The history of youth movement goes back to the pre-independence days. Young men and women played a glorious part in the mass movements for independence in various parts of the country, though there never was an all India youth organisation in the regular sense, except some India-level conferences, several provincial and state level organizations etc. Some of these organisations were powerful and very effective. Naujawan Sabha, established in the Punjab in the 1920’s is well known. At one time Bhagat Singh and his associates, and the Communist Youth were active in building this organisation and mass youth movement. Naujawan Sabha has left in indelible mark on the political history of Punjab and India. It became a model for youth organization in many parts of the country.
Youth in general, and the politically conscious in particular, played an important part in the mass independence movements all over the country. They were important segments in the anti-partition movement in Bengal in 1905-07, in the non-cooperation movement of 1920-22 initiated by Gandhiji, the civil disobedience movement led by the Congress in the early 1930’s and several others. The youth played an active part in the anti-Jallianwala Bagh Massacre movement, the movement for the boycott of the Simon Commission in 1928, the great 1942 movement, in the post-Second World War upsurge, and so on. They were important components of the Socialist, Communist and Congress – led anti-imperialist revolts. At the same time, they were in the forefront of the various class struggles of the workers, peasants and other toiling masses. Youth were a great source of the national leaderships of the various parties like the Congress, the CPI, the CSP and several others during the British days. The political leadership in this country in the decades of the 1930 and 40s was generally young and therefore very receptive and active. The October revolution in Russia in 1917 made a deep and radical impact on the national movement in India. Youth were greatly attracted to the ideas of Russian revolution. Under its influence they began concrete and scientific study of the problems of exploitation, unemployment, capitalist and colonial domination, of working class and people’s movement, of class concepts and class struggles, and innumerable other ideas. The youth wanted to fight capitalism and imperialism and to build a new society free from exploitation. Russian revolution and Russian society provided a source and model of the future socialist society. Early twenties was also the period of disagreements with the Gandhian methods, slow tortuous ways of movement which gave no hopes. Therefore, increasing sections of youth took up radical revolutionary and left methods and ideas. Not only the Communists, but growing numbers of Congressmen and several others wanted more clear – cut and radical direction to the national independence movement. Consequently, a strong radical and leftwing emerged in the national movement in the 1930s.
The youth league (YL) movement of the late-1920s and early 30s was a direct result of this radicalization. It was a countrywide youth activity in the course of which innumerable youth leagues was formed even in the farthest corners, and important agitations organized, mostly on sectional demands of youth, which quite often turned into anti-imperialist struggles. YL movements equally engaged in cultural, sports and literacy activities, as also in debates, study and rising of social consciousness. Quite often, the local YLs were formed spontaneously. Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose and Yusuf Meherally were the unquestioned leaders of the youth leagues movement. Little later Communists also became active and helped radicalize the movement. P.C. Joshi made particular efforts to attract and educate the youth in Marxism and to create youth organizations. Tilak was a great source of inspiration for the youth in the beginning of the century till his death in 1920. In fact, the ‘troika’ of Bal-Pal-Lal continued to inspire and guide the youth and students for a long time. Gandhiji always helped and encouraged the youth and students in the spirit of nationalism. He inspired a great many student-youth movements including the 1942 revolt. Here we may, in passing, mention the holding of All India Socialist Youth Conference in 1928, which was a landmark in the development of youth consciousness and movement.
The great role of youth and students in the post-War upsurge of 1945-47 is well-known. It added glorious pages and chapters to the national movement for independence from colonial rule and put the youth in the forefront along with other sections and classes. A large number of youth organizations, associations, leagues and federations of a wide variety had emerged before independence at local and provincial levels even in the states i.e. in the princely states. Many of them functioned till and even after independence. Most of the provincial and other organizations were very influential and strong examble in Punjab, Bengal, Bombay, parts of UP and Bihar, areas of Kerala and Madras, Orissa etc. Some of these organizations became part of the youth federation units in independent India, ultimately contributing to the formation of AIYF. But there did not emerge a proper and stable all India youth organisation before the independence because of a number of reasons. Among the notable youth organizations, which later became part of AIYF, were Madras Youth Association, formed in 1930, Pondicherry Youth Sangam, YFs in Punjab, Bihar, West Bengal etc.
A qualitatively new situation arose after India became independent. New tasks confronted the Indian people and youth. The British rule of more than two centuries had left India weak and backward. They and their leaders had to learn many new things on the new path of national re-construction. Now the struggle was not only against somebody but also for something, a constructive approach. It was no more the question of struggle for the overthrow of a foreign power, but against the negative and anti-people policies of our own government. And the struggle also had to have new features it was to be constructive. It was to be a struggle of a new type in which concrete solutions to the problems of the youth and the people had to be suggested after proper study and understanding and mass work. Therefore after independence, youth leaderships and organizations took sometime to come to terms with the new situation and new problems. Some youth organizations were attempted at all India and state levels by the various parties and by non-party groupings. But an effective organisation did not come up. It was only by late 1950s- early 1960s that the situation began getting clearer. Even then, there took place a number of memorable movements of youth and students in the immediate post-independence years. There also emerged several strong state-level youth organizations, some of them quite strong and militant. Young people participated in a big way in the food movements and struggle against price-rise in Bihar, Bengal, U.P., Punjab, Kerala, Bombay, Andhra etc. A massive movement was unleashed in Bihar in 1955 against police firings on people, and students in particular. CPI and left parties participated actively. Bihar youth organisation got tremendous boost. Food movement and ‘food-riots’ took place in West Bengal; YF was an active participant. Andhra YF led and participated in a number of mass movements.
Youth and YFs and other organisations participated actively in the states re-organisation movement of the mid 1950s. The Samyukta Maharashtra Movement was notable in this context. Youth were in the forefront of the Goa liberation movement and satyagraha of mid and late fifties. A large number of young people fell to the Portuguese bullets and lathis. Many more were injured and incapacitated and a huge number were arrested and tortured. Youth Federation and organisation were active participants. Goa ultimately got independence in December 1961.
Pondicherry (Now Pudhucherry) was another group of areas under foreign occupation. It was ruled by the French colonialists till 1954, when it got independence. The freedom struggle in Pondicheery was led by the legendary V.Subbiah, who also was a CPI leader. He had also established the Pondicherry Youth Sangam in the 1930s. This youth organization played a great role in the freedom movement in Pondicherry, and later it was to become one of the important constituents of the AIYF. Youths and youth federation fought a number of anti-imperialist battles in defence of Indo-China, (ie Vietnam, Laos and Combodia) Congo, Algeria and liberation struggles elsewhere in the world. Powerful opinion was created against USA, Belgium, UK, and other imperialist countries. There were big battles in defence of peace, freedom and democracy and nonalignment. Youth raised their voice in defence of socialist system led by the USSR and against atomic and nuclear weapons and against the threat of their world war.
Youths and the YFs participated actively in sectional and class struggles of youths, workers, peasants, middle classes etc. At the same time they engaged in sports and cultural activities like festivals, cultural competitions etc. Youth federations conducted great battles against the government’s anti-people policies and at the same time against communalism. They were calling for changes in government policies. Slowly but surely a democratic and left alternative movement thus was being created and in this context need was being felt for the creation of an effective all India level youth organisation.
The All India Youth Federation (AIYF) came into being in 1959. Till that year constituent units and organisations existed independently in the various states and regions of India. The different state, district and local democratic youth organisations used to function separately, though there was some kind of co-ordination between them to a lesser or greater degree. The separate youth organisations, which later formed the AIYF, were gradually evolving common aims and objects, and in the course of time felt the need for an organisation at national level. The post-independence India presented a new situation before the youth and their leaderships. While in the pre-independence period the movement had to fight the British colonial rule with the single aim to throw it out and achieve independence, the post-independence India had a different situation. The task of nation building and creation of a new and independent society came to the force aiming at the well being of the people. Among others, it involved creation of a relatively independent economy. The struggle at the same time was against the contradictory path of capitalist development along with growth it also led to growing unemployment, price-rise, and crises. Therefore, the struggle was also against anti-people policies of the government. Therefore, the tasks before the youth are the people in general were multi-faceted and complex issues of development, construction and mass struggle; in fact struggles and mass movement were to be built not only against the ruling classes and for sectional demands but also for the larger issues of development and reconstruction of the society and economy as a whole. The youth problems were intimately related with them. The new situation called for a reorientation of the youth movement in the country. There were several country- level and regional youth bodies; both non-political/non-affiliated as well as belonging to different political parties. There was an acute need for an all India youth organisation with clear-cut short-term and long-term aims and methods of work and organisation. There were strong youth federations in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Kerala, Punjab and some other states and regions that later on joined the AIYF. In other states the youth federation or similar organisations were weak, and needed all India guidance and organisation to help them.
First conference, 1959
First conference of the All India Youth Federation was held from April 28 to May 3, 1959 in Delhi. 250 delegates and observers representing youth organizations of eleven (11) states attended this six-day session. The conference elected a council of 121 members, which in turn elected a 37 member executive committee and office bearers.
Second conference, 1961
The second conference of the All India Youth Federation was held in Hyderabad from 19 to 21 May 1961. 306 delegates and observers from 12 states attended the conference. They freely and frankly discussed the issues affecting the life of the youth of the country. A large number of fraternal delegates were present e.g. from WFDY, Czechoslovak Youth Union, and Sri Lanka Freedom Party Youth League of Ceylon. Similarly, the other Indian organisations, which sent delegates, were Youth Hostels Association. Socialist Youth League, AISF, AITUC, All India Kisan Sabha.
Third conference, 1965-66
The Pondicherry conference was a success beyond expectations and broke all the previous records. It was held from 29 December 1965 to 3 January 1966 in Pondicherry. About 600 delegates participated, which was quite revealing. It showed that the AIYF was gradually winning over the youth. The tremendous potentials of the AIYF induced many delegates to join the conference. Adoption of scientific socialism The adoption of scientific socialism by the conference as the aim of the AIYF was a significant decision. It provided a new ideological orientation to the organisation. Great controversies and heated debates were generated before and during the conference on whether it should be adopted as the aim of the organisation or not. One major opinion was that adoption of scientific socialism would restrict the scope of AIYF. Many young people would then not join it thinking that it was attached to a particular ideology of Marxism. The other major opinion was that socialism has become quite common and popular, and had been adopted in one form or the other, by almost all the political parties. As we know, even BJP (then Jan Sangh) had begun talking of “humanist” or “Gandhian” socialism! Therefore, AIYF must adopt and popularize scientific socialism as distinct from several other socialisms that were in circulation. That would impart a clear-cut direction and perspective to the youth. Acceptance of scientific socialism was of course, not a precondition to the membership of AIYF. The AIYF would educate the youth and its members in this ideology.
Fourth conference, 1969
The fourth conference of All India Youth Federation was held from 26 to 28 December 1969 in Delhi. It was attended by over three hundred delegates from all over India and was inaugurated by S.A. Dange. The conference was also attended by several foreign delegates from Vietnam, Rumania, USSR, Bulgaria, WFDY, etc. The conference discussed the youth issues in three commissions. These commissions were on working report and organizational problems, “present situation and the tasks of the youth”, and programme of action. The conference decided that the main task of the organisation was to mobilize the younger generation for democratic and political movements through ideological education on the basis of scientific socialism.
Fifth conference, 1974
The fifth conference of AIYF was held in Cochin from 17 to 20 January 1974. The period since 1969 Delhi conference was one of unprecedented political and social upheavals. The Congress had split, banks had been nationalized, privy purses withdrawn and new possibilities for the growth of left, democratic and progressive forces had opened up. Progressive forces were on the advance and new alignment of forces and parties was taking place. Polarisation between progressive and reactionary forces was developing. The reports from the states in the conference assessed the tremendous impact of these and other events on the youth and student movements. They also reviewed the role of youth in the mass movements of the period. Struggles on sectional and general demands were reviewed. Assuming a correct ideological standpoint, the AIYF had expanded its mass base and influence. This was reflected in the fact that while only 300 delegates has participated in Delhi (1969) conference, 975 delegates and 117 observers attended the Cochin AIYF conference. Only Meghalaya and Jammu & Kashmir went un-represented. Out of this number, 405 were young workers, 19 doctors, 54 advocates and 87 students. So far as their educational background was concerned 306 were graduates, 240 matriculates, 29 illiterates, and the rest had elementary or secondary education. Question of ideology Both the youth and student conferences finally settled the question of ideology. They unanimously adopted Marxism-Leninism as the guide to revolutionary practice. The respective national councils reached the decision in June 1972 in Hyderabad after prolonged discussions. This did not mean that the character of AIYF and AISF would be restricted as mass organisations. The AIYF would continue to attract and enroll common youths of factories, farms, universities, services, unemployed etc. They would be drawn into various spheres of sports, culture, physical training, entertainment, etc. At the same time attempts would be made to lead them into struggles on the specific demands. The youth would be educated and politicalised in the theory of Marxism-Leninism after they joined.
Sixth conference, 1979
The sixth conference of All India Youth Federation was held in Hyderabad on 15-17, May 1979. The conference gave a clarion call to the youth to fight the RSS seriously and to defend secularism and national unity. The dangerous growth of RSS was a serious threat to the nation in the wake of the formation of Janata Dal government in 1977. The RSS and its concept of Hindu Rashtra had acquired new aggressiveness. It penetrated into police, bureaucracy and government institutions. The conference called upon the youth to meet the RSS threat and to chalk out a programme of action on all India basis.
Seventh conference, 1983
The seventh conference of the AIYF was held in Patna from 13 to 16 January 1983. AIYF decided to continue ‘job or jail’campaign in a more militant manner by organising padayatras at all levels, with the main padayatras in a few selected centers. They were to cover villages throughout the country and were to culminate in Delhi March. About 1200 delegates attended the conference from all the states. It was great success. Fraternal delegates from 15 countries were also present.
Eighth conference, 1985
The eighth conference of All India Youth Federation was held from November 1 to 3 1985 in Bilaspur, Madhya Pradesh 600 delegates attended it from all the states, also by foreign delegates from several countries. The venue of the conference was named after Sarada Mitra, the founder general secretary of AIYF. The hall in which the delegates session took place was named after the recently hanged young South African poet and freedom fighter Benjamin Moloise. In a resolution, AIYF demanded immediate release of African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela. The conference also hoped that the forthcoming Geneva conference between USA and USSR would come out with positive results.
Ninth conference, 1990
The ninth conference of AIYF was held the 3-6 May 1990 in Cochin (Kerala). Its mammoth rally gave a stirring call to all the progressive, democratic and secular youth organisations to fight for the task. “Save India, Change India”. The conference had the defence of national unity and secularism as its running theme. It decided to organise a march to Parliament on September 13, 1990 with the slogan “Save India, Change India”. 600 delegates from all over India attended the Cochin conference. In the end, a declaration was adopted. Several other resolutions were also passed. AIYF decided to initiate the following campaigns: It was decided to organise seminars in July 1990 on national unity and secularism, right to work, job or unemployment allowance. 1.Campaign fortnight from 15 to 30 August at local levels through padayatras, cycle rallies, processions etc. 2.All India March to the Parliament on 13 September 1990.
Tenth conference, 1993
The tenth conference of All India Youth Federation was held from 26 to 29 September 1993 in Sangrur (Punjab). It was attended by 427 delegates, and by 34 foreign guests. The conference started with a massive rally on the 26th September in which thousands of rural youth participated. The rally was addressed by the general secretary of CPI Indrajit Gupta, well known film personality A.K. Hangal, president of WFDY, Andle Yawa and several others.
Eleventh conference, 1996
Eleventh national conference of All India Youth Federation was held in Calcutta from 8 to 11 December 1996. Delegates from at least twenty states had reached Calcutta. Presence of 35 fraternal delegates from different countries greatly inspired the participants. The conference was attended by 869 delegates and 25 observers. The conference demanded creation of a national youth fund to assist generation of self-employment. It urged the government to lift the ban upon recruitment. The existing National Youth Policy (NYP) did not accord with the present situation, and therefore the UF government should come out with a new NYP. Broad participation of youth from the grass root level in the decision – making process alone could ensure evolution of a comprehensive youth policy aimed at their better future.
Twelveth conference, 2003
The 12th national conference of the AIYF was held on 2-5 April 2003 in Patna (Bihar). It was attended by 600 delegates from 23 states. The conference was also attended by the WFDY president Michael and by fraternal delegates from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Cuba. The conference adopted a ‘Document on Youth Policy’ and a ‘Youth Declaration and Information on Employment Situation’.
Thirteenth conference, 2007
The thirteenth conference of the All India Youth Federation was held on 28-31 March 2007 in Sirsa (Haryana). It was attended by 672 delegates from 24 states. The 13th AIYF conference was attended by the fraternal delegates from the WFDY, and from youth organizations of China, Greece, Sri Lanka, Burma, Bangladesh, Nepal and Cuba.