Winds of Change in Student Politics
The All Assam Students Union (AASU) is now set to chart a new course under a new leadership with the curtains coming down on its sixteenth convention at Dudhnoi. Ending his two-decade-long association with the powerful students organization, Samujjal Bhattacharyya has bowed out as its advisor and chief strategist. Media circles are abuzz with speculation that Shankar Prasad Ray and Tapan Kumar Gogoi, after relinquishing the posts of long-time AASU president and general secretary respectively, will soon be joining BJP to contest the Assembly elections next year. The effect on the regiol political camp with the departure of these senior leaders needs to be considered. After all, the post of AASU advisor has never been ormental. Stalwarts like Lalit Rajkhowa and gen Sarma have graced this post to lead the student organization from the front in the turbulent days of the Assam Agitation. However, Samujjal Bhattacharyya’s role has been far greater. The AASU was eclipsed somewhat after the signing of the Assam Accord and the AGP coming to power. But under the twin leadership of Sarbanda Sonowal and Bhattacharyya, AASU regained its prominence. It built up linkages with students organizations of other major groups, uniting them under the umbrella of North East Students Organisation (NESO). The Bangladeshi influx along with other burning issues of the State — were strongly taken up by the AASU.
The departure of Samujjal Bhattacharyya now puts the AASU on crossroads, even though the students organization is trying desperately to avail of his services in some vital capacity. For long, the AASU has been facing barbs for continuing with mature leaders who do not look like students in popular perception. But it must be understood that since the days of the Assam Agitation, the task of leading the AASU, conducting its organizatiol work and strategizing in the face of uncertain politics in the State — have reached such a level of complexity that no young, inexperienced student leadership can do justice to it. This holds true not just for AASU, but for other students organizations as well. These organizations have to determine their policies on tough and complicated political issues, negotiate their way through administrative corridors, understand thoroughly the cultural, anthropological, socio-economic and other aspects of various population groups inhabiting the State. It will not be an exaggeration to say that a student leader in this troubled region needs be far more astute and mature than a conventiol political leader. It is a fact that during uncertain political times, the role of AASU, ABSU, AATSA, AAMSU along with Mising, Moran, Karbi, Dimasa and other students organizations figure prominently in popular discourse. If the AASU has an agitatiol history stretching back to 1967, the other students organizations too have long histories of struggle over public issues. Tea tribe leaders like Paban Singh Ghatowar and Sylvius Condpan too cut their teeth in student politics before moving on to the larger stage.
In the overall context, student politics in the State has been shaped by burning issues like continuous influx of foreign tiols, the looming threat to the identity and existence of various indigenous groups, and severe backwardness. Before Assam Agitation, the AASU had been in the forefront of struggles for instituting Assamese as the medium of instruction, the demand for an oil refinery, the 21-point demand charter and food security for the people. But the social voluntary role of the AASU changed to an overtly political role after the Assam Agitation. Other students organizations too have come up in similar fashion to assume quasi-political roles. The AAMSU was born as a reaction against the Assam Agitation, but has undergone multiple splits for political reasons. Most of these AAMSU factions have been allegedly hijacked by some religious minority leaders. The present struggle of the ABSU to maintain its influence in Bodo politics is there for all to see. The BPF was born as a powerful political entity in the aftermath of ABSU agitation, but the BPF has now set up its own students arm to take on the ABSU. The writing on the wall is therefore clear for students organizations. If these organizations wish to remain relevant, their leaderships must be politically mature and farsighted, clear in their minds about the issues facing their support base as well as the State as a whole. To maintain their credibility, students organizations have to walk the difficult tightrope of fulfilling their social roles while keeping themselves immune and clean from the corrosive influence of proximity to political power. This is the tough challenge facing all students organizations in the region.