SFI’s All India Conference in Shimla: What does it mean? : Pritish Menon
SFI’s All India Conference is set to begin in less than 10 days in Shimla and the preparations for it are in full swing, with our comrades along with those from the democratic movement working 24*7 to make it a big success. In the history of SFI, it will only be the third occasion that the All India Conference will be held in one of the Hindi speaking states- Patna (1978) and Sikar (2016) being earlier instances of this. However, the importance of holding the conference in Shimla has a meaning which is much more deeper.
The student movement in Himachal Pradesh has had a glorious history of struggles and movements over the last four decades. It’s USP has been the ability to retain the mass character in the truest sense by taking up the basic issues and concerns of the students in the campuses and linking it to the task of political-ideological education and the policy offensives of the ruling classes.
Thee history of students’ movement in Himachal Pradesh is history of the glorious struggles launched by SFI. The students interests have been kept alive under the leadership of SFI and in turn the students’ community of the state has unfailingly reposed their faith in SFI. Only some minor aberrations occurred when in 1990 SFI could win just the post of president in the SCA elections of HPU and in 1983 when with connivance of the administration, ABVP candidate and previous health minister in the state government managed to get elected as co-winner with SFI candidate. The students community never failed SFI since 1978 when first direct elections were held.
Since 1978 the constitution has been amended to benefit NSUI or ABVP by the respective state governments and most of these measures were appended to damage SFI and benefit the students organisation of ruling parties. In 2001 the state government and its stooge – University authority, connived to benefit ABVP at all cost as on the eve of elections to the state assembly, victory of ABVP can be projected as acceptance and soliciting of government’s policies by the most vocal section of society, that is, the students of university and its affiliate colleges.
The ban on SCA elections by the previous Congress government, which has been continued by the BJP – despite its promise in the manifesto to hold students’ union elections can be understood if we take into account the history of SFI in the SCA elections.
SFI has been able to build consistent organization through militant struggles in the face of brutal crackdowns by the successive Congrss and BJP government in the state. Not only this, SFI in HP has been able to expand the articulation and mass base of the student movement to such a scale that education in the state has never remained an issue isolated to the narrow confines of campuses. Education has been made a political issue by deliberately engaging with the masses outside the campuses and also by consistent participation in the struggles of the working class, peasantry , youth, women and other sections. It is this glorious background in which this conference is happening. In the last 4-5 years, SFI in HP has been at the forefront of struggles against the current phase of reckless privatization and commodification of education through the Rashtriya Uchhtar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA). This selfless and valiant struggle by the hundreds of activists of the organization has given it unprecedented prestige and support base.
So, How and Why has SFI been able to build a movement and organization in the manner that we see? The answer lies in the work culture which the founders of SFI imparted in the state and which has been meticulously reproduced by generations of leadership at all levels, by keeping into account the changing realities. An old write up by former SFI leader Swatantra Chauhan shall make the point clear ( we are reproducing some of the important portions) :
“I learned the value of collective functioning as a healthy work culture was prevalent. Team efforts were superb. Things assigned were accomplished with religiosity. On a single day I myself single-handed got 135 subscriptions for the Students Struggle (SFI monthly). What impressed a new timer in the organization was the local level activity of the state or central level leaders. It was good education for all the activists that a leader at any level of hierarchy was first an activist. He or she would join others for all the cores right from wall writing to poster pasting. The feeling of being treated equal was strong and overwhelmingly good. In contrast such work culture cannot even be imagined in other student organizations. I would like to share one instance from the wall-writing. Usually the tools for writing would fall short as many activists would join even if not asked to. There was always a festive atmosphere. One night while writing slogans for a conference at the Old Barrier on NH-22, Shimla heavy rain started suddenly. It was around 1:30AM. We took shelter in a rain shelter, but that was also flooded. Then, we had no option but to stand (for almost four hours) on the benches meant for sitting. Having such a huge patience was part of the education that we received from the organization.”
“I am keen to drive this point that what are the highlights of my years in SFI and how I reached some of the points in the ladder of organization and how I learnt how to learn and how to organize. My first ideological encounter was with Comrade Mohar Singh, known as Guruji, who took me to Sood Tea Stall in Summer Hill Bazaar and started his discourse on Marxist Philosophy with the quote ‘Marxism is study of reality in totality’. It was so interesting to listen to him that for a few hours I was totally engrossed in what he was saying. Thereafter it was never looking back. Not only that sitting with him led to a motivation to read classics like Das Capital, Theory of Surplus Value, F. Engel’s ‘Dialectic of Nature’ or ‘Anti-During’, Lenin’s Critique of the Empiro-criticism, the ever inspiring Communist Manifesto, and also the philosophical writings of Indian philosophers like DD Kosambi, DP Chattopadhyay, and political writing of many veteran Communist leaders. The clarity of what was read was made clearer by a habit of discussing things with other activists. One instance is of great import to share with. There was debate on whether India is a national state or multi-national state. It took us forty days to keep things discussing and debating as many other issues cropped up and that was followed every evening over dinner prepared in a hostel room, which had turned into community kitchen, as all the senior leaders of SFI, who are now leading the democratic movement in the State of HP, would gather and discuss things while food was cooked. Such healthy debates within the organizations or with those from the other organization had a great ambience and learning experience for all. The ideological understanding and intellectual enrichment was further achieved in schooling where we got an opportunity to listen to the great leaders of the peoples’ movement.”
[ Swatantar Chauhan’s ‘My Years with SFI: A Path Worth Treading’]
We are confident that this All India Conference of SFI will be instrumental in cementing this work culture across the country and help cement SFI as a powerful all India organization, prepared to take up the challenges of our times.
SFI Long Live! Students’ Unity Long Live!
Make the 16th All India Conference a Big Success!