The BHU is the worst thing that could have happened to Narendra Modi in the three years of his disastrous regime. The students’ agitations elsewhere, like in JNU and Hyderabad, were supressed to a great extent by giving them a partisan colour to create confusion and hammering words and phrases like nationalism, duty to nation, support to disruptive forces, etc. That is not possible with the BHU for the simple reason that the issue involved is such as goes beyond political colours and is directly concerned with the dignity of the woman.
To recapitulate, a girl student of BHU was molested by some goons on the campus. When the students went to Vice-Chancellor G C Tripathi to complain and seek action against the culprits, the VC was reported to have asked the victim of molestation to forget the incident and stop stepping out of the hostel after 6 PM because the boys will be boys. Next day the students, mostly girls, held a demonstration demanding action against the offenders and seeking safety for girl students. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose Lok Sabha constituency Varanasi is, was in the city on that day and the students probably thought their grievance, which had failed to move the VC, would be heard at some higher level. The administration, however, responded with brutal and indiscriminate lathi-charge on them hitting some of the girl students even on head.
This led to anger in the student community across the holy city. The administration was able to wriggle out of an unpleasant situation, at least for the time being, by advancing the dussehra vacation by a few days and ordering closure of all educational institutions till October 2. The reprieve is, in all probability, short-lived as the issue involved is volatile — and the problem concerns not only the girls on campus or in one city alone. Already, there are reports that students in other universities are also preparing to join the protest once the educational institutions reopen after October 2.
The matter needs to be handled delicately, which is difficult to expect from an inexperienced gangster-turned Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Once the students’ anger gets out of hand, it will not be possible either for Yogi Adityanath or for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stem the tide, with people’s resentment against the latter’s ill-conceived policies and programmes already accumulating. The one handle left with arrogant rulers in such situations is the use of State force which only leads to aggravation when students are involved. Most of the countries in the world have over the centuries faced the students’ anger and tried in vain to control it with the use of force. Even mighty nations like the USA and France (then ruled by de Gaulle) could not withstand it.
Briefly, in 1967 the students of two universities in Paris started demonstrations against the French government of President Charles de Gaulle against bureaucratic policies on campus. The use of police by the government to disperse the demonstrators turned it into a larger political issue. Students and left-wing activists all over Paris organised protest marches against the government. More high-handed response by the government sparked violent clashes. All over the country, large numbers of workers and citizens started agitations in solidarity with the students, and called a general strike against the government.
Eventually, 22 per cent of France’s population was on the streets, bringing the French economy to a near-halt, forcing President de Gaulle to flee to Germany.
In the US in May 1964, some 1000 students marched through Times Square in New York to the United Nations to protest against the US involvement in the Vietnam War. More than 700 students and young people marched through San Francisco. In Boston, Madison, Wisconsin, Seattle, there were simultaneous smaller demonstrations. This was a small beginning which grew so enormous that the US ultimately had to pull out of the Vietnam War.
Nearer home, the students’ agitation brought down Chimanbhai Patel’s government in Gujarat in 1973. It started somewhat innocuously as students of LD College of Engineering in Ahmedabad went on strike against a 20 per cent hike in mess charges. A fortnight later, students of Gujarat University went on strike, which led to clashes between the police and the students. The news of use of police force against students who were fighting against corruption and price rise spread to other towns and cities. The Chimanbhai Patel government in Gujarat found itself in a corner after police records showed that 95 students were killed and more than 900 injured in police firing. Patel had to quit.
Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath today find themselves in a far worse situation as the issue raised by the BHU students is much more sensitive than a hike in mess charges or the war in another country.