politics is necessary.’

Kasam Pokhrel is an undergraduate student at Tribhuvan University, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

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