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March 06, 2019 Wednesday 11:23:40 AM IST

45th Rajagiri Round Table Conference

Rajagiri Round Table

Man is a political animal. The emergence of a just society is essential for future generations to survive. Campuses have always been the breeding grounds of ideas and ideologies. The time is ripe to sow the seeds of thought to groom leadership that is upright, rather than leaning towards left or right.

The student is no more a bookworm. Aided by ultra-modern gadgetry, the campus youth is raring to go. It’s time to route their energies for nation building. We need to have leaders worthy of global attention from the world of letters.

Against such a prevailing scenario, the 45th Rajagiri Round Table Conference was organised on the subject, Campus to Country: the road to Statesmanship, at the Rajagiri College of Social Sciences (RCSS), Kalamassery, Kochi, on February 13, 2019.

The conference was envisaged to revolve around sub-themes such as  (i) awareness among youth on the need to think about governance in public democratic bodies; (ii) ways to curb corruption at all levels; (iii)  promoting experts from academia to portals of power; (iv) the fundamental duty of the youth in general and the students in particular to effectively involve themselves in the electoral process, so as to benefit the society at large.

 The key speakers addressed the conference were (1).Dr.Christy Fernandez, IAS, former Secretary to President of India; (2). Prof.K.C.Abraham, Academic Director, Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi; and (3).Dr.K.M.Sheeba, Professor, Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady.


Dr.Christy Fernandez, IAS, former Secretary to President of India

Is the campus really shaping up the youth to become statesmen?  When we speak about statesmen, the first thing that normally comes to our mind is that of politicians. What is the difference between a statesman and a politician? Politician thinks about the next election and a statesman thinks about next generation.

That being the case, let us know how a statesman should be and what is his role in a democracy. He thinks beyond himself, beyond constraints. He will have a lot of problems. There will be different groups fighting against each other where politician takes one stand whereas statesman tries to bring consensus. Of course, the politician too could have a vision. In fact, a politician must have a plan of action, though he fails to bring consensus quite often.

The nation is seriously looking for dialogue, consensus, accommodation of the rival’s views and inclusion. That is possible; we can have consensus, accommodation and inclusion if we have statesmen.

Now, the question is whether educational institutions are catering to the need for achieving a leadership role for the students, the youth. When we speak about life in the campus, the national youth policy becomes relevant. It aims at facilitating participation and engagement in governance. In fact, the students have to be brought into the umbrella of democratic governance. What is governance? It involves the process of decision making and implementation. A whole lot of policy administrators, implementers and the common man have a role in governance. It is here that the need for the youth to develop a new leadership assumes importance.

Should students involve themselves in politics in the campus? The court’s verdict in the matter has been differently interpreted, giving the impression that the students are deprived of participating in politics-based election.

How can we tell students that they should not participate in partisan politics? Is it that the management or teachers can participate in politics-based elections and the students shouldn’t?  You can’t keep the students out of it. If they create nuisance or if they violate the law of land, then they don’t have to be part of the exercise, absolutely; but then, undesirable elements might seize the opportunity to their advantage.

You can’t bring up statesman unless the student is exposed to the politics prevailing in the country. The youth should be mulling over and striving to find out what is good and bad.

Keeping the students away from politics is bad. Colleges need to directly engage with the youth; they should provide appropriate facilities for grievance mechanism. It should not be akin to the agreements signed in the public domain – if the pact turns good, the credit goes to the government and if something goes wrong, those who sign the document are at fault!

Adequate counselling facilities should be available to the students. But if the counsellors are more feared, how can the students approach them? If the counsellor reports the underlying matter to the management, leading to punishment, how would it be helpful?

A sense of de-politicisation, prevailing in the campus is not good for the country.  If the youth are not aware of the contemporary political scene, what will be the future of the country?

There is a panchayat in Ernakulam district, ruled by a non-political entity. But that entity is closely backed by an industrial group. Such a set-up is not ideal for a democratic polity because the private company in question could decide on the policy to be handled. Think of a situation where a big industrial group in the country takes over the reins of power and starts dictating terms.

What is required is political literacy; sanitisation leads to loss of immunity. We have to live in this country; we have a recognised Constitution. Sanitisation of politics is good, but sanitisation of the society, keeping it away from politics, is bad. If there is violence in the political spectrum, we should think of eliminating violence. The answer does not lie in keeping ourselves off politics. If political election leads to violence, the violence should be curbed; it should not be leading to a ban.

Professionals are required in the echelons of governance, but they are not necessary. We need people with vision, who know the pulse of people. There have been instances of professionals being unable to provide effective leadership in the government. What is important is to bring value in politics. The question that matters is whether the leader can do something good for the people.  We need responsible citizens who tolerate opposing views, engage in dialogue and face differing ideology. If you are getting over-sanitised, you will not be good citizens though you may become good doctors, engineers or lawyers. Let the students learn from political interface and find out ways as to how to improve and improvise with political interventions.

Civil Services is a brilliant option for the brilliant student to serve the country.  As a civil servant, one must know that he or she would be serving the people and the power rests with the elected representatives.  The primary question is not on the education of the leader, but whether that person can make a difference in the lives of people. If one wants to grow in politics, the person has to be in politics.

K.C. Abraham, Academic Director, Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi.

If we dream big as a country, we need to ensure the right kind of education for our youth. Education is not meant to create robots out of students. Unfortunately, our education system often leads to creation of people with tutored views. It happens when the student is stuffed with the idea of others, without giving the opportunity to think on their own. If there are fences in the way of the flow of ideas, then it affects creativity. One must know the context to see the reality.

Over the years, the participation of youth in general elections has been low. The voting percentage of youth has been 5 to 6 per cent less than the overall figure, except in 2014. In that year, the youth’s participation was 2 per cent more than the overall percentage. That was the major reason behind the change of guard at the Centre, when the Modi government was elected to power. Anti-incumbency, the use, abuse and misuse of social media as well as the mainstream media were all among the reasons behind the electoral outcome.

History is replete with instances of youth power playing a decisive role in changing power in various countries. French President Charles de Gaulle had to step down owing to pressure from the struggle launched by students. The students were crying for a better form of democracy as they were aware of the ground realities. The student movement that led to the change in governance had spread from one university to another. Similarly, students had led the anti-Vietnam movement. The student- led demonstrations in 1989 at the  Tiananmen Square in China is well known. A number of protest movement initiated by students had occurred in the Arab countries as well.

Students had a major role in the Jayaprakash Narayan-led movement against the Bihar government five decades ago.  The movement had ultimately led to the downfall of Indira Gandhi. Kerala too had witnessed powerful students’ movements in the past. The scene is different today. Several universities have become a battle ground for struggles on communal lines, which is a dangerous trend. Intellectual restlessness seems to get reflected only in certain universities. If the power of creative thinking among the youth remains dormant, how can it benefit the country? The campus should be active, vigilant and agile. But violence in the campus can never be permitted.

It seems being apolitical has become a fashion among student community. How can we speak of good governance if the students keep away from the political scene? Campus should have discourses on the state of affairs of democratic entities. Earlier, brilliant minds had entered political field, especially during the Independence movement. Only those who can sacrifice own life for someone else can hope to become true leaders.

As Swami Vivekanandan had said, let us not be cynical; be positive in your thoughts. Misunderstanding or ‘no understanding’ about politics is bad.  Politics is about the society and not group clashes.  We should not condemn politics. There should be a liberal and congenial atmosphere to discuss issues thoroughly. You can speak of revolution, but you don’t have to become a revolutionary. Discussions should be value-oriented. Spreading the wrong word against ideology is part of depoliticization, which is, in a way, a route to escape from realities.

Dr.K.M.Sheeba, Professor,  Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady

There is nothing wrong in taking positions on various issues confronting the society. Neutrality or allowing status quo, without entering the political space, is an undesirable trend. Being part of politics is important. Students need to know what is happening outside the campus, where neutrality and sanitisation assume little relevance.

Political activity facilitates collective bargain as well as action. Politics should be made political. There should be space for dialogue and discussion on different issues confronting the society. For instance, homosexuals had faced death in certain societies. Don’t gays and homosexuals have the right to live? One can agree to disagree on various counts.

Political learning and practice are essential for a successful democracy. We should be able to judge whether the election is for a change; a virtual model in the campus is not the right democratic way because things don’t happen so outside.

When we say that educated people should take up political leadership, a key question that comes to one’s mind is whether we are expecting too much from education. We need to ask ourselves whether the education system is providing enough to mould good statesmen. There could be many civil servants who face pressures from elected representatives, but the successful ones know how to negotiate without compromise. There is always scope for negotiations to find a way out of tough situations. Unless we give the younger generation a proper platform to engage, we will be failing in our duty to bring up the citizens endowed with best democratic practices.   

Dr.Varghese Panthalookaran, Director, Rajagiri Media

We want thought leaders for the country. There should be well educated politicians who can rise above caste and class considerations. The leaders should think about nation building. If one party stifles the opinion of the majority, new parties could be formed.

Debates have to take place in a polite and decent manner.  We have had experience of certain student leaders fighting over petty issues such as fee concession in the campus. There had been occasions when the voice in the campus was stolen by a few who did not represent the wishes of the majority. The students should be able to synergise their ideas through discussions held in a congenial way.

Alex Sabu. C, Student, RCSS

Under the present political set-up, prominent voices from the campus are not getting public attention because the politicians have little regard to it. Three or four mainstream parties have monopolised the political scene. Youth affairs do not get adequate budgetary support. Some of the parties are conducting their business in a dictatorial way. Even the youth are not reacting appropriately to social maladies such as corruption.

George Jerish C.J., Student, RCSS

People should benefit from political activity. Social commitment is necessary for the politicians as well as professionals. The youth should not be overtaken by emotions. They should be guided by wisdom.  Just as a hot metal plate could be converted into useful utensils by means of appropriate processes, the youth could be moulded into worthy citizens through various democratic exercises.

Sreeraj.K, student, RCSS

Though there are brilliant youth who can don the political mantle, their acceptance is less on the political front as they are overshadowed by experienced politicians. Youth power can take the country fast forward. Professionals should be given the reins of appropriate portfolios in government. Such a step would help implement policies more effectively. Importance should be given to statesmanship when political parties select candidates for the general elections. 

Nihan K. Ibrahim, Student, RCSS

The politics in campus is going through a difficult phase. Earlier, the student movements used to fight for the students’ rights. Now, they are fighting against each other. There is hardly any activity which could be classified as inspiring or outstanding. Parliamentary mode of election sans politics in the campus should be considered beneficial to the student community. Dynastic trends are holding sway in various political parties. The student wings owing allegiance to political parties too are likely to come under the unhealthy influence of the parties.

Anisha Judith Johnson, Student, RCSS

Statesmanship starts with proper education. The students need to concentrate on education and be able to take up a career. There is no guarantee for securing livelihood for a person who takes up political work. Such a situation is discouraging youth from entering politics. 

Dr.Kiran Thampi, Asst. Professor, RCSS

There are many opportunities for the youth to engage themselves in nation building activities. They can participate in grama sabhas and conduct social audits. They can also provide their services in getting information on various services by filing applications under the Right to Information Act. In fact, youth can perform several services useful to the society, without entering politics. Services to the society should start from one’s neighbourhood. Going by past experiences, it could be observed that organisations affiliated to political parties in campus might not serve the purpose of incorporating democratic processes because unhealthy practices often creep into the system. Education should end up in character-building.

Megha Mary Biju, Student, Muthoot Institute of Technology and Science, Kochi

Imbibing values of democracy should begin at home. Children should not be prevented from raising questions. Teaching children to be submissive is no virtue. A sense of critical enquiry should be developed among the children. Many of the educational institutions do not permit political activity there. There is no proper guidance for the aggressive minded youth to indulge in politics. This is a dangerous situation as the youth may reach wrong sources and activists. Consequently, there could be a tendency among the youth to become numb to injustice and corruption.

Anil john, Asst. Professor, RCSS

Many political parties are vocal about the rights of the people, but they don’t bother to educate the followers on the duties of citizens in a democratic system. The people should know the pains and loss incurred to fellow citizens through violent acts such as stoning of buses as part of political demonstrations over different issues. They should learn as to how to put up with differences in ideology. When we think of campus as a base to reach the democratic institutions, why don’t we think of the family as the initial base? Decentralisation of power should start at home. Children should learn about decentralised or delegated power at the domestic level.

Dr.Sister Lizy P.J., Associate Professor, RCSS

Education should mould good citizens. People should be aware of their duties rather than rights. The responsibility of the individual and the commitment to the society need to be underlined in any democratic exercise. Imparting training to mould duty- oriented citizens could be the essence of any democratic exercise in the campus.

Adarsh Kurian, Student, RCSS

When we speak of corruption in society, it should be borne in mind that corruption starts with the individual and should not be considered as part of power.  In fact, power provides expression to the corrupt.  We are never sure of the dimensions of corruption from the reports that come out in newspapers. Decentralisation could be a way to reduce corrupt practices.

Sahwa Nazreen Nishad, Student, RCSS

I was under the impression that elections in campuses were characterised by rivalry, dispute and violence. But it was not so when the elections were conducted under a parliamentary mode, without political leanings, in the campus. Transparency and accountability are key elements of governance and such values are being adhered to by the student representatives elected under the parliamentary system. One is elected to serve the people. That is the lesson one learns from the democratic exercise in the campus.

Jaya Vijayan, Asst. Professor, RCSS

There should be opportunity for the people to raise their opinions in a democratic set up. Many campuses where student bodies are constituted under political mode of elections, have witnessed outbreaks of violence and subsequent loss of working days. There have been no such violent incidents in colleges following the parliamentary system of elections, sans politics. There is scope for presenting dissent under the latter mode. The underlying issue is discussed and a solution is sought to be found out. The students should be permitted to ask questions on various issues confronting them. The practice could begin at home. There is also a concern among several brilliant students who do not want to choose Civil Services because they are scared of working under political leaders of ill repute.

Yadal Shahanas, Student, RCSS

Students have been arrested under anti-national law in certain campuses. Arrests under sedition law is a clear indication that dissent is not tolerated. Political polarisation on the campus is a matter of concern. Violence is generally a fallout of the intolerance to opinions and ideas of different groups of students. Democratic processes should ensure freedom of opinion.

Rajeev S.P., Asst. Professor, RCSS

Campuses should offer a platform for discussion of political topics. Students can’t be kept out of issues that concern the society.  There must be sharing of ideas. If no open discussion takes place on the campus, the future of next generation would be in jeopardy.

Rajesh.P, Asst. Professor, RCSS

Students should get a chance to experience democratic processes. There are campuses where politics form part of the student life. Intellectual restlessness often surfaces on campus. The dynamics of elections won’t be known to the student community unless they are exposed to it. Parliamentary mode of elections is okay. Each institution follows a certain framework which has to be respected. Hypocrisy should not be adopted in observing democratic patterns. Negotiations should happen in order to tackle various issues, but compromise is not the answer to resolve them.

Arfeen Zulfikar, Student, RCSS

People who take decisions must be educated to qualify as a leader. Key decisions have to be taken collectively. A leader must listen to the opinions of others and should be able to implement decisions effectively, aimed at bringing about a change.  

Aswen P.Sasi, Student, RCSS

Political literacy is important for the success of democracy. There are students who do not have any idea about the budgeting process in democratic institutions. There is a stigma on campus politics. But generalisation is not the correct approach. Students need a forum to raise their voice. There should be somebody to listen to it. Youth should get more space to express their opinions.