February 1974 is mentioned in bold letters in the modern history pages of not only Ahmedabad but also of the young, democratic Indian state.
In February 1974, what started as an argument over a 20% increase in the hostel food bill at L. D. Engineering College, had snowballed into a massive public agitation. The movement, quite remarkably, had not only ended up toppling the Gujarat state government of that time but also played due role in Indira Gandhi imposing the infamous emergency! This significant chapter of India’s yet young democracy had come to be known as Nav Nirman (Recreation or Reinvention or Reconstruction).
For many weeks in succession, initially Ahmedabad, and then the rest of Gujarat was gripped by a wave of that unprecedented socio-political phenomenon. Riots had soon left over hundred reported (official figures) deaths, scores of serious injuries and immense destruction of public and private properties. On February 9, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat was forced to resign under the pressure of higher-ups in Delhi. President’s rule was finally clamped in Gujarat on March 15.
In every sense of the word, the movement was unprecedented and historic in nature. Never before in the young democracy (post independence) had a mass movement – initiated by students – had such an impact on the Indian polity. It made clear the power of people in democracy and paved way for a sense of fear in the minds of politicians with regards mob fury. And mind you, there was no television of any significance then. So, 24X7 propagation of any activity to every nook and corner of the society through ‘breaking news’ was not available to the players of the movement. It was through public meetings, word-of-mouth, pamphlets and reporting by a handful of newspapers.
The reason for remembering it now is that today, very few social movements – that are really mass and really sustainable – rise from college campuses. While some campuses have now been reduced to talks about record pay packages, some others resemble he designer talk-show studios of the new-age television channels. While a few are home to obnoxious muscle power of the stooges of the various political parties, few others face acute absence of student participation even in cultural events.
Admittedly, the youth goes to university to get education and its primary goal is to excel in that. But what would have happened to Iraq of the present day if a few hundred thousand students had led a consistent movement to throw away the Saddam regime peacefully, from within? Their country might not have been facing a very real danger of disintegration. On the other hand, if students across the US had joined hands in opposing President Bush’s plan, US would not have lost 1000-plus young and precious lives. Trust your instinct, it is not as improbable as it reads.
Youth of our society is like Lord Hanuman, it does not fully recognise its own strength.
It is time that the youth of Ahmedabad realises that they do not exist in a socio-political vaccum. If they do not increase their stake in society, the society would push them in the corner. From moral brigade hunting them down in public parks to the neighbourhood challenging their profession and timings, the list of misfortune would be endless and self-inflicted. And mind you, neither of hose two, mundane examples talk even remotely of nation building. Simply because that can wait. Also, if the possibility of personal misfortune cannot move a section of the society, collective, distant good fortune can hardly be an incentive.