‘Students and Politics’ by Bhagat Singh (1928)

This article was published in ‘Kirti‘ in July 1928 to address an important political issue. In those days several leaders used to advise the students to avoid participating in political activities. This article was written as a reply to them. It was published in the editorial column and was written by Bhagat Singh. Things are not of much difference in recent times. Although, there has been a transfer of power from the British to the Indian rulers in 1947, means of exploitation of the people by big corporates and feudal lords have remained the same. And same advise of being “apolitical” is being given to the students by the leaders and administrators with renewed vigor. Hence, this article remains as relevant as it was in 1928. Our decision to republish it came to light under these circumstances.

Too much noise is heard these days about the opinion that the youth (students) who are studying should not participate in political activities. The view of Punjab government is quite unique. According to them, before the students take admission in a college, they are supposed to sign the condition that they would not participate in political activities. It is very unfortunate that popularly elected Manohar, who is now the education minister, has sent a circular in the name of schools and colleges to the effect that no students or teachers would participate in politics. Just a few days have passed that a celebration of students’ week was organized by the students’ union in Lahore. Even there, Sir Abdul Kadar and Prof. Ishwarchandra Nanda laid stress that the students should not take part in politics.

Punjab is said to be the most politically backward state in the country. What is the reason for this? Has Punjab made fewer sacrifices? Has Punjab been suffering less? Then what is the reason that we are backward in this field? The reason is quite clear that the officers of our education department are completely stupid. Today’s proceedings of the Punjab council makes it much clearer that the reason behind it is that our education is waste and useless, and the student-youth community is not participating in issues related to our country. They are ignorant in this regard. After finishing their studies, a few of them goes for higher studies, but they speak so naively that one would have no way other than regret. Attempts are being made to turn the youths who are supposed to lead the country tomorrow into mindless beings. We ourselves should comprehend what result we would get out of this. We understand that the main task of the students is to study, they should pay full attention towards it; but is it not a part of the education to gather knowledge regarding the situation that our country is in and develop the ability to think about measures to improve it? If not, we consider this education, which is only obtained to gain some clerical skills, of no use. What is the use of this kind of education? Some cunning people say – “Dear, you should read and think politically, but never practice politics. Once you become more qualified, you’ll be beneficial for our country.”

Apparently, it sounds pretty good, but we even reject this, because it is also told very superficially. This becomes clear from the following incident. One day a student was reading a book named “Appeal to the young” by Prince Kropotkin. A professor started saying what kind of book is this? He said, by name the author seems to be a Bengali! The boy said – Prince Kropotkin’s name is quite famous, he was a scholar of economics, every professor should be aware of him. He started laughing at the “competency” of the professor. Then he said – the author was a Russian gentleman. That’s it! The boy was befallen by a “Russian thunderbolt”! The professor said – “You are a Bolshevik because you are reading political books.”

Look at the competency of the professor! What would those helpless students learn from him? What would our youth learn under these circumstances?

The second thing is: what is practicing politics? Welcoming and listening to speeches of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Subhas Chandra Bose becomes practicing politics, but what about welcoming a commission or a viceroy? Is it not the other side of politics? If anything related to governments and countries’ administration is counted as politics, is it also not politics? But it will be said that this pleases the government whereas the other annoys it. So, the question is about whether the government is pleased or annoyed by it. Then should the students be taught the lesson of sycophancy since their very birth? We think that as long as India is ruled by foreign dacoits, peoples who show loyalty are not loyal but traitors, they are not human beings and they are slaves to their bread. Then how can we advocate that students should learn the lesson of loyalty.

Almost everybody accepts that in these times India needs such patriots who are dedicated and ready to passionately sacrifice their whole life fighting for our independence. Can we find such people among aged countrymen? Can we find such people among the ones who have got entangled into the hassles of family and other worldly affairs? We can only find such people among the youth who have not yet got entangled into any hassles. And before getting into the grip of any such things the students or youth can only think in this direction if they had acquired some practical knowledge. Studying Mathematics and Geography by rote for answering examinations alone won’t suffice.

Was quitting up of their colleges and going to war by the students of England and Germany, not politics? At that time where were our preachers, why didn’t they go and tell those students to study? Will the students of National College, Ahmadabad who are helping the satyagrahis of Bardoli remain fools? Let us see how much competent are the students produced by Punjab University in comparison to them. It was the efforts of students and youth that has brought independence to any country which are now free. Will the youth and students of India be able to save the existence of themselves and their country by remaining aloof from the freedom struggle? The youth cannot forget the atrocities inflicted upon the students in 1919. They also realize that we need a revolution. They should study, surely study! But along with it, they should also acquire political knowledge and when required they should not hesitate to jump into the fray and dedicate their life to this work. Sacrifice their life for the cause. There is no other way to save the situation.

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