Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Politics and Education

Aristotle
Indians, by nature, are political. The science of politics is in our blood, and the art of manipulation of human free thinking is a skill humans at large have perfected over the ages. And its not I alone who says this; "Man is by nature a political animal" is what Aristotle said back around near 350 BC. Might I modify this and say, The Indian man (and also the woman) is, by nature, a political animal. Charity begins at home, they say, and for a young budding Indian mind developing into maturity, home is where the brain develops. So it is of no great surprise that our educational institutions, the nursery of fresh young minds, should have a very substantial role to play in the nation's political scheme of things.

If you had asked Lord George Curzon (Viceroy of India, 1899 to 1905) or Sir John Simon (Chairman of the Simon Commission of 1927) about how Indian students played a substantial role in the Indian freedom struggle, they would have been able to give you a picturesque account. These gentlemen had been at the epicentre of two major political protests of the early 20th century: The Partition of Bengal protests and the "Simon Go Back" movement. In both instances, it had been the student community which had jumped in with abandon into the troubled waters of politics.

These are only two instances. Preceding these, and succeeding them as well, many political events in our glorious history have acknowledged a tremendous role played by the students. India has across the ages produced generations of very bright and hard-working students. Though the privileged went to England for higher education, quite a number of education centres came up in India with a reputation of producing the finest brains of the country. Lahore, Allahabad, Calcutta, Madras and Bombay boasted of the finest Universities back in the 19th century.

The Simon Go Back Movement of 1927
A proper education system for young Indians was devised for the first time by the British themselves. In this regard, important it is to note that when Thomas Babington Macaulay, Council Member, delivered his Minute on Indian Education in February 1835 to William Bentinck, Governer-General of British India, proposing the introduction of English education among Indians, he had merely wanted to create an assortment of clerks and officers (babus) out of the native Indians who would have a mere proficiency in English to be able to assist their colonial masters in their machinations in this land. Later on, it was this English Education Act 1835 itself which would come back to haunt them, for this had opened the doors of scientific and political vision among the youth, who would ultimately be a driving force behind the ouster of the British. The ancient age-old Indian philosophies when combined with knowledge of Western rationalism and free-thinking, changed the way Indians thought. To read more about Macaulay's Minute, the Act, and his supremely egotistical and idiotic remark about Indian literature, read this article.

Coming back to focus on Calcutta, a host of colleges provided the society with the brilliant minds nurtured to provide not only political and economic but social upliftment as well. This tradition then carried on after independence, Calcutta turned into Kolkata, but all these centres are thriving along right upto when this blog is being written.These institutions are all distinguished enough and need no introduction, but for the sake of records, a few of these are the Presidency College (now University), Scottish Church (alma mater of the immortalized Animesh Mitra of Kalbela fame), Bethune and Lady Brabourne (for urban girls from all communities), St. Xavier's College (one of the first Catholic institutions of the city, founded in 1860), the famed Medical College (their first batch of medical practitioners graduated in 1838), and of course, Jadavpur University, where the spirit of revolution lives on, and which yours truly can proudly proclaim to be a humble student of.

"The foundation of every state is in the education of its youth", said Diogenes the Greek philosopher. So why is it that the young and the educated have always been attracted into the unsafe waters of politics? This question can never be answered by looking at the state of Indian politics today. I won't really go into the redundant discussions and deliberations on how far our political system has degenerated and why at present it is a muck-pool; we have heard it all too often. But the aspect to deliberate upon is that if this has been the state of affairs for quite some time, then what is it that has been drawing the drawing the best minds of the country to politics, and sometimes, to extremist politics? Not the muck, for sure.

Youth is that infinite whirlpool of energy which provides the world with all that is positive. The brighter the mind, the firmer the body, the deeper are the reserves of this vital energy. And if energy it is, it has to be spent. The earnest call to serve mankind is a bugle which has been blowing constantly over the ages. It is a clarion call rendered from the chasms of human suffering, which calls on fellow human beings to lessen the extent of misery. Pointedly enough, very few people have the ears to catch this cry. Even more pointedly, time and again it is only the youth of the nation who have registered these calls and responded.

Pre-independence, it was the deplorable condition of the average countryman and how the colonial masters were systematically destroying a nation that stirred young men and women into action. You might have been a Gandhian or maybe a Netaji follower, you may be Right wing or you may be having extreme-Left ideologies, but it does not really matter, when the goal is the same and the soul is uncorrupted. As the century progressed, the catalysts changed. India was a fledgling democracy, and the need was felt to ensure that democratic rights are fully made use of. This drew more students and young professionals into politics who wanted to carry on the good work their predecessors might have done. Then came the 70's, and with it the disenchanted ultra-Left wings, who no longer trusted the democratic pillars of the country. With suffering comes the urge to rectify the sufferings of thousands, so those who had suffered much and were gifted with fine brains started going the extremist way. Extremism can never be a solution for any evil, whatever it may be, but that is a topic for another blog. It suffices to note that the Naxalite leaders had mostly, without exception, been young men. Read this Indian Express report about an IIT-KGP dropout who eventually became a top Maoist leader.
V for Vendetta

Partycracy found its way into the system post this period. People were inspired by party symbols or individuals who they thought had what it took to deliver the country to greater heights. College student unions flourished, and politics penetrated daily life. Some were disenchanted by the dirt which gradually started encompassing politics, while others stayed on to serve their affiliations. At some point of time, the muck became so immense that it was no longer capable of attracting young minds into mainstream politics. This was the start of that period when an average young boy of eighteen joining college was being instructed by his concerned parents: Akdom 'politics'-e jorabi na kintu. Those fine brains, which had been able to channelize their energies in proper ways earlier, could not do so any more. But that could not really discourage us, could it! Today we are proud to belong to a free thinking intelligent politically-conscious generation who do not need a party banner to express, spread or cultivate ideas among the masses, and work for their betterment. This, my friends, is the politics of tomorrow.

As citizens of the society we live in, it is our duty and our right to give back to the society whatever we have gained from it, and we do not need the banner of a political party to do that. So if that is the need of the day, then change we must the political definitions prevalent today, and device new ways to progressively channelize that "infinite whirlpool". We are a union with 350 million 'youth', which is about the entire of Japan, Germany, UK and Italy put together, and you might throw in a Singapore or two as well. It is time to throw off the shackles of conventional politics. Grab the weed from its roots and drag it out of the soil. Break barriers, create new definitions. Strain the brains, set the sinews on fire. "Ring out the old, ring in the new". Young India, lets rock.

Swami Vivekananda
"Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached."