With India’s demography heavily tilting towards youth, the Sangh Parivar seems to be doggedly pursuing the agenda of expanding it base in university campuses which have of late turned into a veritable contesting ground for nationalist versus anti-national debates.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

There is indeed a thread of consistency in the manner in which a section of students of the JNU owing allegiance to Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) resisted the euologisation of Afzal Guru on Wednesday and the controversy surrounding Rohith Vemula’s suicide in Hyderbad Central University (HCU). The Sangh Parivar is ready to fiercely contest their rivals even in arenas which were hitherto inaccessible to it. The ABVP is playing as its active carrier in university campuses. In fact, those who are aware of the growth of the Sangh Parivar would testify that there is a sound political logic behind these developments. In the Rashtriya Sawayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is ideological fountainhead and mentor of its affiliated organisations, including the BJP, is quite wary of its unattractive profile to the country’s youth. In a series of their internal meetings, RSS leaders privately admitted their inability to attract the country’s youth.

The average age profile of RSS volunteers has risen to a middle-age level much to the chagrin of RSS ideologues, a fact which is often not acknowledged publicly. On the other hand, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a political affiliate of the RSS, far outpaced the growth the RSS affiliates in the nineties, particularly at a time when the party joined in the VHP’s movement for liberation of Ram Janma Bhumi at Ayodhya. LK Advani’s articulation on “cultural nationalism and pseudo-secularism” found traction among a section of educated upper caste youth in the Hindi heartland.

Though the BJP registered phenomenal growth in certain parts of the country, there were many campuses where its ideology found few takers. On the other hand, some of the universities like JNU were regarded as impregnable bastions of the communists and radical left. These campuses remained largely ideologically inaccessible to the Sangh Parivar even during the six-year reign of Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was more inclined towards conciliation than confrontation. For the RSS ideologues, this was a period of ‘lost opportunity”.

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the helm, the RSS is determined not to let go of this opportunity to develop its own indelible imprimatur on the university campuses and academic institutions. In the HRD ministry, search committees for vice-chancellors unfailingly zeroed in on those with rightist credentials and appointed them as vice-chancellor. The appointment of VC’s in JNU and BHU served as perfect example. In states like UP, Bihar and West Bengal ruled by rival parties, the institution of governor is being to appoint of VC’s with “right credentials” to lead the universities. This has often caused friction between chief ministers and governors in various states.

Apparently, there are enough reasons to believe that the university campuses are being used to occupy ideological mind space of the youth. In the Hyderabad Central University campus (HCU), the letters written by union HRD minister Smriti Irani and Union Minister for Labour Bandaru Dattatreya to challenge ideological rivals among students must be seen in this context. Despite a high decibel level of controversy in wake of Rohith’s suicide, the BJP-RSS-ABVP combine is hardly apologetic about its ideological position. Far from showing any ambivalence, the ABVP came in support of its ideological position equally fiercely as its ideological opponents from the left, radical left and Ambedkarites.

Similarly, in JNU, where a group of ABVP clashed with their rivals in JNU on the issue of “glorification of Afzal Guru”, a convict sentenced to death in Parliament attack is unlikely to cede ground to their rivals from the left and radical left who till now regarded the institute as their “impregnable ideological fortress”. By all indications, the ferment in all such campuses is unlikely to cease till the sangh parivar acquires an easy ideological equilibrium to its favour by pursuing “catch them young” formula.

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The RSS is coming to a campus near you: That’s what the JNU slugfest over Afzal and HCU scrap over Yakub means