Short History of All India Students Federation (AISF)
by: Anil Rajimwale
Background From Nineteenth Century
History of AISF (All India Students Federation) is an inseparable part of the freedom movement of our country. The student community have added glorious pages and chapters to India’s history through their memorable struggles and contributions. The AISF and other student organisations have made singular contributions both before and after independence. The AISF has left the deepest and an everlasting impression on the history of this country, particularly on student history.
The beginnings of students’ movements and organisations go way back into the 19th country. Many people think that the student movement began only in the 20thcentury, but that is not true. The role and place of the student movement has been under- estimated. Therefore, we will make a short reference to the student activities of the 19th century.
History finds a mention of a student organisation of 1828 called the Academic Association. It was founded in Calcutta by Vivian Derozio. Derozio was a Portuguese youth settled in Calcutta. He became a lecturer in Hindu College there at a very young age. In the course of time he gathered together a group of brilliant and leading students around himself, which came to be known as the Academic Association. The Association used to regularly organise discussions on serious educational, social and political questions. At the same time, it used to run a regular campaign against social evils, religious obscurantism and superstition and for social reforms. The Academic Association included students of all the religions – Hindu, Muslim, Christians etc, but they were united in the struggle against obscuratism. They went to the extent of eating beef and other kinds of meat publicly, openly violated religious obscurantist practices, and actively propagated western liberal ideas of progress and modernism. They spread the anti-feudal modern ideas of French, Italian, English and other revolutions. Consequently, the Academic Association had to face the ire of the socio-religious obscurantists.
On the basis of the researches done so far, we may state that the Academic Association of 1828 was the first student organisation of India.
Young Bengal Movement
The Academic Association and other organisations helped spread modern ideas not only in Bengal but also in the rest of India. In fact, the activities of the East India Company and direct British rule contributed to certain amount of modern and English education in places like Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, and several others. This was in accordance with the needs of the British administration. But the results of the spread of education often went against the expectations of the Britishers. The modern education brought in with it the ideas of democracy, liberty, freedom, liberalism and even of revolution eg. of the French revolution. Along with these developments, various industries were also coming up, which spread across in the course of time eg. railway (1853), jute, textile, mining, processing, (1854 and so on) etc. They too helped spread modern thoughts and forms of organisation. In fact, Marx commented that by so doing, the Britishers had, though unintentionally, sowed the seeds of a social revolution in India.
One of the most important movements of the 19th century was the well-known ‘Young Bengal’ movement. It took place between the 1840s and 1860s and left a deep imprint on Bengal, particularly on its youth, as well as on the rest of the country. It was an organisation that carried forward the traditions of the Academic Association. Young Bengal contributed a lot to the renaissance and social reforms, and at the same time helped growth of national and political consciousness. Madhab Chandra Mullick, Ram Gopal Ghosh, Krishna Mohan Mallick and others were some of the leading figures of this movement.
Some of the other student and academic organisations of the 19th century were – Society for the Acquisition of General Knowledge (1838), Students’ Literary and Scientific Society (1848), Students” Association (1876), etc.
The first one of the above-mentioned societies functioned in Calcutta. It used to organise debates and discussions and paper-readings on social problems and helped raise the consciousness of the youth. It functioned in the Hindu College, Sanskrit College and other institutions. Gradually, the Society began to organise discussions on political questions also, and even participated in political activities, which was a novelty for those days.
The second organisation, that is the Students’ Literary and Scientific Society was established in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1848 in the Elphinstone Educational institutions. It is to be noted that the great economist, public and political figure of India Dadabhai Naoroji took the main initiative to establish this particular Society. The Society used to organise regular study circles and discussions. It played an important part in the educational field and established Gujarati and Marathi Gyan Prasarak Mandals. Also, it published a journal called Gyan Prasarak.
Students’ Literary and Scientific Society made a great contribution to the women’s education. The Society founded several schools where girls used to be taught. It was a courageous step for its time because during those days, women’s education was stoutly opposed.
Students Association (1876) was one of the most important student organisations of the 19th century. It was founded by Anand Mohan Bose and Surendra Nath Bannerjee in Calcutta. These leaders used the method of public meetings and mass movements, which was new for those times. The Students Association made a notable contribution in the foundation of the Indian National Congress (1885). The Association greatly politicalised the mass of students who took the path of mass struggles under its direction and outside. For example, the Students Association organised a big movement on the question of the exams of Indian Civil Service (ICS). The students demanded that the age-bar for the ICS exams be raised. They also demanded that the exams be held in India alongwith in England for the convenience of the Indian students. During those days the Indian students had to travel all the way to England to sit in the exams, which was very difficult for most of them.
Besides the above-mentioned organisations, a number of other student and youth bodies also came up in various parts of India eg. South India, Patna, Darbhanga, Assam etc. The borders of the provinces and states at that time were different, and underwent drastic changes in the course of decades. The provinces used to be very big and the educational institutions were far in between and few in numbers. Therefore, it was far more difficult to organise and to spread the message of organisation. For example, the present-day Bihar (and Jharkhand) was part of a giant Bengal-Assam-Orissa province in the second half of the 19th century. Bihar became a separate province only in 1912.
There took place some notable movements in the second half of the 19th century. A strike took place in Patna College in April 1870 protesting against the insulting remarks of the Principal. It was a successful strike, and all the rusticated students were taken back. Another strike took place in the same Patna College on 31 August 1875, again on the misbehaviour of the Principal. A widespread dissatisfaction gripped the students of the hostels of Patna in 1892 against the mismanagement in them.
Several student movements took place in the 80s of the 19th century in Cochin, Trivandrum, Trichnapally, Madras (now Chennai) and other places.
Student movements took place in Assam under the leadership of Anand Ram Phukan and others. The last decades of the 19th century saw several movements demanding greater importance for the Assamese language, which led to the emergence of several organisations.
Students, youth and educationists opposed the closing down of the Deccan College of Poona. An organisation known as the Graduates’ Association was very active in the 90s of that century in Bombay.
There was another very important organisation in Bombay called Students, Brotherhood (‘SB’ – 1889). It was a highly organised and a regularly functioning student organisation, which was active for at least 15-20 years.
A Boys’ Association was founded in Darbhanga (Bihar) in 1898. It later became a part of the famous Behari Students’ Central Association (BSCA).
Thus, the facts and the research so far show that the students – youth organisation is not a contribution of the 20th century alone but originated in the 19th century. It gradually acquired a political character.
Student Movement at the Beginning of the 20th Century
There took place a certain amount of spread of education by the end of the 19thand beginning of the 20th centuries. By this time, the universities of Calcutta, Bombay, Madras and Allahabad were already established and several independent colleges and schools founded.
By the end of the 19th century, the number of students in British India, in the middle and higher school levels, had crossed two lakhs, and at college level more than 14 thousands. Education spread further during the 20th century. Thus, the material conditions of the student movement were being created.
Student Movement (1901-20)
The first decade of the 20th century is full of student movements. A large number of student and youth organisations were also created in the first two decades of the century. The partition of Bengal was among the major reasons of the origin of all India student movement in this period. Various anti-student circulars too contributed to the process.
The Dawn Society was founded in Bengal in 1902. It was a powerful student organisation. The reason why it was established in 1902 was the publication that year of the Report of the Indian Universities Commission and the reaction of all the students and the educated people against it. The public opinion thought that the Report sought to destroy their identity as also the educational system.
Famous educationists and general students participated in the Dawn Society. They demanded that India’s educational system should be completely changed. The Dawn Society also laid down the bases of swadeshi educational institutions and shops, which later became an important part of the Swadeshi and anti-Partition(‘Bang –Bhang’) movement.
Anti-Partition Movement and Student Upsurge
Bengal was divided in 1905. It was in 1874 that Assam had been divided, and consequently the Bengal Presidency consisted of Bengal, Bihar, Chhotanagpur and Orissa, till Bengal was further divided up in 1905 in a rather strange manner. The division took place on 16 October 1905: its western part consisted of Bihar, West Bengal, Chhotangpur and Orissa, while East Bengal and Assam constituted one province. Thus two provinces came into existence: Bengal and East Bengal.
The partition of Bengal particularly led to severe reaction among the Bengalis. The nationalists in general were of the opinion that the step was taken by the British rulers to divide the Bengalis and the national movement. Not everybody agreed with this view, though, particularly in the western part of Bengal.
Thus, the discontent at the partition of Bengal led to a great upsurge against it. This came to be known as anti-partition or ‘Bang-Bhang’ (‘division of Bengal’) movement.
The movement became integrated, in the course of events, with the boycott of foreign goods and the use of swadeshi and swadeshi education.
Anti-partition and Swadeshi movement was the first mass student-youth movement in India, with the participation of some other sections. It left a deep impact on the history of India, particularly the history student-youth movement, and gave rise to several important organisations and movements that were to play an important role in the later years. The consciousness of the youth was taken to qualitatively new heights. A national consciousness began to take shape. The movement spread over into South India also eg. Madras, Rajahmundhry, Kakinada, Machalipatanam, etc. Even a national university was established in Madras presidency in 1907. Bepin Chandra Pal played an active role not only in North India but also in South India in organising the students.
Behari Students’ Central Association (BSCA)
There is a general mistaken impression that regular and strong students’ movement in India took shape only in the 20s and 30s of the 20th century. But the fact is that there were several well – organised student and youth bodies in India well before the First World War, particularly in Bihar, Assam, Bombay, Madras, etc.
Among the notable organisations was the BSCA or the Behari Students Central Association, founded in 1906. It was initiated by Rajendra Prasad (later Dr Rajendra Prasad, India’s first President) and his associates during the Durga Puja holidays in Patna College in the first Behari Students Conference. It was presided over by (later Justice) Sharfuddin. It is interesting to note that delegates from most of the schools and colleges took part in it.
BSCA established its branches in all the districts and important towns of Bihar. Branches in Calcutta and Benaras were also founded. The BSCA war not a short – lived, temporary organisation. For the first fifteen years of its existence ie. upto 1921, it convened its annual conferences regularly, and its branches were very active. It was an unusual student organisation in many senses. People generally are either unaware of it or know very little. The BSCA concentrated on educational and social reform aspects in the beginning but gradually shifted to political and nationalist positions. It is to be especially noted that BSCA greatly contributed to the founding of Congress Party in Bihar (1908).
Another notable organisation was the Students’ Brotherhood (est. 1889), in Bombay and neighbourhoods, a highly organised and regular body, active in the last decade of the 19th century and first two decades of the 20th century. It also brought out a serious and in – depth quarterly journal Students’ Brother hood Quarterly (SBQ).
We will not be able to describe other student organisations for lack of space.
India’s First Student Organisation (1920)
As per the researches conducted so far, the idea of establishing an all – India students’ organisation was being discussed way back in 1906. Annie Besant used to publish a students’ journal titled the Central Hindu College Magazine (CHC Magazine) from Benaras in 1908. It discussed the formation of an India – level body of students on several occasions. It meant that the educated sections, teachers, students, leaders etc were feeling the need for and possibility of such a step. This fact is being mentioned for the first time by this writer in his detailed work on the student movement as well as in this booklet on AISF history.
Thus, the attempts to found an all India organisation of students were being made much before the First World War.
But such an organisation could not be formed in those early days. Among the reasons was the outbreak of the First World War (1914-18). The War brought about a qualitative change in the country’s and world situation. Russian revolution took place in November 1917. Bourgeois democracies were established in several European countries, Liberation movements gathered speed in Africa, China, Turkey, other countries as well as in India. Ideas of Marxism and socialism spread all over quickly. The crisis of British and other imperialisms deepened. Such were some of the absolutely new factors.
The change in the situation led to a sharpening of the national freedom movement in India. The influence of the Indian National Congress spread rapidly among the masses. New types of radical and mass leaders emerged eg. Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Lala Lajpat Rai, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sibhash Chandra Bose and others. The socialist and leftist ideas began to spread more rapidly. These conditions created favorable situation for the growth of student-youth movement and the emergence of their organisations. Consequently, several of them came up during this period.
It is well known that the non-cooperation movement began in 1920, led by Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. It was in the course of the preparations of the non-cooperation that the country-level organisation of students was born in 1920.
Several student conferences, gatherings and meetings took place in the course of 1919 and 1920 at various places all over the country. Some of them proved temporary, others permanent. Student conferences and conventions were organised during 1920 in Bihar, Bombay, Pune, U.P. and several other places. Several meetings took place in Nagpur in November 1920, wherein it was decided to convene an all India conference of students. Meetings of similar nature took place in Ahmedabad, Bombay etc. Ultimately it was agreed that an all India students’ conference would be convened in December 1920 in Nagpur on the occasion of the session of the All India Congress Committee. Students’ organisations all over the country were accordingly informed of it.
The All India College Students’ Conference (AICSC) began our 25 December 1920 in Nagpur. It represented only the college students. Hence the name. Though cooperating closely with the Congress, it was basically an independent initiative of students and student leaders.
R.J. Gokhale was the Chairman of the Reception Committee, the conference was inaugurated by Lala Lajpat Rai. The conference decided to take an active part in the non-cooperation movement and to fully support the Swadeshi. The conference decided to establish All India College Students’ Conference as an All India student organisation (AICSC).
It was the first-ever all India conference of students in this country. The news of the founding of the AICSC spreadlike wildfire all over country. It played a crucial and important, in fact a leading, role in activating the student mass and in raising their consciousness. The AICSC organised at least five all India students’ conferences subsequently. The organisation was active for several years.
Thus, the AICSC was the first ever all India organisation of students.
Characteristic features of student movement, preparations to form AISF
The period between 1920 and 1935 was very eventful. We won’t go into too many details of this relatively long period for lack of space, except very few.
The material basis of student movement ie. the educational institutions and the number of students increased rapidly during the first three or four decades of the 20th century. The number of universities was 8 in 1916-17; it increased to 14 in 1921-22 and 16 in 1936-37. The number of colleges was 226 in 1921-22, increasing to 340 in 1936-37. There were 8987 secondary schools in 1921-22 and 14414 in 1936-37. The number of students doubled between 1901-02 and 1921-22 and increased by three times in 1936-37 as compared with 1901-02.
The number of students in the various educational institutions was 45 lakhs in 1901-02, increasing to 84 lakhs in 1921-22 and to one crore 41 lakhs in 1936-37. The number of girl students in 1901-02 was 4.5 lakhs, 14 lakhs in 1921-22 and 31 lakhs in 1936-37.
The increasing number of students constituted the growing material basis for the student’s movement in India. Their educational, political, personal, family, social, economic etc problems as well as activities were on the rise and their impact on the society as well as their social role was increasing.
The students were more and more coming out into struggle on the various demands in the abovementioned fields. The number and intensity of the student movement was rising. A large number of student and youth organisations was being born.
An important movement cum campaign of youths and students took place between 1928 and 1930, known as the Youth League (YL) movement. The Y.L. movement led to the increased radicalization of the student and youth movement. It led to greater spread of socialist and Marxist and left views among the younger generation.
The youth-students endeavored for new views and paths. They were getting attracted to the ideas of revolution and of the Soviet Union. Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Yusuf Meherally, Subhash Chandra Bose and P.C. Joshi were some of important figures of this movement. The Youth Leagues were established in virtually every nook and corner of the country, in small and big towns, schools and colleges, mohallas, etc. It was a countrywide movement, number of small and big student/youth periodicals and magazines were brought out. The YL movement laid the foundations for the future emergence of a large number of youth and student organisations.
Some of the important student youth journals brought out during 1920-35 included The Collegian, The Young Liberator, etc.
In the meantime, several student and youth conferences were organised at provincial level An all India socialist youth conference was held in 1928 in Calcutta under the presidentship of Pt. Nehru. Another gathering was the All India Students’ Convention in Lahore in 1929 under the presidentship of Pt Madan Mohan Malviya.
In Bengal, two important student organisations were constituted at the end of the 1920s-beginning of 1930s eg. ABSA or All Bengal Students’ Association and BPSA or Bengal Provincial Students’ Association. Student organisations also came up during this period in Punjab, Bihar, Delhi, U.P., Madras, Assam, Orissa, Bombay, CP-Berar province, Sindh, Lahore, etc. Some of them originated under the name of Students’ Federation (SF) and or later on joined the AISF. SF or SF – type organisations were being rapidly formed in 1934, 1935 and 1936 in several places indicating that the movement was proceeding towards the formation of an all India student organisation. Lahore Students Union (LSU), Madras Students Organisation (MSO), UP University Students Federation, CP-Berar Student Organisation, Bombay Students Union (BSU), later All Burma Students Union (ABSU), Assam Students Federation (or Asom Chhatro Sanmilan, formed in 1916), All Utkal Students Federation, Sindh Students Federation and many other student organisations were formed or were in the process of formation.
Thus, there was a spate of activity all round. Many of them were independent, not connected with any political party. Some others were related with the parties in one way or the other. But the notable fact is that most of the student organisations were joint forums of students of various views and political affiliations, as also of the non-political and non-affiliated students. Political parties like the Indian National Congress and its groups, Congress Socialist Party, Communist Party of India and some others were active among the students. They had some sort of influence on the student masses.
Let it be emphasized here that the independent, non-affiliated, non-political elements had far greater influence on students than what is realized.
Foundation of the AISF (1936)
In the meantime, an all India students’ conference was convened in Karachi on 26 March 1931 under the presidentship of Pt. Nehru. It was called to organise All India Students Federation, and was attended by nearly 700 delegates. But the attempt did not meet with success due to a number of reasons.
The background to the founding of the AISF is quite interesting. Sir Malcolm Hailey was the governor of the then United Provinces of Agra and Awadh (U.P.). He was very concerned at the growing movement of the youth and students. He wanted to pre-empt any attempt to form their organisation. Therefore, he asked the vice-chancellor of Lucknow University to convene a meeting of the student representatives of all the universities of the province to form a Federation, so that the growing dissatisfaction among the students could be diverted into official channels and away from the effective student movement. A meeting of the representatives of the universities of Allahabad, Benaras, Aligarh, Lucknow and Agra was convened so as to form province – level and later all India level student organisation to forestall the formation of a real nationalist organisation.
But the move back-fired upon the British and the university authorities. The nationalist students captured the meeting and its proceedings. The students did not follow the dictats of the authorities. Student leaders like M. Badiuddin, P.N. Bhargava, Shafiq Naqvi, Ahmed Jamal Kidwai, Jagdish Rastogi and others put the sychophants of the Britishers on the defensive and harassed them like anything. The chairman of the meeting brought a condolence resolution on the death of George V. The above-mentioned student leaders insisted upon a resolution also condoling the death of the famous British Communist and MP, Shapurji Saklatvala, who also died almost the same time.
But the vice-chancellor objected to the name of Saklatvala in the condolence resolution. Consequently, there was a Pandemonium in the meeting. The students were threatened with disciplinary action, and in fact three students were rusticated too. About 50 students walked out of the meeting.
The students and their leaders decided that if they did not call an all India conference of student and form an organisation immediately, the British authorities would create their own puppet organisation.
Events, then, followed quickly. Uttar Pradesh Universities Students’ Federation (UPUSF) held its working committee meeting on 23 January 1936 in Lucknow. It adopted a resolution to the effect that in view of the fast-changing situation in the country, convening of an all India students’ conference had become imperative, and it should be called in August 1936. The “official” ie. the V.C.- backed organisation also was thinking of convening an all India conference.
The Working Committee under the chairmanship of Prem Narayan Bhargava was first transformed into Management Committee and then into the Reception Committee of the proposed conference. Committees were constituted in all the important districts of UP, headed by convenors. The Reception Committee decided to convene the all India students’ conference in Lucknow on 12-13 August 1936. All the students organisations all over the country were invited to participate. At the same time leaders of various parties like the Indian National Congress, the Congress Socialist Party, the Communist Party of India etc were also contacted.
The call for the conference invited widespread enthusiasm all over the country. Preparations began on a big scale. The students and student organisations in U.P. jumped into active work, fund collection, preparation of staying and other arrangements and so on. Different categories of entry tickets were introduced for the public participants and observers and visitors. Political documents, speeches, welcome speech etc. were being prepared.
It has to be especially noted that the membership enrolment of the Reception Committee and election of its office-bearers was done democratically. Ballot papers were prepared for this purpose and dates of polling were fixed. Any student could become a delegate to the conference on producing his/her students’ identity card and a payment of Re. One as delegate fee.
The foundation conference of the AISF was held in the Ganga Prasad Memorial Hall of Lucknow. 936 delegates representing 200 local and 11 provincial organisations from all over the country participated in the conference.
The conference received messages of good wishes from Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindra Nath Tagore, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, Srinivas Shastri and many other prominent personalities.
The conference was the biggest gathering of students at all India level till that time. All the universities were represented.
P.N. Bhargava welcomed the delegates as the Chairman of the Reception Committee. The conference was inaugurated by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. While analyzing the Indian and world situation in detail, he called upon the students to keep the flag of the freedom movement high. In his presidential speech, M.A. Jinnah expressed happiness at the fact that people of different castes and communities had gathered in the conference with one common goal.
The conference passed several resolutions. They called upon the students to fight actively for independence and to participate in politics.
The conference resolved to establish an All India Students Federation (AISF). Prem Narayan Bhargava was elected the first general secretary of the AISF. TheStudents’ Tribue became the first organ of the AISF.
The formation of the AISF was an historic event. It inspired the whole of student movement to move forward. It was also a sign of the growing maturity of the student movement.
The second conference of the AISF was held after a short interval of only three months, beginning on 22 November (1936) in Lahore. It mainly discussed and adopted the constitution of the AISF. The conference was attended by about 150 delegates under the presidentship of Sarat Chandra Bose, who called upon the students to derive inspiration from the Russian revolution. The conference was also addressed by Pt Govind Ballabh Pant. It through a resolution condemned the intervention by Nazi Germany into the affairs of Republican Spain. The conference decided to affiliate the AISF with the World Students’ Association.
The Lahore AISF conference prepared a Demand Charter of Students as a basis of countrywide mass student movement.
The foundation of AISF filled the students with new enthusiasm and consciousness, and spurred them to big actions. Student-youth movement spread widely.
A notable incident took place after the Lahore Conference. Some Muslim student leaders tried to convene an All India Muslim Students’ conference in Lucknow towards the end of 1936. But the organizers had to face tremendous opposition from Muslin students and the conference had to be dissolved.
The delegates held a mass meeting opposing the very idea of forming a separate organisation of the Muslin students. Ansar Harvani of Lucknow University was the most vocal supporter of this resolution of the public meeting. The organizer of the Muslim students’ conference Iftikhar Hasan tried to put across his reasons but nobody was prepared to listen to him. Barring him, all the delegates came out against forming a student organisation on communal basis. Ali Sardar Jafri moved a resolution calling upon the Muslim students to join the AISF in large numbers. Meeting also read out the messages of Maulana Abdul Kalan Azad and Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan. Both of them opposed formation of a separate organisation and asked the Muslim students to join the AISF.
Post Conference upsurge
The last months of 1936 and the whole of 1937 saw unprecedented and active mass movements of students and youth, an upsurge of students, mainly under the leadership of the AISF. Students in Aligarh, Faizabad, Kanpur and other places were punished for taking part in the political activities. As a result, there were big protest meetings and students’ strikes. Students took an active part in the elections of 1937 in support of the Congress, and helped it win the elections.
Students of U.P. went on protest actions in August 1937 against the arrest of student leaders Ramesh Chandra Sinha and J. J. Bhattacharya. Over 15 thousand students went in protest demonstration in front of the Chief Minister (then called ‘Prime Minister’) of UP Govind Ballabh Pant in support of their 37-point demand charter.
Big movement broke out in Bengal in support of the hunger-striking Andaman prisoners in 1937. AISF played an important role in it. There were widespread lathicharges and arrests. There was a huge demonstration before the Assembly. Protests against those attacks also took place in the far-away Madras, where protest marches were taken out. For the first time in India’s history our All India Students’ Day was observed on 20 November 1937.
The SF began to publish Students’ Tribune from November 1936 with twin aim of impacting correct and healthy direction to the student movement. Students’ Callwas being published from Bombay and Chhatro Abhijan from Calcutta.
The Indian students residing in Europe held a conference on 8 January 1937 in London. It was initiated by the Oxford and Cambridge Majlis. It was attended by representatives from ten English universities and associations and by the fraternal delegates from Indian Students’ Association. The conference decided to establish a Federation of Indian Students’ Societies in Great Britain and Ireland (FEDIND), and it established contacts with the AISF.
The AISF was active in support of national liberation, freedom and socialist movements all over the world since its establishment. The Students’ Tribunepublished materials regularly on world events. Lahore Students’ Union (LSU) had observed “Spain Day” in May 1936 itself. A “China Day” was organised all over the country in August 1936. Processions were brought out in Bombay. Protesting against Japanese aggression against China. An anti-war day was organised in Madras in February 1937. A “Palestine Day” was observed in Jhansi the same year.
Third AISF Conference
The third conference of the AISF was held in Madras from 1 to 3 January 1938. In the interim period the organisation of the Students’ Federation spread rapidly to new areas, reaching to the far-flung and remote schools in the villages. Several provincial organisations were constituted.
The Madras AISF conference witnessed some serious internal differences between the various political trends, but they were resolved in time and the AISF began marching ahead again. It should be noted that the AISF was an organisation/platform of different political trends and views as well as of large sections of non-political and non-affiliated members and supporters. It was a broad–based mass organisation, and therefore the differences were natural.
The events moved fast at national and international levels. The British government brought forward a proposal for a federal constitution, which was rejected by both the Congress and the AISF.
Subhash Chandra Bose was elected the Congress president with the support of the leftists, the Congress, Socialists and the Communists. It caused upheavals in the Congress. At the world levels, groupings among the imperialist countries were coming up and fascism was on a rise, bringing the world to an international war.
The Madras AISF conference elected Ansar Harvani as the general secretary.
The AISF was gaining ground rapidly. It was apparent at Calcutta (Fourth) AISF conference (1-2 January 1939), where more than 800 delegates attended representing over 40 thousand members. Besides, 1500 student observers also took part. M.L. Shah was elected the new general secretary of the AISF.
The year 1939 saw several important student movements all over the country. One notable movement came up in Orissa on the demands of the medical students. The movement later spread far and wide in the country. Several student leaders were expelled. There were widespread strike protests and well-organised satyagrahas over several weeks. The administration ultimately had to concede the demands.
The Second World War broke out on 1st September 1939. The danger of Nazism and fascism loomed larger. The British government, without consulting the Indian leaders and people, announced that India had joined the War on 3 September (1939). The step was widely opposed all over the country and by all the sections of opinions. Protests broke out everywhere. There took place a historic anti-War strike of the industrial workers of Bombay on 2 October (1939). The students actively supported it. An anti-imperialist rally and convention took place in Nagpur on 8-9 October (1939). It was participated in by several political parties and mass organisations; AISF was an active participant. The rally was presided over by Subhash Chandra Bose and Swami Sahajanand Saraswati.
Student Movement: 1940-47
It was in this background of the Second World War that the Fifth AISFConference was held on 1-2 January 1940 in Delhi. It was attended by 500 delegates and 200 observers. The conference strongly condemned the War. It took a decision to observe 26 January as the Independence Day. The conference re-elected ML Shah as the general secretary.
The leaders of the Indian national movement demanded establishment of a provisional national government to carry through the War to achieve independence. But the British government refused to accept it; instead the viceroy presented the so-called “August proposal” or resolution on 8 August 1940. Earlier in March (1940) the textile workers supported by the students, went on a strike. AISF actively cooperated. The Students’ Federation was the first organisation, which protested against the institution of the Defence of India Ordinance in Bengal. The movement in fact spread to the whole of the country. Barricades were set up in many places and public meetings organised. The students came out in large numbers against the imperialist war and supported the call of the national leaders to fight to end the British rule. The British government banned the AISF booklet titled Role of the Students in the Anti-imperialist struggle. A student movement broke out in Calcutta demanding removal of the holwell Monument in 1940.
Sixth AISF Conference
An important event of this period was the Nagpur (Sixth) conference of the AISF held on 25-26 December 1940. It turned out to a crucial conference and a milestone in AISF history. The internal differences in the AISF came out sharply in acrimonious forms in the course of the proceedings of the conference. As we pointed out earlier, the AISF was a joint forum for the various political and nationalist. But differences and conflicts were simmering for quite some time.
These conflicts reached a peak during the conference. The leftist, the rightist, the centrist and several other trends reentered into debate on various political, organisational and international issues. It was but natural. Various issues, the aims of the national freedom movement, their methods, timing of the movements, attitude to the War and to the British government in the conduct of War, the world issues, formation of the national government and so on all those issues were under intense debate and discussion in the national movement and in the AISF. Each of the various trends had its own view and analysis – Gandhism, Marxism, the socialists, the Congress Socialists, liberals, Royists, Trotskyites and many others. Besides, a big section, even the major section, was not affiliated to any of the trends and ‘isms’ and parties, and was non-political. They were more concentrated on their educational problems. At the most they were interested in the broader nationalist freedom struggle. Therefore, this section did not take any interest in the details of the debates.
European and world situation was changing rapidly. War was approaching the Indian borders too. Therefore, India was being increasingly affected by the world events.
Split in AISF
The Nagpur AISF conference took place in these very circumstance. By December 1940, the AISF got polarized basically into two groups – the core of one group was the nationalists, consisting of several trends. The communists, who were organizationally and politically clearer and more organised, basically constituted the other group. But both the groups ultimately adopted extreme positions in the course of debates and organisational matters. That only harmed the organisation and vitiated the atmosphere, leading ultimately to a split in the AISF. Both the groups and factions might have been correct on this or that question, with well-argued justifications for their positions. But they forgot, in the course of their mutual recriminations and groupism, that AISF was a broadbased mass organisation and a platform for various views, and groups, and that all of them must exist together in the interest of the mass of students without harming the unity of the AISF. But certain people on both the sides forgot this elementary principle, even justifying the formation of separate rival student organisations. They did not do everything possible to preserve the unity. Narrow political and group-organisational interests got the better of the broader educational and other interests of the students.
The result of the increasing political-organisational conflict within the AISF before and during the conference led to a split in the AISF at its Nagpur conference (1940). Consequently, there emerged two organisations with the name of the AISF – one AISF was being led by M. Farooqui as the general secretary, consisting mainly of the communists, and other AISF was being led by M.L. Shah, consisting mainly of the non-communists, mostly the nationalists. Both held their separate conferences.
Prof. Satish Kalelkar tried to bring the two groups together, but he failed due to hardened positions of some student leaders. The split in the AISF in 1940 greatly harmed the giant united mass student movement all over the country, and the student in general were greatly disappointed.
Nazi fascist Germany launched a massive attack on the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. This brought about a qualitative change in the nature of the Second World War. Struggle and war against fascism, in particular Hitler fascism, became the main task of the student and general movement. A crucial problem presented itself before the political organisation and movement in the country. Great Britain now had joined the Soviet Union and other countries in the struggle and War against Germany, Italy and Japan, so what attitude should be adopted towards it? The Seventh Conference of the AISF, which began on 31 December 1941, participated in by over 600 delegates, deliberated upon this question. After sharp debates, a resolution was adopted expressing support for War efforts.
It was a creditable achievement for the AISF that it was the first organisation to discuss and debate openly the qualitatively changed situation in the country and to give a call for People’s War. The conference pointed out that the Soviet Union was the leader of the anti-fascist forces, and was the main hurdle in the path of fascist advance. The British government in India was trying to create problems for the AISF and other organisations, which wanted to actively create anti-fascist struggles. The conference demanded formation of a national government. Some of the nationalist leaders had panicked and asked the country to surrender to the Japanese troops. AISF severely criticized it as a suicidal path.
The AISF jumped whole–hog into the countrywide mass anti-fascist movements and preparations to face the fascist advance. A “Defence Convention” of students was organised in Delhi on 15 May 1942. Just a few months later the Congress launched Quit India Movement all over the country on 9 August 1942. This great movement had to face severe and barbarous repression’s reparations at the hands of the British government. A large number of leaders were put behind the bars. It was a great anti-imperialist movement all over the country, in which the students played a crucial part.
The AISF did not agree with the timing of the August movements because a life-and-death War against fascism was going on in Europe, and the Japanese troops were already knocking at India’s doors. Despite the differences, the AISF launched countrywide movements for the release of the political prisoners.
At the same time the AISF began organising armed and un-armed anti-Jap squads and groups in the border regions of Assam, Bengal, Manipur etc to face the Jap troops and to carry on anti-Japanese political movement and mobilisation. Thus AISF was parts of the armed preparations to meet any eventualities of Japanese advance into India.
The Great Famine 1943
Large areas of the country were severely affected by the Great Famine of 1943.Bombay, Bihar, Orissa, Assam, Madras Bengal etc were very badly affected. At least one-third of India was affected by the most widespread drought and famine of modern times. Bengal’s condition was particularly grim. At least 3 (three) million people died in Bengal alone.
Actually, the famine was man-made. The British government was in league with the traders, black marketeers and hoarders, and they together created an artificial scarcity, and taking advantage of it exploited the masses acutely. The government simply did nothing to overcome the famine conditions. The prices rose at least ten times in 1943 over 1939.
The AISF took up the challenge of the Great Famine in a big way, and unleashed a campaign of famine relief and related work all over the country. It collected money and food on a big scale. It organised a number of cultural programmes, both to raise funds and create awareness. The Students’ Federation even opened shops to sell foodgrains at reasonable prices in Bengal, in large numbers. At the same time it opened several kitchens providing free food for those affected by famine and hunger. Thousands of affected people used to visit the kitchens. The Bengal Provincial Students Federation alone conducted about 86 kitchens run by 3000 volunteers, where at least 26 thousand people used to take meals every day. This was a great struggle against the British-created famine. At the initiative of the Students’ Federation, a joint Famine Relief Committee under the chairmanship Dr B.C. Roy was organised in September 1943.
Epidemics broke out during the famine on a wide scale. Education fell into deep crises, and by 1944 the whole education system disintegrated. Therefore the AISF took up the responsibility of saving at least part of the education system, and began collection of funds to this end. The government had imposed a ban on the SF in Bihar even when it was busy working for famine relief.
The 8th (eighth) conference of the AISF was held in Calcutta from 28th to 31stDecember 1944. It was attended by 987 delegates representing 76 thousand members. Addressing the conference, Dr B.C. Roy and Sarojini Naidu highly praised the relief work done by the AISF.
The conference was followed by a series of mass movements, spontaneous and organised, singly or jointly. 26 January 1945 was organised by various student organisations jointly as the ‘Independence Day’. The SF organised welcome meetings on the release of Congress leaders in Bombay, Lahore, Lucknow and other places. About 100 troops attacked the students in Cooch-Behar on 21 August 1945. In protest against this, there was a big meeting of over 35 thousand students in Calcutta.
Upsurge in Student Movement
The Second World War ended on 9 May 1945 with the defeat of Hitler fascism and victory of Soviet Red Army. The post-War period saw a huge upsurge of liberation movement in the colonized countries.
Three officers of the Indian National Army (INA) were put on trial by the British government immediately after the War ended – Sehgal, Dhillon and Shahnawaz Khan. A countrywide movement was unleashed demanding release of these INA officers. The town of Tamiku observed a general strike at the call of the SF on 31 October (1945) on this question. It was sought to be broken by the troops with the help of the goons. Several students were injured in the attacks that followed on them.
More than 5 thousand students brought out a demonstration on 21 November (1945). The police lathicharged and fired without any warning, 3 (three) persons died and several got injured. There was complete protest strike in all the schools and colleges the next day. There was police firing again, in which 11 (eleven) persons died. It was followed by a massive protest rally on more than 2 (two) lakh people the next day. Again there were lathicharges and firings. There were countryside protests all over the country led by the AISF. 30 thousand students went on strike in Bombay.
At the world-level too, the youth were getting organised, in anti-imperialist struggles. A meeting of youth representatives from 63 countries took place in London in November 1945. It was at this meeting that the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY) was established. The AISF was represented by Miss K. Boomla who polled highest votes in elections for the executive.
The ninth AISF conference began Guntur (in present-day Andhra Pradesh) on 20 January 1946, attended by 571 delegates. It was a unique conference; for the first time, an AISF conference was held in a rural area in a village with a population of only three thousands. The place of the conference was named after Rameshwar, a student martyr killed in police firing in the movement in support of the INA officers in Calcutta. The conference also condoled the death of B. Golvala, the manager of AISF journal the student, who was murdered by the goondas of mill owners in Bombay.
The historic naval uprising took place in Bombay in February 1946. Workers and students also came out in support actively. AISF played an active part in mobilizing students in support of the Naval Ratings. The Bombay Students’ Union (BSU), affiliated to the AISF, brought out a handbill in support of the Naval uprising on 22 February, and called for a general students’ strike. The students strike, and came out in large numbers, fighting side by side with workers and naval ratings.
There was a people’s upsurge in Calcutta protesting against the arrest and imprisonment of Captain Rashid of the INA. The people fought bullets and police atrocities for two days. Bengal Provincial Students Federation (BPSF) along with other organizations, demanded release of Capt. Rashid and other INA officers. It organised meetings and processions on the question in February 1946. 15 thousand students and youth demonstrated in front of Bengal Assembly on 25 July (1946) demanding release of the political prisoners. 4 million people took part in the general strike in Calcutta is support of the striking postal employees. One lakh students also went on strike. The BPSF took out processions and organised meetings on the occasion of the anniversary of 9 August 1942. Strikes too were organised in several places.
A three-member Cabinet Mission, appointed by the British government, visited India in March 1946. The Mission sought to utilize and increase the conflicts between the leaders of the national movement and to force India to accept Dominion Status. The results of the provincial Assemblies affected the policies of Muslim League and the Congress in different ways. The Cabinet Mission talks were unsuccessful but the British government announced a plan in May 1946. It provided Dominion Status for the provinces and princely states. Divisive plans were made and elections were being thought of on communal basis. Muslim League at first refused to participate in the Interim government that was being formed after the elections. Simultaneously, it announced the plans for a separate Pakistan and of open struggle in its support. At last, in August 1946, an Interim Government could be formed with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as the first Prime Minister. Muslim League did join it in September (1946) but continued to boycott the Constituent Assembly.
AISF pointed out that the Cabinet Mission aimed at creating sharp and deep communal divisions, which could be overcome only through mass actions and mass mobilisation.
An international students conference was held starting on 31 August 1946 in Prague (Czechoslovakia). It was attended by over 300 delegates from 39 countries of the world. The AISF was represented by Gautam Chattopadhyaya. The conference founded the International Union of Students (IUS).
In the meantime, an special conference of AISF was held in Nagpur on 6-9 June 1946. Its main theme was the democratization of education. It prepared a detailed document on the subject, which is of great historical importance.
The 1946 Communal Riots
Large-scale communal riots broke out in Bengal and elsewhere in the country in 1946 leading to barbaric and inhuman massacres of innocents of both the communities. The AISF played a great role in facing and preventing the riots wherever possible. It undertook relief and rehabilitation of the affected people on a large scale. The communal riots were planned, engineered and executed all over the country by the British rulers, the Muslim League, RSS, Hindu Mahasabha and other communal organizations. The Muslin League observed 16 August 1946 as Pakistan Day, which only served to heighten the communal tensions. Widespread riots broke out in Calcutta, Bombay, Bihar and other places. Noakhali saw inhuman massacres and on unprecedented scale. Communists, Congressmen, and other secular forces came out to defend the people.
AISF too undertook active relief work during the riots. It also cooperated with other student organisations. It goes to the credit of the AISF that it took out the first Hindu-Muslim unity procession in Delhi in the very midst of the riots. The AISF initiated the ‘Riot Relief Fund’ in Bengal. The SF cadres did great work in Bihar and saved the lives of many people even at the cost of their own lives. The Patna medicos helped the injured. The student volunteers worked round the clock in the refugee camps. The organization worked in many places including Kanpur, Agra, Allahabad, Aligarh, Chittagong, etc.
The tenth AISF conference began on 3 January 1947 in Delhi participated in by 1500 delegates and observers. Immediately after the conference, the AISF observed 21 January 1947 as Vietnam Day. The two groups of the All India Students Congress (AISC) and the Muslim Students’ League of Calcutta also supported it.
50 thousand students of Calcutta went on strike on that day. A huge procession was taken out and a big rally organised. There were unprovoked lathicharges, and the students come out on the streets. They were fired upon, and two students were killed on the spot. A protest strike took place the very next day. The first week of February was full of protest actions. There were protests all over the country against these firing – Madras, Lucknow, Lahore, Agra, Guwahati, Kerala, Bangalore and in innumerable other places.
Vietnam Students’ Association passed a resolution in its Hanoi session in memory of the Indian student martyrs in March 1947. They passed solidarity resolutions. Thousands of people all over Vietnam offered their condolences to the Indian martyrs. A four-member delegation of the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY) and February 1947. Its French member was Jean Lataussier. He was presented with the bullet that killed Dhiraranjan on the Vietnam Day in Calcutta, in a public meeting. It was French imperialism that was occupying Vietnam at that time. Lataussier became very sentimental, and amidst huge clippings he declared that the French youth respected the freedom of Vietnam because they also valued their own freedom, that of France. In the Asian Youth Conference held in Delhi in March 1947, a resolution was passed supporting the Vietnamese struggle for freedom and demanding an end to the French occupation of Vietnam.
India Gains Independence
January to August 1947 was a period of intense political activities crucial for Indian independence. The British were still trying to nullify the freedom that India was about to achieve. These conspiracies of the British rulers were exposed in a booklet brought out by the Communist Party. The booklet was titled “Operation Asylum”. It exposed the real aims of the conspiracies being hatched by the British colonialists in India. Consequently, the police raided the offices of the CPI, AISF, AIKS and other organisations all over the country. The government tried to paralyze the AISF. Its leaders were jailed in large numbers.
It was a period of mass joint actions by the SF and other student organisations. Some 60,000 students of Bombay went on a strike in support of their demands on 23 July (1947). The Home Minister of the Province Morarji Desai had imposed a ban on meetings earlier on 22 July. There were big strikes in Kanpur, Benaras and others places.
At last, the Day of Freedom arrived, which was being eagerly awaited by the people all over the country. The British Union Jack (British Flag) was brought down from the Red Fort in Delhi on the night of 14-15 August (1947) and the Indian Tricolour was hoisted. The whole country went wild with joy. AISF also organised Independence day functions and gatherings all over the country. The SF and the Students Congress jointly brought out procession in Delhi on the eve of independence. An effigy of British imperialism was burnt. A student got up on the statue of Lord Irwin and blackened its face. Students sang the songs of freedom, liberty and independence.
In the context of the history of the freedom movement, it is necessary to point out that RSS and some other communal student organisations did not actively participate or did not participate at all in the struggle for India’s independence; not only this; they even forcefully opposed any such movement. There is not a single proof or document to the effect that the RSS, and some other communal organisations too had made any kind of contribution to this great national movement. On the contrary, RSS, in particular, and later Muslim League and some others acted as the armed communal flanks of British colonial rule in India, sowing seeds of communal hatred, who prepared and perpetrated communal wars and massacres. Even after independence, they continued to spread communal poison.
Student Movement in Free India
A new situation emerged after India’s independence, and the student movement faced new tasks. The Indian people wanted their age-old dreams fulfilled. It was necessary to industrialize India, particularly to create heavy machine –building industry, to provide a firm basis for country’s independence. Planned development of the economy was a national necessity. It was essential to do away with the feudal and semifeudal relations in agriculture. Only a self-reliant economy could destroy the colonial structures. In the field of education, it was essential to provide cheap education to the millions. At the same time, it was necessary that the education be related with the needs of development. The AISF raised the question of the democratization of education repeatedly after independence.
The student movement was expected to contribute in the new situation in form of concrete suggestions regarding the restructuring of the country. At the same time, it was necessary to struggle for these suggestions. Anti-imperialist, anti-feudal and anti-monopoly struggle was the need of the hour. The AISF simultaneously took up the challenge of struggle for students’ educational and other demands. To this end, the AISF fought against those policies of the government, which were against the people in general and students in particular. It played a particularly important role in educating the mass of students in democratic and revolutionary ideas and in making them conscious of their place and role.
The question of integrating the princely states with India, their elimination and the political and administrative reorganization of the country were among the major problems faced by us. Most of the princely states agreed to join India, but some simply refused to do so eg. Hyderabad, Kashmir, Junagarh etc. The people of Nizam’s Hyderabad were carrying on an armed struggle against the state’s feudal system. India government entered into an agreement of maintaining status quo with Hyderabad on 26 November 1947. This guaranteed status quo for one year. In the meantime kisan and peoples struggle spread to more than 300 villages.
Students were also active in the anti-feudal struggle. They organised several strikes and meetings on January 1948. In Aurangabad (the present day Maharashtra), Independence Day was observed through strike on 16 January. Girls participated in the struggles in Hyderabad city in large numbers.
The All Hyderabad Students’ Union led this student struggle. The students participated actively in the Telangana armed struggle. The student leadership had to go underground. They formed scout battalions, sent secret agents to the enemy camps and also worked as messengers and watchmen and guards. There were about 400 students in the militia by April 1948. Many of them were leaders of guerilla squads.
With the entry of the Indian troops into Nizam’s Hyderabad in September 1948, it was wrong to have persisted with the armed struggle in Telangana. It finally merged with India, and the major aim of the movement was thus fulfilled. Problem of abolition of feudalism also could be tackled without recourse to arms. Consequently, people lost interest and the movement was isolated. Besides, it was not possible and practical to fight the Indian troops. People supported the Indian government. By wrongly continuing the armed struggle, the AISF and the CPI lost heavily.
Eleventh AISF Conference
The eleventh conference of the AISF was held in Bombay in December 1947. It was attended by over 1500 delegates representing more than one lakh members. Morarji Desai, as the chief minister of Bombay, announced a ban on the conference on its very first day ie. on 28 December. Therefore, it had to be held secretly. The Working Committee did not get the permission to hold an open rally. Therefore, it decided to confront the government and defy the ban. Consequently, there were clashes with the police, leading to lathicharges and firings. The police atrocities were opposed by AISF through a Protest Day on 9 January 1948. Several world organisations opposed the government action against AISF eg. International Union of Students (IUS), World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY), All World Students’ Union and others. It was widely condemned. There was a wave of protest all over the country.
This conference of the AISF reviewed the four-month period after India’s independence. It opined that the work of the government was not in accordance with the expectations of the people. There was no doubt that the situation in the country was very grave. Communalism was a mortal danger. There also was no doubt that Nehru government was trying to reconstruct the country’s economy and general structure. The AISF sharply criticized the right reactionary grouping around Sardar Patel.
The AISF opined that the Model Constitution prepared in July 1947 was better that those prepared by the British. At the same time, its weaknesses were also pointed out. The Model Constitution fixed the voting age at 21 years. The AISF demanded that it be reduced to 18. It also demanded a provision of job guarantee in the constitution.
The AISF had always been fighting for student unity, even since before independence. It again put similar unity proposals on 29 July 1947 and on other occasions. Various problems of students eg. rise in fees, democratization of education anti-imperialist struggle, etc needed to be seriously addressed to after independence, and that needed students’ unity. The AISF also pointed out the need for united action against communal threat.
The AISF, therefore, took concrete steps in this direction. Even a united student organisation with All India Students’ Congress and All India Muslim Students Federation was being discussed. The SF pointed out that all these organisations had fought communalism jointly. In order to develop a progressive student movement it was essential to unite the student organisation.
12th AISF Conference
The twelfth conference of the AISF was held on 23-27 July 1949 at Calcutta. It was attended by 340 delegates representing 80 thousand members. Most unfortunately the AISF had adopted an adventurist sectarian self-destructive line in 1948. It has abruptly changed its course: from welcoming the freedom, it suddenly declared that India had not really achieved independence. This was done at a time when the country was trying to chart its path forward in a very difficult situation. Some of the leaders of the AISF thought it was time to overthrow Nehru government through armed struggle and establish socialism. The conference declared that the country’s independence was a sham one.
But it was a misplaced and self-destructive course and policy. It was true that the people were dissatisfied with many of the policies of the government. But they also welcomed independence. People and students did struggle for their demands buy they were not ready to overthrow Nehru government and to take up arms.
This self-inflicting line did incalculable harm to the AISF and to the student movement. The AISF was thoroughly isolated from the students. This political sectarian and adventurist course is known as the “BTR Line” (after the name of BT Ranadive, who ultimately joined CPI (M) in 1964).
The AISF began to rectify its line and improve its activities. It started a process of rectification. It was being felt that the students should be organised around their concrete educational, economic and political problems. Mass movements began to be organised. The AISF discussed alternative educational and other polices. These questions were inseparably linked with alternative path of development for India. AISF reoriented itself in this direction.
The period 1952-64
A qualitatively new situation arose after independence. New ways and methods became essential. The announcement of a new Constitution of India in 1950 and declaration of a Republic created qualitatively different and favorable conditions. The student movement needed new slogans, forms and methods. Novel possibilities opened up for the student and youth movement.
In the meantime there were widespread movements for the formation of and elections to the student unions all over the country, in which the AISF played an active role. By 1952, it had become an important demand of the student movement. The demand for the formation of the student unions has an interesting background. An historic mass movement took place in 1937 for the release and return of the Andamans Prisoners. Simultaneously, there were the movements demanding a ban on the physical tortures of the students in various movements. A strike took place on these questions. One of the results was a demand to constitute elected student unions in various colleges. Bengal saw prolonged strikes and other forms of movements in 1938-40. The relentless pressure exerted by AISF and other student organisations led to the formation of student unions in various places step by step.
13th AISF conference and mass movement
The 13th conference of the AISF was held in Hyderabad on 1-5 January 1953. It was attended by about 400 delegates representing a membership of more than one lakh. It was preceded and followed by countrywide mass movements on the questions of student unions, reduction in fees etc. A police sub-inspector fired upon and killed Dr. Jagdish Lal in Lucknow on 31 October 1953. This led to a protest movement all over U.P. A conference of the SF in November 1954 in Allahabad discussed UP University bill, which tried to destroy the sovereignty of the institutions. Students went on a strike on 5 November 1954 protesting against the Bill. Students of Lucknow observed strike on 13 December.
Goa Liberation Struggle
The 14th conference of the AISF was held on 5-8 January 1955 in Lucknow. It paid special attention to organisation. Beginning with the new educational session the students and other sections all over the country were in the thick of the preparations for struggle and satyagraha for the liberation of the Portuguese colony of Goa. AISF appealed to the students to participate in the Goa liberation movement on a big scale. The AISF, Youth Congress and the Samajwadi Yuvak Sabha organised joint programmes in Delhi on 12 July. 9 August (1955) was observed as “Portuguese, Quit India” day. 250 volunteers including 59 communists entered Goa on 3 August (1955). The Portuguese soldiers opened fire in which many were killed including two Communists – V.K. Thorat and Nityanand Saha. Demonstrations were held on 5 August, students went on strike on 13 August. More than 4 lakh students and others came out on the streets and widespread strikes resulted. Satyagrahis from all over the country entered Goa on 15 August and were fired upon. 23 year old Karnail Singh was killed when he tried to save his leader V.C. Chitale. The general secretary of the AISF Sukhendu Mazumdar was present with SF leader C.K. Chandrappan on 15 August at the Goa border to help the student satyagrahis. A massive rally of over 2 lakh people took place in Delhi on 16 August (1955), which was participated in huge numbers by the students. C.K. Chandrappan was later to become a prominent student and youth leader at all India level, and also a CPI MP.
Patna Firing, 1955
The famous Patna Firings of 1955 and the consequent mass protest movement are among the historic pages of people’s struggle in Bihar as well as all over India. The movement began with an ordinary incident. On 12 August (1955) an argument took place between the students of Patna B.N. college and the staff of the state bus transport. It soon developed into a heated exchange. The unfortunate part was that the police intervened in it in a senseless and tactless manner, and began to attack the students. They were beaten and then fired upon, and the police repression soon spread over. A student, Dina Nath Pandey, was killed in the varandah of B.N. College in the police firing. Students and the police clashed with each other throughout the day, and several students were killed. More than 30 thousand students gathered in front of Patna Medical College demanding hand over of Dina Nath’s. body. The police repression spread all over the state on 12 and 13 August. Processions, demonstrations and meetings were held throughout Bihar on 14 August. There were several strikes. Firings in several towns killed many. The Tricolour was half-mast on 15 August in memory of the martyrs. Black flags were hoisted in protest all over the state. All the official functions in connection with the celebration of Independence Day on 15 August had to be cancelled. Even the Congress Committees of Patna and Ranchi condemned the police action. The student movement spread over to the political parties. The Communist Party of India and many other parties jointly organised protest meetings, demonstrations and strikes. Student organisations other than the AISF also took part in this historic movement.
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This was the period when non-aligned movement as emerging rapidly, with India playing a leading role. AISF welcomed it, and decided to create public opinion against atomic bombs. The AISF worked actively against the conspiracies of U.S. imperialism.
The CPI came out victorious in the elections of 1957 in Kerala, and India’s first Communist ministry was constituted. It was also a great victory for the progressive forces of the country. The Congress government in the centre dismissed this government unconstitutionally. This move was opposed all over the country. AISF also worked actively in the movement in support of the ministry.
Anti-food crisis movement
Food situation had become serious in West Bengal in 1959, and starvation became widespread. Consequently, a huge mass movement broke out against the policies of the state government. The left parties and organisations constituted a “Committee against Price-Rise and Famine”. It unleashed a big movement. The committee rejected the appeal of the Chief Minister Dr. B.C. Roy to withdraw the agitation, and began to prepare for agitation beginning with 20 August (1959). But the police arrested a large number of organizers and leaders on the night of 17thitself. The committee decided to organise a big rally on 31 August and the trade unions gave a call for a general strike on 3 September. The government got wild with these decisions. It brutally attacked the agitators, and the use of lathis, teargas and bullets became a common everyday affair. But Dr. B.C. Roy lost the first round of battle and the movement continued to gather strength.
More than a lakh people came out on the streets in Calcutta. Successful student strikes took place in all the important towns and cities of the state. 7 September (1959) was observed as Protest Day. A student struggle committee was also constituted.
The struggle went on throughout the month of September in the face of brutal police reparations. The members of the ruling Party refused to mourn the deaths of the martyrs of the movement in the Assembly on 21 September. This led to a pandemonium. Thousands of people were simultaneously demonstrating outside the Assembly. The university was closed down on 22 September.
Students had set up a Martyrs Memorial during the night in the University Maidan. It was guarded throughout the night by the students under the leadership of the SF general secretary. Arrests and repressions continued.
This movement is a glorious chapter in the history of the peoples and student’ struggles of Bengal.
Foundation of the AIYF, 1959
Student and youth movements are inseparable from each other, to the extent that sometimes their dividing line becomes blurred. The AISF and the student movement had considerable role in the emergence of an all India organisation of youth.
The foundation conference of the All India Youth Federation was held in New Delhi from 28 April to 3 May 1959. It was attended by over 250 delegates and observers from 11 states. The conference announced the formation of the AIYF. The report of the conference stated that only an organised youth movement could lead the Indian youth. The conference decided that the AIYF would propagate the ideas of socialism. It decided to affiliate with the WFDY (World Federation of Democratic Youth). Famous artist and film personality Balraj Sahani became the first president of AIYF and Sarada Mitra General Secretary. P.K. Vasudevan Nair was elected the chairman of the executive committee of the AIYF.
The student-youth movement was gathering speed by the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s. The communists and the Left performed well in the general elections of 1962. The CPI organised first-ever March to Delhi in September 1963, which was participated in by lakhs of people from all over the country. Food movement broke out in 1964. Thus, favorable conditions were being created for the advance of student movement in general and the AISF in particular.
Division in the AISF
The Chinese troops launched a massive attack across the Indian borders in 1962. The Chinese aggression led to a severe crisis in the Communist, Left and progressive and democratic movement of India. The AISF, along with other progressive forces, unequivocably condemned the Chinese aggression in clear-cut terms. The Communist Party of India (CPI) also openly condemned the invasion by China.
At the same time, the Chinese aggression led to widespread misunderstanding about communism and Communist Party among the people. China was a socialist country ruled by a Communist Party. Therefore, question marks arose over the socialist ideology itself. Besides, Chinese leadership and Communist Party of China instigated and organised splits and disruption among the communist movement in general and progressive and democratic movement of India in particular. The “Left” communists within the CPI increased their splitting activities, ultimately creating their own separate party in 1964, which has come to be known as the CPI-M. Consequently, the student-youth movement was thrown into severe crises precisely at a time when it was on the rise.
The right reactionary and fascist forces like the RSS and Jan Sangh got a golden opportunity due to the Chinese aggression, which was fully exploited by the U.S. imperialism. Earlier, they were on the defensive and isolated. The regular activities of the AISF received a severe jolt. The splitters violated all the organisational norms and ideological standards, and began creating parallel bodies within the AISF and other organisations secretly.
They began to split up the AISF and other organisations at all levels and create new units, print their own newspapers and periodicals, and indulge in poisoning the minds of the members and activists. The AISF suffered heavily all over India, particularly in Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Kerala. A large number of members became inactive. Almost all the states suffered.
The RSS- Jan Sangh took full advantage of the situation to create anti-Communist frenzy in the country. But the situation was saved by the statement of the AISF and the CPI condemning the Chinese aggression in no uncertain terms. The progressive forces were also greatly helped, and in fact saved, by the clear statement of the leadership of the Communist Party of India (CPI) and of the that the Communist Party of Soviet Union (CPSU), criticizing the Chinese attack on India. Pt Nehru, who was the Prime Minister of the country, did not fall a prey to reactionary and imperialist conspiracies to trap him.
The formation of CPI-M after they split off from CPI in 1964, led ultimately to splittism and organisational divisions in the student movement. The splitters formed SFI or Students’ Federation of India in 1970 after separating out of the AISF.
Reorganization of AISF and Rise in Movement (1964-66)
It was decided to reorganize the AISF in 1964. SF conferences were held in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala, Chandigarh, etc. SF units were constituted in several states and places eg. in Bihar. Andhra Pradesh unit of AISF held its conference in Guntur on 26-27 January 1964 and decided to propagate the ideas of scientific socialism. A strike was organised immediately after the conference on the question of “detention system”. Bihar State Students Federation organised a demonstration in Patna in 1964 before the USIS protesting against the entry of the US Seventh Fleet in the Indian Ocean.
We have described the political and organisational situation in the previous chapter. In the light of it, a meeting of the secretariat of the AISF was held in Delhi in 1964. It opined that despite the temporary setback to the student movement due to the Chinese aggression, the movement was regrouping and gathering strength again all over the country. A student and youth cadre meeting was held in Delhi in 1965. The meeting noted that student and youth conferences had already been held in Assam, Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa, Kerala, Andhra, Punjab and Delhi. Youth Federation in Andhra had established 25 units and enrolled about 32 thousand members. A statewide movement against unemployment was started there.
The student movement had spread far and wide in the country by the middle of the sixties. India-Pak hostilities broke out in 1965 during the months of September- October. These created favorable conditions for the chauvinistic and blind nationalistic forces. Serious attempts were made to drive a wedge in the Indo-Soviet friendship, but the attempts failed. These chauvinistic and right reactionary forces were angry at the successful conclusion of the Tashkent Agreement between India and Pakistan with the intervention of the Soviet Union. During this very period, attempts were made by divisive forces to fan linguistic conflicts and riots between the supporter and the opponents of Hindi.
The economic situation throughout the country was becoming graver. The government was introducing a number and amount of taxes on the common people. India had reached an agreement with the U.S. Under the P.L. 480 for import of wheat. The fourth five year plan was postponed. The rupee was devalued under World Bank pressure to the extents of 37%, resulting in an increase of foreign debts to the tune of Rs. 1300 crores. Huge concessions were given to the monopolists, who attacked the masses in various ways with the support of the government. The commodities of daily use were becoming costlier. The rising costs made it difficult to continue the studies further. Fees were rising fast. Hostel and mess charges were increasing rapidly, making the life of the students difficult.
Public resentment against these policies was growing and students were becoming restive. Students and youth were more and more coming into protest movement. These were the mass movements that led ultimately to the defeat of Congress in 9 out of 17 states in the general elections of 1967. This was the period of some of the most memorable struggles in the history of India. Some of the movements could be listed as follows.
Some Memorable Student – Youth Movements
The AISF and the AIYF opposed the arrests of those students – youth leaders who had gone out of the AISF-AIYF. The protest was organised on 3 January 1965. SF and the DSO (Democratic Student Organisation) jointly organised a 24-hour hunger strike in Calcutta on 25 February. The SF and YF units all over the country observed Vietnam Day on 1 July 1965. Hundreds of students and youths registered their names in the Medical Mission proposed to visit Vietnam. Medicines and other relief material was collected on a large scale for Vietnam. Complete strike against tram-fare rise in Calcutta by the British owned tram company took place on 30 July. Students were in the forefront of this movement. West Bengal observed a bandh on 5 August (1965), in which the students were an active contingent.
The “August Movement” of 9 August 1965 in Bihar is a memorable and historic one in the annals of the student movement in Bihar and the whole of India. The movement was led by the AISF. The government-aided schools in Bihar suddenly announced an increase in their fees. Hostel charges were also increased. Bihar State Students’ Federation (BSSF) organised a statewide protest movement against these anti-student measures. It mobilised students from all over Bihar in the state capital, Patna, who demonstrated before the State Secretariat on 9 August (1965). This was the first time ever that the students had gathered in such large numbers in Patna. But the police launched an unprovoked attack on the students in the most brutal manner. The Mounted Police suddenly attacked the students who had gathered near the Secretariat gates. Many were hit and beaten and chased. The Mounted Police charge was followed by brutal lathicharge, teargas firing and then firings. It was all pre-planned. Several students were killed. A protest meeting was in the local Gandhi Maidan, even while all this was going on. News of firings and deaths reached there. The movement immediately spread all over the state. The students struggled and fought for many days. Wide public opinion, cutting across all the political opinions and organisations, severely condemned this brutal police action. The local English daily the Searchlightsplashed the news on its front page, supporting the students.
This Birla paper termed the assault on the students an “unprovoked”. Consequently, its editor T.J.S. George was dismissed from his post by the management. But he did not change his stand nor gave up his fight in favour of students, and wrote a famous booklet on the movement titled The August Revolt. This English booklet became extremely popular.
Pakistan attacked India in September 1965. AISF called upon the students of the country on 16 September (1965) to actively participate in the defence of the country. The AISF collected defence funds, organised donation of blood and took up other relief work. A mobile exhibition on national defence was organised by the AISF. The proposed statewide student movement in Bihar was postponed by the SF. At the same time, it demanded the release of its arrested leaders. Incidentally, these leaders were arrested precisely from the spot where Students’ National Defence Front (including the BSSF) was holding a public meeting and was collecting funds for national defense.
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The AISF and the AIYF held their national conferences together at Pondicherry from 29 December 1965 to 2 January 1966. The conferences supported the Tashkant Agreement between India and Pakistan. The decisive mediating role of the Soviet Union in it was appreciated.
It was in this conference that the AISF decided to affiliate itself to the AIYF for better coordination.
Countrywide mass movements erupted after the devaluation of the rupee in June 1966. AISF firmly opposed this surrender to the World Bank. The CPI organised a massive Delhi March in September 1966. Students participated in it in a big way. There were widespread movements in U.P. and other places in September – October 1966. Hundreds were injured and dozens died in firings. More than 6000 were jailed. The Principal of the P.P.N. College of Kanpur was murdered. The students were accused of committing the murder, and repressions were stepped up on this pretext. The SF launched a protest movement. Firings continued for two days. A girl was even shot dead in her classroom itself. The UP governor even stated that if the SF continued its movement, the government would continue the repreessions and firings. The movement spread to other states. 15 October (1966) was observed as a Protest Day all over the country. A 48-hour Bandh was organised in West Bengal on 22-23 September (1966) led by United Left Front and the National Struggle Committee. Students took part in a big way.
A broad-based National March Committee was constituted in Delhi on 4 November 1966. It included various student organisations and unions of colleges and universities. The committee decided to organise a National Student March to Delhi on 18 November (1966). The following demands were put forward – Respect for the sovereignty of the educational campus, cheaper education, employment guarantee, protection of the democratic rights of the students, withdrawal of all the cases against the students, judicial enquiry into the police firings, etc.
But the government saw the March of Students as a “threat”. It took preventive measures. Student leaders in and around Delhi were arrested. All the roads leading to the capital were blocked by the police and check posts were set up. Thousands were arrested even before they reached Delhi.
Serious events gripped Bihar in the latter half of 1966, which increased the gulf between the government and the people even further. Unprecedented student movements erupted throughout the state between September 1966 and January 1967. They had to fare severe police repressions, brutal lathicharges, repeated police firings etc, in the course of which several students were killed. Student revolts broke out repeatedly, which galvanized the mass movements of other sections also. Imposition of section 144 became a common occurrence. Most of these movements were initiated and led by Bihar State Students’ Federation. State wide Joint Students’ Action Committee was also formed, which organised a Demands Day on 8 December (1966). The severe repressions did not spare even the college lecturers. There were serious incidents of police atrocities on students in Samastipur and Muzaffarpur. There were firings and arrests on a wide scale in Patna and other places in the first week of January 1967.
Elections of 1967 and After
Fourth general elections were held all over the country in February 1967. It was the first time after independence that the Congress had lost in the majority of the states. The AISF actively participated in the elections. It worked for the victory of the non-Congress candidates and the defeat of rightwing reactionary ones. Non-Congress governments assumed office in most of the states after the elections. Left governments were formed in Bengal and Kerala. After the elections, the AISF, along with other organisations of progressive type, worked to get the non-Congress governments to implement their election promises, particularly those concerning the students. At the same time, the AISF carried on political and ideological campaign to educate the students as to who were their true friends within the non-Congress governments, and who were their false friends. The AISF warned the students to beware of the rightwing reactionary nature of RSS and Jan Sangh. With the passing of time and gain of experiences, the character of the various parties and the differences between them became clearer. Consequently, a polarization between the left, democratic and progressive forces on the one hand and rightwing forces on the other was taking place.
In the meantime, the AISF and the AIYF organised several mass movements. One of them was the all India March to Delhi on 17 November 1969 on the question of unemployment; it was a joint student-youth march. Thousands of youth and students took part in it. At the same time, they collected lakhs of signatures on a student – youth Charter of Demands, which was presented to the Parliament. It demanded a fundamental restructuring of the fourth five-year plan to solve the problems of youth. The March to Delhi was the third stage of the anti-unemployment movement. The first stage was the all India Youth Convention in Delhi in December 1968. During the second phase, four jathas from Four Corners of the country converged on Delhi spreading their message on unemployment problem.
The 18th AISF conference was held in Ho Chi-Minh Nagar in Delhi on 21-23 December 1969. It was attended by about 350 delegates. The conference was inaugurated by Prof. Hiren Mukherjee. It prepared a demand charter, which included the following points: educational and examination reforms, student unions be made compulsory, students participation in management, job or unemployment allowance, voting rights at 18 years of age, etc. It was decided to organise a countrywide strike in the first half of 1970.
Important events took place in the country in 1969. V.V. Giri was elected President of India, defeating the official candidate of the Congress. He was supported by the CPI, the Left and the Indira group of Congress.
The government nationalized 14 major banks and abolished the privy–purses of the princely states. AISF warmly welcomed these measures. At the same time, it demanded measures like nationalization against Indian and foreign monopolists. The AISF planned nation-wide campaign on the basis of these demands.
Discussions on the direction of AISF
Discussions and controversies had been going on for quite sometime around the aims, objects and direction of the AISF and AIYF and of the whole student-youth movement. The character of the movement was being debated. The leaders and cadres of these organisations and the movement were facing practical and theoretical problems.
What were the issues?
The students and youth were, by now, taking increasingly active part in politics; they were also getting mobilized behind various political parties. Lot of changes had taken place after independence. The students and youth were debated various social, economic, political and theoretical questions on greater scale, trying to find out the reasons and causes of their own and the country’s problems. They increasingly felt that basic socio-economic changes were essential to solve their problems. The changes in the country and the whole world were forcing them to come to this conclusion.
In such circumstances, it was not possible to remain neutral or non-political. It was becoming less and less possible to remain aloof from parties. Affiliation with political parties was becoming necessary.
Political and economic events gathered speed after the division in the Congress, and political polarization and struggles sharpened, leading to several kinds of groupings, factions, parties and organisations among the students. Larger number of influential individuals also were emerging. They all had their own political perceptions and views. Extreme right reactionary and extreme “Left” groupings and the Marxists and others were crystallizing with their own programmes and policies. They were trying to influence the students and youth. In these circumstances, question was being posed as to whether the AISF and the AIYF should clearly adopt scientific socialism and national democratic revolution as their aims.
A meeting of student and youth cadres from all over the country was held in Delhi in June 1969. The meeting especially discussed and deliberated upon the abovementioned questions. After sharp debates and exchange of views, the meeting unanimously came to the conclusion that the AISF and the AIYF should adopt a clear ideological orientation. It was found that the different political parties were increasingly influencing the student-youth masses through their ideological-political positions. Therefore, it was decided that AISF-AIYF should especially educate the student and youth masses in the ideology and thoughts of scientific socialism. Another cadre meeting of both the organisations was convened in June 1971 to further discuss these problems and the questions of organisational aims and structures. This meeting opined that the ideas of socialism had become widespread, and almost every party was talking about it. The Congress was propagating socialism, but it was unclear and consisted of various trends. Even reactionary parties like RSS- Jan Sangh were trying to attract youth by propagating varieties of modern and ancient humanism, ‘equality’ and attractive aspects of ideas of socialism, eg., ‘universal humanism’, even talking of ‘Gandhian socialism’, claiming that many of these ideas are found in the Vedic scriptures!
The split in the Indian Communist movement, emergence of CPI-M, Maoism and naxalism etc led to the proliferation of varieties and trends of socialism, communism and Marxism. Different types of “Leftism” and neo-left trends spread among the youth. All this created lot of political and ideological confusion.
The indifference to politics among the students and youth was disappearing and they were rapidly getting politicalised. The youth stood at crossroads, where they needed clear ideological – political orientation to solve their basic problems.
The split away and formation of the SFI (Students’ Federation of India) from AISF in 1970 created further problems on these questions.
The participants of the above-mentioned cadre meeting were in favour of a clear Marxist-Leninist orientation to student and youth movements. They also favored adoption of national democratic revolution as the aim. The student-youth cadre meeting held in Hyderabad on 20-22 May 1972 further clarified the new orientation.
The new orientation was finally adopted in the 19th AISF conference held on 14-17 January 1974 in Cochin. The conference made the necessary changes in the constitution of the AISF.
The periods before and after the Cochin conference were those of great activities and movements. The AISF along with the AIYF organised countrywide mass movements and other activities all over the country on 25 November 1970 against unemployment and for the democratic rights of the students. Days were similarly observed on these issues in 1971 and 1972 also. The AISF supported India government’s policies towards Bangladesh. Indo-Pak war in 1971 deepened the economic crisis in the country. Hoarding of the essential commodities was on the rise. The AISF launched countrywide movement of dehoarding on 24 August 1973. Earlier, it cooperated with the CPI in another countrywide dehoarding campaign from 1 to 7 August (1973), in the course of which huge amounts of foodgrains were taken control of. It was at this juncture that Jaiprakash Narain began to build up his ‘JP movement’ of ‘party-less democracy’ and ‘total revolution’.
The ‘JP movement’ began to exploit issues of corruption, unemployment, price-rise etc to mislead the youth and students, who to certain extent came under its influence. Some opposition parties like Jan Sangh – RSS constituted the main base of the JP movement. The movement, therefore, had strong fascist tendencies. The movement also included some left forces including the extreme “left”.
A Convention against the dangers of this movement was held in Patna on 26-27 April 1974 attended by more than 2000 student – youth delegates. Some Congress youth and student organisations were also invited to the convention. Lakhs of people participated in a massive rally in Patna on 3 June 1974, with considerable number of students and youth.
It was an anti-JP rally. An All India Student and Youth conference was convened in Varanasi in October 1974, which decided to demonstrate in front of the Parliament in December 1974. The AISF exposed the real reactionary nature of the JP movement and provided a correct direction to the students. Statewide symposium on education were organised in Kerala. Such symposia were organised in Andhra, Assam, West Bengal and Punjab too.
Imposition of emergency
Unfortunately, Indira Gandhi used the JP movement for her personal political gains and power. She tried to strengthen her own and family hold and to weaken her personal rivals. She declared emergency in the country in June 1975. Though in the beginning it was, to an extent, directed against RSS, Anand Marg, Jan Sangh and such organisations, it soon turned against the progressive and democratic forces and against the mass of the people. The democratic rights of the people were crushed; the left and democratic forces carried on sharp struggles to defend the hard-won rights.
The AISF, did not give up struggles. It organised several types movements as far as were possible within the limits of the situation. But the AISF had made the mistake of thinking that the emergency was all along directed against reaction, and extended its support. Later the AISF came out against it and criticized it. It considered that the support to emergency was wrong.
The AISF organised the medical students and the junior doctors, and convened their conference in Amritsar on 26 October 1974, where All India Medicos Federation was formed.
The AISF observed the 40th anniversary of its foundation in 1976. The celebrations began from Nagpur, culminating in a huge conference in Guwahati in December the same year. A colourful function was also held in Calcutta.
Elections of 1977: Period 1977-85
The Congress was punished for its emergency rule in the general elections of 1977, and was routed. It lost its rule in the centre for the first time ever. Janata Party, a conglomeration of several parties and formations, came to rule the centre. It included the Jan Sangh, which dissolved itself and became part of the Janata Party. But it kept its organisational structure in tact. It is to be noted that within a short time the Jan Sangh came out of the Janata Party combination, resurrected as Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP.
The Janata combination disappointed the masses in no time, which had lot of hopes in it. Its real character came out into open very soon. The designs of RSS-JS became clear. The problem of unemployment became acute and the prices of the essential commodities crossed all the limits; prices rose as never before in short time. Not a single step was taken up in the field of education. Consequently, the students soon began to lose faith in the Janata government. Later, Charan Singh announced dissolution of 9 (nine) state assemblies. The very next day, a demonstration was organised in front of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. An All India Day was observed on 5 May (1977) protesting against the attack on the federal structure of the Constitution and on the democracy itself. A countrywide campaign was run in June (1977) in five stages. A huge national-level conference was held in Delhi on 2 August. It decided to organise a campaign by collecting signatures from the people. People’s picketing was organised at many state centers on 27-28 October. More than 10 thousand students and youth courted arrest.
The AISF along with the AIYF, organised many anti-imperialist actions all over the country, and took a leading part in them. A successful students’ conference was convened in Madras demanding declaration of Indian Ocean as zone of peace. Another world conference was held in Guntur organised by the AISF. An Indo-Soviet Youth Festival was also organised. Festivals were organised all over the country preparatory to the Eleventh World Youth Festival in Cuba.
The 20th AISF Conference was held in Ludhiana (Punjab) on 7-9 February 1979.
The wrong and anti-people policies of the Janata combination helped the Congress (I) to come back to power within two years, in 1979. The Congress (I) had promised a strong and stable government. But in practice, it began to topple many of the non-Congress governments using undemocratic methods. The authoritarian tendency in the Congress was becoming stronger. Concessions were given to the monopolies. Self-reliance was under threat. At the same time, and taking advantage of the situation, divisive, separatist and communal forces began to grow rapidly. They wanted to balkanize India. The RSS, BJP, Jamaat-e-Tulaba and such communal and divisive outfits began to grow rapidly among the youth and students. The separatist Khalistani movement spread rapidly.
AISF and AIYF took active initiative to organise a Convention on Educational Reforms, Democratic Rights and Against Unemployment on 21-22 July 1979 in Delhi. AISF-AIYF decided to organise a nationwide campaign in two stages on “Job or Jail”. The first stage proposed to organise a nationwide campaign on the concerned issues, and it was a grand success. The second stage saw a 5-day picketing before the Parliament by the students and youths of Delhi and neighboring states. Main railway stations were also picketed. This movement was carried on from 24 to 28 November 1980. Thousands were arrested and jailed for a long time. There were severe lathicharges in Delhi on the first, second and third days. There were lathicharges in Quilon (Kerala) also. 30 thousands in Kerala, 25 thousand in Andhra Pradesh and 4 thousand students – youth in Tamilnadu participated in the picketing. Other states too organised such programs.
The AISF-AIYF laid down a new tradition since 1979. 23 March was the day of martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru. Since that year, a week or fortnight in the memory of their martyrdom began to be observed/organised every year.
Some other programmes and activities were as follows:
– All India Conference of Secular Students in Delhi University in 30 June and 1 July 1979;
– A joint All India convention by different student-youth organisations on national unity in April 1980;
– A convention or gathering of sports – lovers on 2 May 1980 in support of Moscow Olympics etc.
A state level picketing in Lucknow was organised in February 1981. Bihar also organised such picketings. Thousands of people gheraoed the Punjab Assembly in Chandigarh, leading to lathicharges for three consecutive days. 200 youths and students were sent to jails for 45 days. There were several strong movements in the different parts of the country. Kerala saw convergence of youth-student jathas from all over the state in Trivandrum. A massive rally took place in Patna on 23 September 1981. Similar programmes were held in Delhi, Orissa, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Gujarat and Maharashtra. AISF and AIYF organised a ‘Rasta Roko’ (Block the Road) campaign on 16 December 1982. It was participated in by more than 50 thousand students and youths. This movement of ‘Job or Jail’ is one of the milestones in the history of AISF and AIYF.
A conference in Trivandrum was held in August 1981 on the question of declaring Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace. Similar conference was convened in Delhi in April 1982. The AISF celebrated its 45th anniversary in August 1981. The various student-youth organisaitons jointly organised student strikes during the industrial strike of 23 November 1981. 5 September was being observed as Students, Day since 1979 but in 1982, it was observed on 15 September. The AISF organised campaigns in solidarity with the PLO, Afghanistan, Cuba, Vietnam etc. It even sent relief materials to the PLO in form of medicines and money.
The 21st conference of the AISF was held in Trichi (Tamilnadu) on 28-31 January 1983.
The Seventh Non-Aligned Summit was held in Delhi in March 1983. The AISF organised meetings, seminars, symposia, processions etc in its support. The same year, Marx centenary was organised all over the country. A Cycle Rally was taken out from Delhi to Husainiwala (Punjab) on Youth Day. These rallies were attacked in Punjab under the leadership of the brother of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwallan. A 21-point demand charter was propagated in the new academic session in July 1983. A campaign against the two-layered education system was carried on in September 1983; a cycle rally was taken out from Varanasi to Dehradun, covering a distance of 1400 kms. It was participated in by 50 student activists, who addressed public meetings all along the path of the jatha. The jatha reached Dehradun 20 days later on 30 September. They were brutally lathicharged in front of the Doon School by the police. Many were injured including Atul Kumar Anjan who got head injuries. The agitators were thrown into jails.
It was also the period of spread of terrorism and separatism, particularly in Punjab. The activists of the AISF fought them firmly and bravely. The AISF worked hard for Hindu-Sikh unity, and successfully brought in other organisations for joint actions. 13 September (1983) was observed as Demands Day.
UGC brought out report in the beginning of 1984, related with the central universities. Its recommendations were anti-democratic. Therefore, an All India Protest Day was observed on 6 March (1984). The AISF fully cooperated with the picketing at the Parliament in March-April (1984) conducted by the AIYF. Protest Day against UGC recommendations was observed on 21 August (’84) . The same day, an impressive demonstration was held at the UGC office in New Delhi, participapted in by students from Delhi, Haryana, Pujab, Himachal, M.P. etc. 29 August was again observed as a protest day in which the teachers also took part and the colleges were closed. 13 September was observed as a protest day along with the AIYF. 5 thousand student – youths participated from Delhi, U.P. Haryana and M.P. The day was observed in 14 states. The AISF actively took part in the AITUC rally in April’84.
A national conference was held on 13 August (1983) to observe National Integration Day jointly by several left and democratic parties, actively supported by AISF. Among others, it demanded solution to Punjab and Assam problems. AISF actively opposed the suspension of Andhra and Jammu & Kashmir governments. The AISF organised an all India day in February 1985 protesting against Bhopal Gas Tragedy, directed at the multinational companies. The MP unit of AISF organised relief work for the gas victims.
The AISF took part in the 14th Congress of the IUS (International Union of Students) held in Sofia (Bulgaria) in April 1984. 12th World Youth Festival was held in Moscow in 1985. A National Preparatory Committee was constituted. Youth festivals were held all over the country. A demonstration was held at the American Centre in New Delhi on 30 November (1984) in protest against US policies towards Nicaragua. AISF condemned the repressions on the Iranian revolutionaries. A protest demonstration was held at Indira Gandhi’s residence on Iran-Iraq war. The AISF actively protested the visit to India of Pak President Zia-ul Haq. A protest was organised against US aggression on Grenada. AISF collected relief material for the drought – affected people of Ethiopia.
The 22nd AISF conference was held in Guntur (Andhra Pradesh) from 13 to 16 December 1985. Soon after the conference, the AISF organised a protest day on 14 February 1986 against the negative aspects of the education document of the central government. 13 September 1986 was observed as a protest day against the new education policy of the government.
During this period the obscurantist and fundamentalist, communal, casteist, separatist and terrorist forces gained strength. The sovereignty, integrity and unity of the country was seriously threatened. People were suffering from unemployment and price-rise. It was in such circumstances that the AISF and AIYF organised a Long March from 1 January to 16 March (1986) under the slogan “Save India – Change India”. Three cycle Marches were taken out: first, on 1 January from Kanyakumari through Tamilnadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, U.P., covering more than 5000 villages, hundreds of settlements and towns and cities; it covered 6000 kms in 85 days, reaching Delhi on 26 March.
The whole campaign received tremendous mass response. Students and youths gathered in large number of places to greet the jathas. “Save India- Change India’ was a landmark event in student-youth movement. A big rally was held in Ferozeshah Kotla Maidan in Delhi on 26 March.
50th AISF Anniversary
The AISF celebrated its Golden Jubilee in a grand manner in Lucknow from 12 to 14 August 1986. The first day was marked by a big student’ rally. The celebrations were attended by over 600 delegates from all the states. Besides, 27 fraternal delegates from 22 countries also participated. The celebrations were inaugurated by Baba Prithvi Singh Azad. The AISF invited a large number of veterans of the student movement. They included one of the founders of the AISF Harish Tiwari, one time AISF general secretary M.A. Farooqui, another ex-GS Prashanta Sanyal, Bishwanath Mukherjee, Gita Mukherjee, Ramesh Sinha, Sunil Sengupta, A.B. Bardhan, H.K. Vyas, Prof. Santosh Bhattacharya (V-C, Calcutta University), Shafiq Naqvi, Dr. Shambhu Sharan Shrivastava, Atul Kumar Anjan (ex-president), Amarjeet Kaur (Ex-GS), D. Raja, GS, AIYF and several others. They were all presented with honors. The delegates from all over the country enthusiastically took part in the gathering.
A national convention of college and university students was held in Hyderabad on 24-25 October 1987. It was attended by delegates from 40 universities of 12 states. The convention prepared a demand charter. It decided to observe 2 February 1988 as the Demands Day all over the country. Widespread agitations took place, and in many states ‘Rasta Roko’ (Block the Road), gherao, picketing, boycott of campuses etc were organised. Thousands of students were arrested. They also faced lathicharges.
A powerful and widespread movement in the country took place in 1988 against new education policy and unemployment. 13 September was observed as Students Demands Day. Almost every state committee of the AISF organised state-level demonstrations. A ‘Rail Roko-Rasta Roko’ (stop the railway, block the road) movement was organised on 9 December (1988). There was a successful state bandh in Manipur. Trains were stopped at Chandigarh. Rail and road traffic was brought to a halt in many places in Andhra Pradesh. Successful agitations took place in M.P., Maharashtra, Karnataka, Bihar, Delhi, Assam, Rajasthan and Himachal.
The year 1988 was that of big student-youth upsurge. The AISF along with AIYF and other left and democratic student-youth organisations organised several state-level programmes. Big demonstrations in state capitals took place in West Bengal on 5 May, 9 August in Bihar, 30 August in Andhra Pradesh, 2 September in Maharashtra, M.P., U.P., Manipur, Kerala and in Delhi on 10 October. Processions and demonstrations were also held in Karnataka and Rajasthan. Big state-level conventions were organised in U.P. Haryana, Punjab etc.
On 12 April, the UP Yuva Sangharsh Morcha decided to organise a demonstration of students and youth at the Assembly in Lucknow. The chief minister Veer Bahadur Singh lost his balance completely when he came to know of it. The jails of Lucknow and nearby areas were vacated. Thousands of policemen and PAC were deployed to seal the borders of Lucknow. Warrants were issued against the student and youth leaders, and they had to go underground. The procesionists were detained at the station itself, from where they were sent to the jails. Despite all these precautions, arrests and barriers, many demonstrators sneaked upto the Assembly area and climbed it walls into the compound. There was disorder in Lucknow. The plans to keep the arrested persons for long periods in jail could not materialize.
The situation in Punjab deteriorated fast. The Khalistani terrorists were openly carried out their acts. A large number of persons of democratic, progressive and left movement, who had opposed terrorism, were killed by the bullets of the terrorists. Punjab Students’ Federation, singly and jointly with others, carried on great struggles for national sovereignty and unity. 12 August 1988 was observed as “Save Punjab-Save India” day all over the country by the AISF. Kerala state SF observed a Punjab week from 17 to 25 September (1988). On this occasion, the activists from Punjab visited 13 districts of Kerala. They were warmly welcomed everywhere. The state SF committee denoted Rs 11,111 to the Punjab fund. The funds were also collected in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal.
The communal forces strengthened their position during this period. BJP and Sangh Parivar unleashed a series of riots all over the country. Jamaat –e-Islami and other Muslim fundamentalist organisations also contributed their might.
Ram Janmabhoomi – Babri Masjid controversy and communal tension overtook the whole country. The BJP began its socalled ‘Ratha Yatra’ to communalise and tensionise India as part of its political game. It was stopped by Bihar government. The BJP-RSS were enraged by this action and brought down the National Front government. For the first time after independence, the communal forces had gathered so much strength and were on such powerful offensive that the left forces had to run countrywide and effective campaign. The AISF ran a nationwide campaign for national integration and unity in cooperation with other secular forces. UP unit of AISF in particular conducted an effective statewide campaign.
Rajiv Gandhi had come to power with a clean image. But that was considerably damaged. His party had got a huge majority in the Parliament but he could not utilize it properly. The Left organisations undertook a number of campaigns against the anti-people policies of the government. Bus jathas were brought to Delhi and a historic rally was organised on 9 December 1987 demanding the resignation of Rajiv government. 30 January 1988 was observed as the Day of Pledge. A successful Bharat Bandh was organised on 15 March (1988). The AISF worked hard to make it a success and organised strikes in the educational institutions all over the country.
A national convention of student and youth organisations was held in Delhi on 11 May 1987, which discussed and outlined the future struggles. The AISF launched a movement jointly with other organisations demanding reduction in voting age to 18 years. The government had to concede the demand. The AISF also actively worked for the Bharat Bhandh of 30 August 1989 organised by various left and democratic parties.
The new, National Front government took a sympathetic attitude to the student-youth demands. It consulted all the student and youth organisations of the country. For the first time, the government included right to employment and basic changes in education policies in its programme.
In the meantime, the government announced implementation of the recommendations of the Mandal Commission. ABVP and NSUI (I) opposed them. The student and youth movement was diverted into wrong channels. Many ill-informed, ill-advised students took the path of self-immolation. The AISF requested the students to keep away from anti-Mandal agitation.
The AISF, along with the AIYF, organised a big rally before the Parliament on 6 September 1990 on the question of right to education and job and in support of Mandal Commission.
Some International Activities
Several international activities were organised during the period under consideration.
An international youth meeting was convened in Bombay, in which 22 organisations took part. After the meeting, a big procession of over 5 thousand students and youth was taken out. It demanded that the Indian Ocean be made a zone of peace.
50 student agitators of SF captured the American centre in Delhi protesting against the American attack on Libya. 9 September 1987 was organised as a Anti-Racism day. It was demanded that Nelson Mandela be released. Solidarity Day in support of South Africa and Namibia was celebrated on 2 October (’87). That day the British Library was captured. A meeting of 18 student and youth organisations was held in Delhi on 8 January (1987) in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the African National Congress (ANC). A demonstration was held in front of the British Library in Delhi on the occasion of the birthday of Nelson Mandela on 18 July 1988. 50 thousand signatures were collected in Kerala in support of the demand of release of Mandela.
The AISF organised several programmes in support of the Palestinian people. Students staged a protest orally against Indo-Israel Davis cup match in Delhi on 24 July (1987). It was lathicharged, inuring several people. A protest demonstration was taken out against American Information Centre in Delhi. The American Centers were taken control of on 16 May 1988. A Palestine Week was organised from 8 to 15 December (’88) in Kerala. Programmes were organised on various problems like Iran-Iraq war, Korean unification, Afghanistan, etc. A big campaign was run in Kerala in solidarity with Nicaragua. The ambassador of Nicaragua was presented with thousands of pencils, exercise books and other educational material in a specially organised function in Trivandrum. The President of the Kerala unit of AISF B.K. Mohan was sent to Nicaragua as part of the “International Coffee Harvest Brigade” along with the funds collected.
13th World Festival was held in Pyongyang, North Korea, on 1-7 July 1987. It wasthe first time ever that the festival was held in Asia. Several functions and gathering preparatory to it were held in India. The North-Eastern festival was held in Manipur. West Bengal held functions for one week. Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, organised state-level function. The AISF actively prepared for the celebrations and festivities. The 15th conference of the IUS was held on 16-20 November 1987 in Havana (Cuba). A 3-member delegation from India took part.
The AISF condemned the occupation of Kuwait by Iraq. It simultaneously criticized the role of multinational forces under US leadership and called for a halt to the Gulf War. The AISF participated in a joint demonstration before the American Embassy along with other left and democratic parties. The units of the AISF stepped up anti-war activities all over the country.
The period: 1990 to 2004
We will mention only a few events for lack of space.
Serious developments took place in the Soviet Union and the countries of east Europe in the 1980s. The socialist system went increasingly into crises. Situation was becoming serious in the USSR in mid-‘80s. Economic problems were particularly serious, and other problems began to surface rapidly. As a result, the Soviet Union disintegrated by 1990-91, the Socialist systems of Eastern Europe broke up and the constituent republics of the USSR separated out, overthrowing the Communist Party rule and the socialist structures.
The democratic, progressive, left and Communist movement in India was thrown into shock and confusion on these developments. Sharp debates erupted on the concerned issues. Marxism, Socialism and revolution began to be discussed anew in the Communist and left movement. The events particularly emphasized a closer relationship between socialism and democracy and a greater importance of democracy.
India’s left and student-youth movement initially received a setback due to these events. But a little later, the movement gradually began to adjust itself to the fast – changing world and national situation. It was being felt that certain changes had become necessary in the concept of socialism.
The Narasimha Rao government announced new economic policies in 1991. This initiated a phase of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation (LPG), market growth and foreign investment. Issues of GATT and entry into WTO were being discussed and debated.
The 24th conference of the AISF was held in Hyderabad on 7-9 February 1996. It opposed the new economic polices; it pointed out that government policies were anti-people. AISF jointly with SFI, AIPSU, CJD, AISB and other organisations organised two all India students’ Strikes – one on 18 November 1992 and another on 29 November 1995. At the same time, AISF analyzed the impact of new economic policies on education and conducted ‘Save Education’ movement.
The increasingly difficult conditions for the people were creating favorable situation for the communal forces.
The RSS-BJP-VHP’s aggressive antisocial rowdies demolished the Babri Masjid in a most barbaric manner on 6 December 1992. It was pre-planned and was done with cold calculation. It was a culmination of the countrywide communal campaign that was being carried on for the previous several years.
The AISF firmly opposed the Babri Masjid demolition, and it unleashed a countrywide campaign against this act and against attempts to communally poison the society. The AISF also held the weak-kneed policies of Narasimha Rao responsible for the events. The AISF participated in the National Campaign committee against communalism. It started a signature campaign on this question and held a rally in Delhi on 14 April 1993. The signatures were handed over to the President by a 50-member delegation.
AISF kept a constant campaign against communalism all over the country.
These campaigns culminated in a student-youth rally before the Parliament on 14 December 1995. It was jointly organised by AISF and AIYF. It was participated in by people from UP, Bihar, Punjab, M.P., Haryana, West Bengal, Assam, Manipur etc. Students and young women took part in a big way. AISF-AIYF delegation met the Speaker.
24th to 26th AISF Conferences
As we have already mentioned, the 24th AISF conference was held in 1996; the 25th conference was held on 18-21 October 2000 in Jalandhar (Punjab).
Many important events took place in between, the details of which we can’t go into here.
The AISF celebrated its 60th anniversary in 1996. It unleashed a countrywide mass campaign against Private Universities’ Act. Conventions were held in several places eg. Darbhanga (Bihar), Bijapur (Karnataka), etc. The AISF organised a ‘Martyrs’ Memorial function in Ahmedabad on 30 August 1997 on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of India’s independence.
The girl students of Orissa organised dharnas on 10 January 1998. The girl students all over the country conducted a campaign against the views of the BJP to confine the women to domestic work only, on 18 November 1998.
An All India Students’ Strike was organised on 11 December 1998 against the policies of the central government.
Anti-BJP government campaign
The AISF conducted a continuous campaign against the policies of the government of BJP and its allies. It organised protest marches in Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Patna, Lucknow and other places on 5 September 1998. 5 thousand people took paprt in Bangalore, and more than 50 thousand signatures were submitted to the Governor. Dharna was organised in front of the Bihar Assembly in Patna. Ten thousand students rallied in Hyderabad on 10 September 1998 and more than one lakh signatures were collected.
12 thousand students and youths took part in a rally in Moga (Punjab) on 28 September 1998. Rallies, processions and meetings were organised in Assam, Bhubaneshwar and many other places in the country. An effigy of HRD minister Murli Manohar Joshi was burnt in Delhi.
An all India convention was organised on communalism and commercialisation of education in Bhubaneshwar on 28-29 December 1998.
The campaigns of AISF against communalism, saffronisation of education, unemployment, sports policy, economic policy, and many other aspects continued through 1999 and 2000.
The year 2000 was an active one for the AISF. It launched big movements all over the country on various important questions. Educational Right Day in Tamilnadu (1 December), Assam Assembly March, Movement of Kollam S.N. College (Kerala), Bangalore Fine Arts College Students’ movement in which AISF mobilized arts students from all over the state in the capital, Orissa flood relief work, and other movements were some of the highlights. State conferences were conducted in Bihar, West Bengal, M.P., Tamilnadu, Rajasthan, etc.
The AISF demonstrated before the UGC in Delhi on 6 July 2001 protesting against inclusion of astrology, “karma-kand” (rituals), and training of purohits in the curriculum.
15th World Student-Youth festival took place in Algiers on 8-16 August 2001, which was actively participated in by AISF. The AISF completed its 65 years in 2001.On this occasion, a National Students’ Festival was organised in Hyderabad on 14-16 December (2001). Students from all over the country took part in it. A student’ meeting on this occasion was addressed, among others, by former prime minister V.P. Singh and CPI national secretariat member D. Raja.
The AISF in Bihar organised a gherao on 1 October 2001 against corruption in Inter-council and Secondary Education Board as also against fees-rise. A gherao was organised on 7 November 2001 of the HRD ministry in Delhi. 10 lakh (one million) signatures were submitted to the President protesting against unscientific and hypocritical changes in the syllabus and changes in the main posts of the educational institutions.
The Maharashtra unit of AISF gheraoed the state Assembly in October 2002. It was in support of the demand to allow enrolment of B.com students in B.Ed. courses and for awarding degrees to B.Ed and D.Ed students. Some students expressed their protest by jumping down from the visitors’ gallery near the Speaker. They were arrested. A big statewide student movement erupted on 31 October 2002. Many student leaders were injured in the lathichrge. The AISF observed, in cooperation with the AIYF, the birthday of Bhagat Singh on 28 September (2002) as a day for the protection of education jobs and secularism in Bihar, M.P, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, U.P. and other states, and big rallies and other forms of protests were organised. The next stage of this struggle was a March to Parliament in Delhi on 29 November (2002). Thousands of youths and students from Assam, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Manipur, M.P., Orissa, Haryana, Himachal, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Kerala, Pondicherry, Tamilnadu, West Bengal, etc. took part in it.
Kerala AISF gheraoed the state Assembly on 1 July 2003 in protest against anarchy in education, commercialisation of education, increase in fees, unemployment, etc. Police lathicharged the demonstration. A large number of them were jailed. The national council of AISF organised a national girl student’s convention in Hyderabad on 20-21 December 2003 and a national sub-committee was constituted.