Published: 12th November 2020
This government has turned universities into a warzone: AISA's Sandeep Saurav who won in Bihar's Paliganj
Sandeep Saurav, the CPI (M-L) Liberation candidate who won in Bihar's Paliganj spoke to us about his politics and what he wants to do for the betterment of the people
Higher educational institutes in our country have been transformed into warzones by our current ruling government, says Sandeep Saurav, the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation candidate who won from the Paliganj constituency in Bihar. "Since the beginning, the Modi government has been insensitive to the education-related issues in the country. They have treated education and institutions as their enemy," the newly-elected MLA added. He is also the National General Secretary of the All India Students' Association (AISA) and former Jawaharlal Nehru University student. The CPI (M-L) Liberation emerged the biggest gainer, winning 12 out of 19 seats it contested in Bihar's most nail-biting assembly polls this year. Although the National Democratic Alliance retained Bihar this time, the rise of the opposition in major seats left a mark.
Sandeep, who won in Paliganj, a city in the Patna district spoke to us about his journey from students' politics into the mainstream, the issues of education and unemployment in Bihar, and what he wishes to do as a leader of his constituency. Excerpts from an engaging conversation:
How was the transition from student politics to mainstream politics — how are things different now that you have become an MLA?
This feels just like an extension of what I was already fighting for as a part of AISA at the JNU campus — that was smaller in terms of the number of people and area and here it has bigger, I have to cater to the needs of a larger group of people. While campaigning, agitating for issues related to students' politics in JNU, our boundary was just restricted to the educational needs or students' need in that specific campus, we went beyond that, we addressed larger social issues even then. My introduction to the students' movement was with the issue of the minimum wage to contractual workers and how their rights were being scuttled by the university administration. Since then we haven't restricted ourselves to just JNU, thus I consider this an extension and I will learn a lot more here.
Nitish Kumar had, in a way, accepted that unemployment will remain a problem in Bihar when he had clarified why the state has no industries rather than promising to bring in more industries. How will you tackle the unemployment issue in your constituency and then in the state?
Unemployment has always been a consistent issue in this state. The Modi regime or the NDA and the way they have been dealing with issues of unemployment across the country is drastically different in terms of quality and quantity as compared to the previous government. Unemployment was always there but the regular resources of employment provided by the government such as posts in railway, banking, etc were available and they were not locked out. Posts had been vacant during the Congress regime and the Lalu Prasad Yadav regime too, but the NDA has blocked those posts now, they have become non-existent. The possibility of employment has been completely rubbed off by the current government. What can we do about this? An MLA cannot provide or generate employment in the literal sense but the youth in the state will keep on struggling. I am still the All India Students Association General Secretary, so we have plans to start a larger movement at the national level putting forward the issue of unemployment.
Moving on to the education scenario in Bihar, will you help improve the infrastructure and facilities in your area? What are your plans?
Bihar is one such state where students don't complete their graduation in three years or post-graduation in two years, instead, they complete their UG in 4-5 years and PG in 5-6 years. All the higher educational institutes either begin their sessions late or don't complete it on time. We have plans to create a robust system where proper UGC guidelines are followed, students are taught properly. Some of these are policy-level decisions and I would like to bring up these issues at a national level. The condition of universities and colleges in the state is unfortunate, which leads to the massive migration of students to other states. The major reason is that students have to migrate to other places just to complete their graduation. When we look at school education here, the government had already sold off nearly 30,000 schools and their infrastructure for various other purposes. Whatever is left is in dilapidated conditions that need to be fixed for children to attend schools. In my constituency, the condition of schools is worse when compared to other cities or towns in the state. The high schools do not function adequately, 80 per cent of the students from Classes 8-10 do not attend classes and depend just on coaching centers. Numerous coaching centers have opened up in the villages but the families who have money can only afford those. This has led to an increased dropout rate in schools, especially before Class 10, it is a big deal for children here to complete their Class 10 and move to higher classes. An MLA has complete authority over high schools here, I would like to look into these issues first. To encourage students to read, we have plans to open a community library and a reading hall where 100 students can study at a given time. Currently, there's no proper atmosphere or mindset for children to read and study, our aim is to create such a space.
You have campaigned against the NEET/JEE exams being conducted amid a pandemic, also filed a case against the CBSE compartment exams saying that the students' health would be at risk, their career could be jeopardised as some wouldn't be able to travel amid the lockdown. The central government went ahead and conducted these exams, what do you have to say about that?
Since the beginning, the Modi government has been insensitive to the education-related issues in the country. They have treated education and institutions as their enemy — universities, higher education institutes have been transformed into warzones in this country. When students raised concerns about not being able to travel for exams, about their health, economical conditions, the government did not back down and still continued to take the exams. In a lot of states, at least 40-50 per cent of students couldn't attend the exams due to issues raised by the pandemic. This means an entire generation has been deprived of proper facilities and their career has been jeopardised, which is extremely unfortunate. We had filed cases in the Supreme Court, but our struggle was to no avail.
What are your views on the new National Education Policy?
Whatever the government has been trying to do on campuses for a long time will now be legalised with the new NEP being implemented. It is a document that supports the complete privatisation of education in the country. Private schools, colleges will have complete authority and the government will not intervene in matters of fee structure, which would mean they can charge exorbitant fees. Students from socially deprived sections of our society already face a lot of difficulties trying to access higher education, now the NEP has been trying to remove the concept of reservation from its roots. The word reservation is nowhere present in the NEP document, this goes to show what the government is trying to do. We have already raised our voices against the NEP but the government tricked us and brought in the policy document amid the lockdown to avoid conflict. They are aware that if they would bring this at a regular time, there wouldn't be a single university in this country where students would not have protested.
Finally, tell us about the five things you wish to change or want to do for the betterment of the people in your constituency.
As I had mentioned earlier, we want to create an atmosphere for proper education, ensure the proper functioning of educational institutions in the area, and open a library to facilitate learning. The healthcare facilities in Paliganj are in a dreadful condition, we want to ensure affordable and adequate healthcare in government hospitals here, hire better doctors, which is definitely a priority right now. There are no rail lines in the constituency, so connectivity becomes a massive issue, we want to work on that. There are several other issues we also need to look at, some of which are infrastructural issues while some are policy-level changes. I will work wholeheartedly towards fulfilling these promises.