With outbursts of student protests nationwide, the political party in power has vocalized their concerns about the violence, damage to public property and misinformation. The members of the party have been heavily campaigning against the protests and simultaneously trying to garner support for the CAA.
While they continue to follow this path of condemning protestors, it is essential to keep in touch with the history of the BJP, which is rich with student protests and andolans. This is the history that got the party to the forefront of their politics today. The very thing that put BJP on the map were the student protests they took part in.
The Navnirman Movement Student Protests
After Congress won the Gujarat 1973 state elections, Indira Gandhi handpicked Chimanlal Patel as the Chief Minister. He turned a blind eye towards common man’s problems like famine & inflation and instead chose to indulge in corruption to fill the coffers of Congress party and remain in good books of Indira Gandhi. This attitude of the new Chief Minister did not go down well with the Gujaratis and was further provoked when he did nothing to control the price rise of food & inflation.
In December 1973, in Gujarat, students at the LD Engineering College in Ahmedabad began raising their voices over campus grievances, like canteen charges. The police used force during the student protests, which backfired - protests blew up on other campuses, and spread into the city through early 1974, leading to state-wide strikes, arson and looting, all targeting the state government. Student protestors attacked the vehicles and property of Congress legislators and corporators to frighten them into resigning. Ahmedabad was close to anarchy before the army marched in.
Over the next few days, it spread across the state and turned into a movement called “Nav Nirman Aandolan”. With support from several organizations including ABVP & RSS, students were able to consolidate the movement to demand the Chief Minister’s resignation. The movement was further strengthened when it gained the support of Jayaprakash Narayan, a well-respected public figure and a known crusader against corruption.
In January 1974, Narendra Modi, who was just 24 years old and member of RSS, had played a significant role in organizing events, transportation and meetings. His dedication in any job assigned to him had earned him the “workaholic” title.
In February 1974, succumbing to the pressure of these student protests, the Chief Minister resigned. Although it was a great victory for the protesters, the battle was far from over. The next phase of the agitation was to bring down the Govt. It required a “fast unto death” by Morarji Desai to dissolve the Govt.
It’s worth noting that the Navnirman protests began 18 months before Indira Gandhi’s Emergency.
The Sampoorna Kranti Movement
To many Indians of the younger generation, the popular "Sampoorna Kranti Express" running between Patna and New Delhi remains the only visible imprint of one of the most storied political clarion calls this country has heard — that of “Total Revolution”. The call came on a hot summer’s day in 1974 at a rally in Patna — made by an ageing freedom fighter, socialist, and friend of Jawaharlal Nehru’s, Jayaprakash Narayan, popularly known as JP.
In Bihar, JP issued a call for ‘sampoorna Kranti’, total revolution, against the elected government of India. The JP movement was backed by and later constituted of diverse opposition forces, including the RSS, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the Socialists, and disgruntled Congress conservatives.
In 1974, Arun Jaitley was in his early twenties, finishing law college at Delhi University. He travelled to both Ahmedabad and Patna to support and stoke the JP Andolan, which had students rioting, stone-pelting, setting university offices on fire, and declaring city-wide bandhs, all against elected governments.
At the end of the year, in Delhi, Jaitley was appointed national convenor of the sangharsh Samiti, or Struggle Committee, for those student organisations. Even when the JP Andolan was at its peak, the Emergency had still not even been conceived among Indira’s advisers: That only happened in early 1975, after the railway minister, L.N. Mishra, was assassinated in a bomb blast in Bihar.
JP called a rally in New Delhi, to appeal to Indians to make it impossible for the government to function. Arun Jaitley headed the student protests. JP also appealed, not for the first time, to the army and police to disobey orders they felt were illegal.
The house of the PM, JP promised, was mobbed by students. ‘We intend to overthrow her,’ Morarji Desai said, in an interview later that evening. ‘Thousands of us will surround her house to prevent her from going out or receiving visitors. We’ll camp there day and night shouting to her to resign.’
That was on June 25, 1975. The Emergency was declared minutes before midnight.
What Happened After These Movements?
In the profiles of Arun Jaitley and a lot of other members of the BJP, the year 1974 usually goes missing. As Jaitley's biography puts it, ‘It all began… in June 1975’, when his student life is erased and he is presented as being thrown straight into jail.
It is lightly skipped over in the official infographic of the party’s history online. By 2015, Jaitley – then India’s finance minister and one of the most powerful men in the Union cabinet – was describing campus protests in India as an ‘alliance of subversion’.
The same is true of the BJP, and its genetic origins in the JP movement. The ABVP had formed the hard-core of JP’s student protests and revolutionaries and the Jana Sangh, the centre of his political coalition, was reborn in 1980 as the BJP.
However, on Narendra Modi's own website page, there is a more honest connection to student radicalism and extreme protest, or at least it was until he was elected Prime Minister, and became the target of student anger and resistance. The current scenario of student protests isn't any different. And while that page still remains on his website, glorifying Modi as "dutiful," the Prime Minister chose to tweet contradictorily to the violence at Jamia, stating - " Violent protests on the Citizenship Amendment Act are unfortunate and deeply distressing. Debate, discussion and dissent are essential parts of democracy but, never has damage to public property and disturbance of normal life been a part of our ethos."
It may be the fear of the Navnirman Movement's rebirth that could be a factor rattling the man in charge, but one thing that we can say for sure is that the BJP rose through the ranks by starting probably the most violent and brutal student protests and movements in India.