Thursday, June 12, 2008

Interview with M Swaraj, former State Secretary(SFI)

Question: - Can you explain in which social context SFI was formed? During the formation, to whom did it declare solidarity and whom did it oppose?
Swaraj: - The formation of SFI was not as a new movement. It was a continuation of various progressive movements in the country, which represented similar ideologies. It was during the freedom struggle, the organisation of students took place. The history of freedom movement is the history of freedom struggle against British government. The functioning of the student movements started by declaring solidarity towards freedom struggle. The primary objective of the student movement is accepting the debate for independent India.
In 1936, AISF (All India student federation) was formed with a definite aim. AISF is not the same as the present AISF. The formation of AISF was inaugurated by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru under the presidency of M.A. Jinnah. Ranadive and Sarvad Mukherjee were elected as leaders, who were later communists. AISF represented principles similar to Congress, Muslim League and Communist ideologies. The formation of this movement was against imperialism and for an independent India. These were the events which formed a base for the ideologies of SFI.
It was due to the ideological confrontation inside AISF, which led to the formation of various regionalist student organisations. KSF (Kerala student federation) was a regionalist student organisation in Kerala. In the post independence period, these movements oriented in solving various problems prevailing in the education sector. Providing social justice and universalisation of education were the basic issues raised by these student organizations. It was due to the collective decision of various student organizations from respected states, in the preparatory committee held in West Bengal, led to the formation of a national organisation SFI. Now it is the 37th year after the formation of SFI. During the formation of SFI, our objective was to organise the students in schools, colleges, and other educational institutions under a common umbrella of SFI. By organizing these students, we stood for the democratic, secularist, socialistic and progressive kind of education in a scientific manner. For the reality of these ideas, we organised struggles.
Question: - What are the gains and losses of SFI?
Swaraj: - During the formation of SFI, the organisation strength was small. Around 10 state units were there at that time. Today, SFI has grown as the largest student organisation in the country. In Kerala all the university unions, majority of college, polytechnic, ITI unions and school parliament are held by SFI. At present the membership of SFI has crossed 40 lakhs. In Kerala itself our membership has crossed 10 lakhs.
From state and national perspective, almost all protests are led by SFI. We have also been able to address and solve problems of students. In the states where the communist party’s influence is less, the influence of SFI is strong. Today the majority of university unions in the country are held by SFI.
If we number the losses, almost 28 comrades were martyred in Kerala itself and we are also having living martyrs such as Simon Britto. In other states also, many comrades were martyred during the struggle.
Question: - In which period or context was SFI strong?
Swaraj: - The intensity of struggles is increasing in each one. The other observations are totally false. There is no reality in saying that 1970’s SFI was the strongest one. This concept was created by the nostalgias of so called intellectuals of that period. In each period SFI was able to intensify its struggle and its influence in the student community. 1990’s SFI was stronger than that of 1970’s; the 2000’s SFI was stronger than the 1990’s. The most intensive struggle of SFI was in the last academic year during the protest against self financing colleges. In that struggle, the police outraged the students. During this outrage, many students including girls were injured. Many students were jailed for over one month. From this perspective the present SFI is the strongest one.
Question: - In the late 1980’s, after the emergence of globalisation, the social condition of the campus has changed. In this context, as the state secretary of SFI can you analyze it?
Swaraj: - In each period, our campus and society had certain weakness. A campus without weakness is just an imagination. In each period SFI functioned in rectifying the weakness. In a period the weakness of campus was the influence of drugs. It was the anti drug squad initiated by SFI, which rectified the weakness. In another period it was the ragging which affected the campus. This weakness was rectified by the formation of anti-ragging squad under the initiative of SFI. In the early 1990’s, it was the globalisation which affected the campus. A new consumerist culture was formed due to the after affects of globalisation. To counter this we organised suitable campaigns. These campaigns addressed at a society level also. We believe that the emergence of self financing colleges was the product of globalisation. This situation arisen due to the wrong policies taken by UDF government. These protests against globalisation gave anew dimension to SFI.
The strikes against self financing colleges were part of anti globalisation campaign. Campus is now a part of globalisation. Today, in colleges money is prioritized to academics and social concern. The university union of SFI conducted campaign against globalisation. In those campaigns they succeeded in awaking the students.
Question: - Now strikes are conducted as an implementation process, did SFI concentrate in providing ideological base to these strikes?
Swaraj: - We should not be afraid in front of globalisation. It is the market of imperialist forces and imperialism is the higher form of capitalism. At Trivandrum, the Kerala university union conducted a student parliament against globalisation. This campaign was inaugurated by the leader of free software movement, Richard Stallman. It was for the first time in the country, the campaign of this genre was conducted. A conference of professional college students in the country was conducted at Trivandrum. During this conference a model act for providing social justice in self financing colleges was framed. It was the first time a student movement was able to frame such an act.
As mentioned earlier the wonderness about 1970’s campus is just an imagination. In each period, the campus was creative. It should not be individualized to certain period. Today more students are participating in the struggles than that of 1970’s. The struggles and campaigns should be according to the context.
Question: - What are the regular programmes of SFI?
Swaraj: - Membership campaign is one of the important regular programmes of SFI. Updating the syllabi, campaigns against communalism and globalisation are other important regular programme conducted by SFI. We also organise campaign related to contemporary issues. These campaigns are organised at college union, regional, state, national and international level. We also conduct study camps, seminars, party conference at various levels.
Question: - How is the organisational structure of SFI?
Swaraj: - The organisation structure starts from the unit to area to district to state to national committees. Each committees has a sub structure called secretariat which takes important decisions. Each secretariat contains secretary, president, joint secretaries, vice presidents, and secretariat members.
Question: - What is the financial source of SFI?
Swaraj: - They are met basically from students itself. Teachers also contribute.
Question: - Does SFI have a relationship with CPI (M)?
Swaraj: - SFI is an independent organisation. There is an ideological similarity between SFI and CPI (M). At government level CPI (M) emphasizes in implementing our stand. But there is no interference by the CPI (M) into our organisational structure. We have independent stand.

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