ABVP: In the footsteps of Pakistan’s Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba; ominously so

Written by Javed Anand | Published on: February 28, 2016

The unfolding Modi-BJP-RSS-ABVP nexus in India is but a replay of the Zia ul Haq-Jamaat e Islami-Islami Jamiat e Talaba axis in Pakistan in the 1970s

Ideologically speaking, the ‘Hindu nationalist’ Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) with its Hindu Rashtra agenda is the mirror image of the Abu Ala Maududi’s Jamaat-e-Islami with Islamic state and Shariah law as its goal. It should not be surprising then that the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) – the student body floated by the RSS – is beginning to look more and more, and ominously so, like the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) – the student wing floated by Maududi in Pakistan. 

“If you want to change a country, change its students,” noted American writer and journalism, Dan Brooks in an article, ‘Know your theocrats: Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba’, which he wrote in 2011. The RSS wants to “change India” just as the Jamaat-e-Islami is trying to “change Pakistan”. If the ABVP is the former’s instrument for ‘changing students’ in India, the IJT is the latter’s tool for “changing students” in Pakistan.

The comparison does not end there. The RSS and the ABVP claim that the latter’s real growth in numbers took place during the years that the Congress-led UPA governments were in power, that is, before Narendra Modi’s rise to the top. The Jamaat-e-Islami and the IJT too can make a similar claim. Read, Nadeem F Paracha’s excellent 2009 essay, ‘Student politics in Pakistan: A history, lament and celebration’.

Though left-wing student unions retained their dominant position in Pakistan’s colleges and universities through the 1950s, by the early 1960s the IJT had started “to emerge from the sidelines of student politics and materialise as an affective right-wing force on the campuses”. Until then, though the IJT had been around for more than a decade “it was almost completely overshadowed by DSF (Democratic Students Front) and the NSF (National Students Front),” Paracha writes.

In tune with the movement worldwide, the 1960s are often referred to as the “golden era of student politics” in Pakistan. According to Paracha however, “it is the 1970s that one can truly call the golden era of student politics in Pakistan”. It was in the latter decade that Pakistan witnessed the emergence of a state-party-student nexus. What we are witnessing in India today is a replay of the same devious plot.

“When [after ousting Zulfikar Ali Bhutto] President Zia [ul Haq] brought in members of the Jamaat-e-Islami to form his first cabinet (to help him ‘Islamize Pakistan’), IJT’s notorious ‘Thunder Squads’ that were formed in the 1960s at the universities of Karachi and Lahore to challenge leftist student activists, went on a rampage, harassing and physically manhandling their opponents”.

What the Zia-Jamaat-IJT did in the campuses in Pakistan in the 1970s is exactly what the Modi-BJP-RSS-ABVP has been re-enacting in India’s premier educational institutions in recent months— Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), IITs, Hyderabad Central University, JNU…  The difference: In Pakistan the IJT was fighting the “enemies of Islam”; in India the ABVP is fighting “desh drohis”, or put differently, the “enemies of Hindu Rashtra”.

Though ideologically a mirror image of Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami, the RSS has chosen a different organisational path. The ABVP may not need to form its own “thunder squads” since the RSS has already put in place complementary fronts for the purpose: VHP, Bajrang Dal, sundry other Hindutva-inspired outfits, even rogue lawyers as witnessed in the Patiala court recently

Though ideologically a mirror image of Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami, the RSS has chosen a different organisational path. The ABVP may not need to form its own “thunder squads” since the RSS has already put in place complementary fronts for the purpose: VHP, Bajrang Dal, sundry other Hindutva-inspired outfits, even rogue lawyers as witnessed in the Patiala court recently.

The ABVP may not mimic the IJT’s misdeeds in Pakistan step-by-step. It and the ‘thunder squads’ of the RSS may march separately but they have the same goal in mind: Changing students to change the country. Bearing this in mind, there still are lessons we in India must learn from the IJT’s trajectory post-1970s.

As was only to be expected, Zia’s harsh crackdown on the left-wing student unions in Pakistan discredited the IJT. According to Paracha, “the [Zia] regime’s plans to repress progressive student groups through its allied party, the Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing… had left IJT in the clutches of uncontrollable violence so much so that the support it had managed to gather through student union elections in the 1970s, now stood eroded, triggering a sympathy wave for the anti-IJT student organisations.”

In the 1978 elections IJT lost out heavily to the Punjab Progressive Students Alliance (PPSA) in Rawalpindi, Islamabad and in many colleges of Lahore. Meanwhile in Karachi and Sind province, the IJT was seriously challenged by the student wings of the newly-formed Muhajir Quami Movement (MQM) of Altaf Hussain and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
With Pakistan heavily involved in the USA-Saudi Arabia backed Afghan struggle against occupation by the Soviet army, to stay relevant the IJT grabbed the opportunity to bring the “AK-47 culture” to the campus.

However, in the 1983 elections to student unions the IJT was comprehensively voted out in a majority of colleges and universities across the country. In 1984, the Zia regime outlawed all student unions and politics. The ban continues till date but that does not mean, the IJT has ceased to exist. Here below are some examples of its recent activities:
  • February 19, 2016: Baloch students hold protest demonstrations in Punjab, Quetta and Uthal against attacks on students in Punjab by IJT.
  • October 13, 2015: Young women playing cricket at Karachi University are beaten by religious thugs. Members of the IJT who had earlier warned the cricket-playing women, broke up a mixed-gender game and beat up both the men and women members of the Punjabi Students Association with batons.
  • December 2, 2013: Pakistan TV telecasts footage on how IJT “attacked and tortured teachers in Punjab University”.
  • September 2013: Pakistan’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies arrest students belonging to the IJT, also suspected to have Al Qaeda links.  
  • March 2013: The founder and leader of MQM, Altaf Hussain demands banning of Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba for their connections with terrorists... 
  • February 2012: Activists of Imamia Students Organization (ISO) stage a protest demonstration against IJT activists for torturing an ISO activist at the Punjab University.
  • July 2011: "After philosophy students and faculty members rallied to denounce heavy-handed efforts to separate male and female students, Islamists on campus struck back: In the dead of night, witnesses say, the radicals showed up at a men's dormitory armed with wooden sticks and bicycle chains.
           "They burst into dorm rooms, attacking philosophy students. One was pistol-whipped and hit on the head with a brick. Gunfire rang out, although no one was injured. Police were called, but nearly a month after the attack, no arrests have been made.

          "Few on Punjab University's leafy campus, including top administrators, dare to challenge the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, or the IJT, the student wing of one of Pakistan's most powerful hard-line Islamist parties.

"At another Lahore campus, the principal disdainfully refers to the Islamists as 'a parallel administration'."

The few examples cited above are apart from the IJT’s ongoing campaigns against Ahmediyas, celebration of New Year and Valentine’s Day and “forbidding progressive literature from the university libraries”.

The ABVP may not, as yet, be able to match the fine record of its Pakistani counter-part. But with the Modi-BJP-RSS-ABVP axis now in place who can say what lies ahead.

P.S.: In an article which may be accessed on SabrangIndia, Prathama Banerjee reports that in Gwalior a few days ago, a meeting organised by the Ambedkar Manch involving an Ambedkarite professor Vivek Kumar from JNU was attacked by ABVP members, who went on to not only fire gun-shots at the gathering but even burn the Indian Constitution, perhaps to avenge Ambedkar’s burning of the Manusmriti half a century ago!