In the 1970s when the Congress was in the middle of transformation from a party of a democrat (Jawaharlal Nehru) to that of an authoritarian (Indira Gandhi), the clash between the government and students had shaped the national politics in a big way.
Students' protests led to total revolution against Indira Gandhi in the 1970s
The students' movements in states like Gujarat and Bihar in 1973-4 had evolved into a big challenge for the then Indira Gandhi government, which resorted to the ultimate act of declaring an Emergency in June 1975. [Gomata vs Gopalan: The fierce Left-right conflict in India with none to balance]
But the establishment's iron-hand policy in dealing with the students' protest (the days even saw deaths of students in police firing in Bhopal in August 1973) had seen the rise of a gigantic figure in JP Narayan, who went on to lead a total revolution against the government at the Centre.
FTII, Hyderabad university, JNU... list is getting longer
In 2016, though there is no formal emergency, but the way the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre has been handling issues in educational institutions (FTII, Hyderabad University, JNU) over the last one year or so, there is every possibility of things going out of control in no time and recreate a unstable scenario similar to that which had prevailed in the late 1960s and early 1970s in India.
Targeting a democratically elected student leader was suicidal
The JNU episode could particularly invite a real danger for the Modi government, thanks to the unneccesary escalation on the issue of "anti-national protests" and allowing police action against the students. Targeting Kanhaiya Kumar, an elected member of the university's students' union, proved that the rulers of the day are not ready to lose even the slightest of opportunity to capitalise on emotive and not substantial issues to prove their worth as true sons of the nation. But in doing so, they put the same democracy that gave them a chance to rule India two years ago in danger.
Now, next parliamentary session will certainly be disrupted: Who will lose?
The way some of the top central ministers spoke on the issue made it evident that they banked more on arrogance than a democratic mindset to write off the students' radical thought process, something which is common in all countries and all ages. Now, if the Opposition parties continue to create more ruckus in the next parliamentary session and derail the government's programme for economic reforms, then who will be responsible in the first place? Didn't PM Modi give it a thought to protect his own legacy?
Today's Oppn has no ability to match JP Narayan; Modi is lucky
However, while speaking on the Opposition, it had the best opportunity to do a JP now by backing the students, always a strong constituency, and connect the sentiments that were outraged in Pune, Hyderabad and New Delhi. But so far, little activism has been seen on their part excepting the routine lashing out at the Modi regime in the media.
The BJP and Sangh elements have tried to hide real issues with emotive ones
By stressing on the national and anti-national in black and white terms, the hard elements of the BJP and Sangh areactually trying to hide the high-profile government's yet-to-achieve success in stopping cross-border terrorism and effecting economic turnaorund. But by going after soft targets like students on emotive issues will help their (or rather Modi's) cause, a little.
Modi will feel lucky enough that there is no JP around in India today---somebody who had given a strong leader like Indira Gandhi sleepless nights. But he should also make it a point to rein in the over-enthusiastic elements of his government to safeguard his own legacy against a mass grievance, which in the absence of a proper political leadership to channelise it, could turn the democracy into an anarchy.