A nationwide confrontation is brewing between the country’s 30 million strong community of students in institutions of higher education and the BJP/NDA 2.0 government at the Centre which was re-elected to power with an improved majority in the Lok Sabha less than a year ago.
On January 5, with the tacit approval of the Delhi police which is controlled by the Central government, a mob of masked men and some women surreptitiously entered the 1,000-acre campus of the country’s top-ranked Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi (JNU) and ran riot attacking previously identified office bearers of the Left-aligned JNU Students Union and destroying university property.
Earlier on December 15, police personnel in Uttar Pradesh — a BJP ruled state — forcibly entered the campus of Aligarh Muslim University and brutally beat up students who were peacefully protesting enactment of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC).
On the very same day in Delhi following anti-CAA/NRC protests outside the university during which several buses were set on fire by BJP/ABVP co-conspirators, a police contingent forcibly entered the campus of Jamia Millia Islamia University allegedly in pursuit of rioters and brutally beat up over 30 students while heaping religious invectives.
The pace at which the BJP leadership is losing the confidence of the students’ community and the millennial generation who less than eight months ago were solidly behind it, is astonishing. The party’s leadership seems unaware that university students are relatively well-educated adults unlikely to be susceptible to simpleton anti-Muslim and minorities rhetoric which has earned the BJP electoral dividends in the recent past. Indeed the BJP leadership has misinterpreted the massive votes of confidence it was given in the general elections of 2014 and 2019.
Although the promise to construct a Ram mandir in Ayodhya won it some votes, the massive endorsement of the BJP was prompted by its pledge to work for sab ka saath sab ka vikas (economic progress for all) and in particular to generate mass employment. Six years in office at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous (215 million) state, BJP/NDA governments have conspicuously failed to deliver these promises.
Annual GDP growth rate has plunged to a mere 4.8 percent, lowest in the new millennium and unemployment is at its highest in three decades. The intelligentsia and students community have correctly interpreted the CAA and proposed NRC as anti-Muslim legislation designed to divert public attention from several reckless initiatives which have ruined the high-potential Indian economy. Yet this diversionary strategy isn’t working. Even if the older generation hasn’t, youth in higher education have experienced the country’s unique syncretism and are quite comfortable with it.