Student activism has never been far removed from mainstream politics, although the JNU row has made more people notice it. Here is a list of some politicians who started off as student leaders.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley joined the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the students’ wing of the RSS, as a law student in Delhi University, and became Delhi University Students’ Union president in 1974. His participation in the Jai Prakash Narain-led “Total Revolution” in 1973 and his subsequent preventive detention during the Emergency earned him repute in the Jan Sangh, which he joined after his release. When the BJP was formed in 1980, he was inducted as the secretary of the party’s Delhi unit.
Former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Yadav’s political journey started when he became the Patna University Students’ Union general secretary in 1970. He also became its president in 1973. Under the banner of Jai Prakash Narain’s student movement called the “Bihar Movement”, Lalu fought against rising prices, corruption and unemployment in the state, while also spearheading Bihar Chhatra Sangharsh Samiti as its president.
CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury became politically active after he joined JNU to pursue his PhD in Economics. He became a member of the Student’s Federation of India (SFI), the student wing of the CPM, in 1974, and a year later he joined the parent party too. His protests as an SFI member during the Emergency and his subsequent arrest paved the way for him to become JNUSU’s president.
Minister of Chemicals and Fertilisers Ananth Kumar became an ABVP member in 1977 while studying at the Karnataka University. He spearheaded the “save campus movement” and went on to become the national secretary of the ABVP.
CPM leader Prakash Karat, then a student at the University of Edinburgh in the UK, campaigned against apartheid under the guidance of his professor and Marxist historian Victor Kierman. He followed his activism when he joined JNU as a PhD scholar after returning to India in 1970. As a founding member of the SFI, he helped in introducing Marxist politics on campus. During the Emergency, he went underground to mobilise people and was arrested twice. Karat was elected as JNU’s student union president from SFI twice between 1974 and 1979. He joined the CPM later.
ARIF MOHAMMAD KHAN:
He was the general secretary of the Aligarh Muslim University Students’ Union from 1971 to 1972 and its president from 1972 to 1973. This helped his foray into mainstream politics.
As a student leader in Jogamaya Devi College in Kolkata, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee established the Chhatra Parishad Unions, the students’ wing of the Congress (I) which defeated the Democratic Students’ Union of the Socialist Unity Centre of India. This elevated her from a ground worker of the Congress to becoming the general secretary of its Youth Wing within a short period of three to four years.
MADAN LAL KHURANA:
This BJP leader and former CM of Delhi became the general secretary of the Allahabad Students Union in 1959 and then the general secretary of the ABVP in 1960. He founded the Delhi chapter of the Jan Sangh which metamorphosed into the BJP in 1980.
Goel was an RSS member who was jailed during the Emergency. His anti-government struggle, however, helped him secure the president’s post in DUSU in 1977 as an ABVP candidate.
JAGAT PRAKASH NADDA:
During the JP movement, Nadda tried his hand in politics while doing graduation from Patna University. He participated in anti-Emergency demonstrations as a Chhatra Sangharsh Samiti member and became the ABVP secretary in 1977 and then the national president of the Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha in 1991.
DPCC president Ajay Maken was active in politics since his Delhi University days. He became DUSU president in 1985 as an NSUI member and joined the Congress eventually.
Ashok Gehlot joined the NSUI and became president of its Rajasthan unit in 1974, cementing his role in national politics.