Demanding education, civic and policy reforms, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parisad (ABVP) has been organising lockdowns, gheraos and hunger strikes against the BJP government in Himachal Pradesh for the past two weeks.
Supporters of the students’ outfit claim that though the ABVP is aligned with the RSS, it is not affiliated to any party and “is not the student wing of BJP”. The outfit has organised protests in state capital Shimla, Dharamsala and other towns in the Himachal Pradesh.
“The government is making education expensive and liquor cheaper. It is all a business for them, but students will tolerate none of this,” said Vishal Verma, an ABVP supporter and a student of Himachal Pradesh University (HPU). Vishal, who took part in a protest outside the Deputy Commissioner’s office in Shimla on Saturday, was referring to the new excise policy passed by the state cabinet on Monday, lowering prices of liquor and extending operational timings of bars in all star-rated hotels in some tourist areas till 2 am.
“On the other hand, the government is charging exorbitant fees at institutes of higher learning. The fee structure at two universities of agriculture and horticulture is among the highest in the country,” alleged Rahul Rana, ABVP’s state secretary.
Another bone of contention between the ABVP and the state government is the lack of a permanent campus for the Central University of Himachal Pradesh (CUHP) , which has been running from a camp office and temporary campuses spread across three towns in Kangra district.
From February 8 to 20, ABVP units launched protests in various government colleges and district headquarters, shutting down the CUHP premises at Dharamshala for two days. They relented only after Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur held talks with them and assured them that he will take up the matter with the Centre — the Centre has to give a clearance under Forest Conservation Act before construction of a permanent campus on forest land at Jadrangal near Dharamshala can begin.
But ABVP has a long list of demands. “There is a shortage of teachers and staff in colleges and universities, and also basic amenities. Re-evaluation results are always delayed while private universities are not adequately regulated,” said Rana.
Earlier this month, ABVP activists from HPU protested against the BJP-led Shimla Municipal Corporation for failing to resolve civic problems at Summerhill, where the university is located. “Many people have been injured here due to attacks by stray cattle. The rain shelters too are in a state of neglect,” said Komal Vekta, an ABVP member.
Another member Ankit Chandel said the ABVP raises student-related issues before the state government irrespective of which party is in power. “Our mandate is to work towards welfare of students, and we will fight tooth and nail for our rights,” he added.
State BJP President Dr Rajeev Bindal said ABVP is an independent organisation with a student-centric viewpoint. “The relationship between ABVP and BJP is unlike the one between Congress and NSUI,” he added.
Education Minister Suresh Bhardwaj said, “The protesters are engaging with authorities at the lower levels as per their specific student-related demands, which are then being looked into. The government is open to having a dialogue with them at all levels.”
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