Student Unions Tool Of Petty Power Politics
The recently concluded election of the Nepal Students Union (NSU), a sister wing of the Nepali Congress, once again bitterly exposed the fragility of the student leadership in this country. After a hiatus of nine years, the poll was conducted last week amidst great controversies. Wrangling over power was so evident that it led to an erratic situation.
While this is not a new phenomenon, as such a drama gets staged in every political party, it is unfortunate that the young generation has been mobilised by the major political parties for fulfilling their own vested interests for a very long time. Instead of utilising the knowledge and skills of the youths to transform the nation, they have been massively used in street protests and other seemingly destructive activities, ranging from vandalising public property to abduction and extortion for material gains. Against this backdrop, some pertinent questions emerge: Why were the students unions established in Nepal? Who is benefitting from such organisations? How is the politics of the country getting worse with the support of such unions?
It is indeed surprising not to hear of any students union fighting for the cause of the students’ welfare. Whether it’s about the right to education and freedom of expression of the students or their right to food and security, such rights have rarely been advocated by the organisations mandated to work for the students. Instead, they seem busy serving the parochial interests of their mother party. If we critically examine the history of the student wings of our political parties, it becomes obvious that with the intention of mobilising the young disenchanted population for expanding their sphere of influence, the political parties established these institutions by luring the youths stating that they would get opportunities to be at the party and nation’s driver seat in the long run. Interestingly, the top leaders of the major political parties of today were once influential figures in the student unions during their youth.
The political parties have purposely sustained a structure of this sort to maintain their high-handedness in the power game. Sad but true, many youths of Nepal are still becoming the victim of the political servitude in various ways with growing unemployment in the country. The increasing number of frustrated young population is becoming easily deceived by tall promises of the political leaders. With high ambitions, they become ready to work under their dictum often compromising their values and integrity.
It is really distressing to note that the students unions in Nepal have made the system handicapped and dysfunctional. Perhaps, the education sector has been the hardest hit sector in present day Nepal. Frequent closure of educational institutions for petty demands by partisan students unions was rife in the past although this has slightly reduced in recent times. Ranging from padlocking the Vice Chancellor’s Office of the university to vandalising the academic departments for getting less marks in exam, such unions have shown their real face plenty of times leaving a deep negative impression upon the non-partisan young minds. In fact, they have practised politics to exacerbate chaos and anarchy in the country. The situation could have been different, had they taken a constructive path to direct their leadership towards the welfare of students.
Being loyal cadres of their parties, they have left no stone unturned to please their senior leaders to grab power. To this extent, they have often resorted to violence, extortion and other anti-social activities. Rather than pressing the parties to abide by their promise of national development vision, they have opted to dance to the tune with their main leaders. But they could have engaged more in policy reform-based agendas creating pressure for the political parties to work towards the nation’s prosperity.
Even there is an inherent flaw in the leadership selection process in these unions. While a students union leader should be someone of a relatively young age with a certain level of talent and creativity, the existing practice contradicts this notion. This is to say that even today these institutions are being led by those who have already surpassed their youth stage. It is ironical that every leader in this country can remain youthful throughout his lifetime if that will allow him to be active in politics throughout his life.
Need of a dynamic and vibrant students union that can really rise above petty politics and work as a strong pressure group for policy advocacy is still there. There are myriads of issues to be raised on behalf of the young population of every sector, be it health, education or other. Only accountable students unions can do that. Movement of these unions can take a different turn with support from the general young public if they mend themselves and start practising politics for mass welfare. Using the political space to usher in some positive changes in the system would be a great beginning in this direction.
Surya Nath Upadhyaya is a member of the Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG) from Nepal’s side. The EPG has a two-year term, and it has already spent...