The Kerala Students’ Union, or KSU as it is commonly known, is the premier student organization in the state of Kerala. Right from its inception in 1957, it played a leading role in giving the student community of the state a new vision, outlook and a platform for creative academic and social interventions.
KSU entered the center stage of student politics in Kerala with the famous “Orana Samaram”, a strike for travel concessions for students in buses and boats owned by the state. The ruling Communist government of the state lead by EMS Namboodiripad used an iron fist in dealing with the agitation including widespread arrests and police attacks on students throughout the state. However the brave warriors of KSU did not give up and the agitation was a huge success. The government had to relent to the demands of students and allowed travel concessions to students in all buses.
From then onwards, the growth of KSU was tremendous. KSU became a “fashion” among the student community and with incessant struggles; the organization could achieve many milestones of achievements. Unification of fees in government and private schools and colleges, constitution of college unions and university unions through regular elections, university arts festivals, representation for students in the senate, syndicate and academic councils of universities, eradication of detention system, free education up to the plus two level etc. are only a few examples among the vast variety of achievements to its credit. Thousands of students had to shed their sweat and blood on the streets to achieve these, and the greatest of them like Sudhakar Akkithai, Santharam Shenoy, Thevara Murali, Francis Karippayi and K.P. Sajithlal had to even lay their lives.
Though KSU regularly took up academic issues and put up agitations to achieve the rights of students, its effect was not restricted to the academic field alone. It is perhaps the first student movement in the country, which could overthrow a ruling state government. The communist oppressive regime of EMS, which had proved to be a threat to the constitutional democracy of the country, was thrown out of office through the agitations and relentless efforts of KSU in 1960. In the 1970’s, KSU played its decisive role in retaining the faith of student community in our constitutional machinery and non-violent means of social change, in the days when Naxalism and armed adventures had many takers in our college campuses. The organization became a watchdog of idealism in politics and it could bring an end to the ‘aayaram gayaram’ syndrome of Kerala politics of the 1950s. Many of its former leaders like A.K. Antony, Vayalar Ravi, Oommen Chandy, A.C.Jose, V.M.Sudheeran, G.Karthikeyan and Ramesh Chennithala are still the darlings of millions of people. KSU injected fresh blood into the Congress party and a whole generation of new leaders entered into the political arena, a lot of them to become M.P.s, M.L.A.s and even Chief Ministers.
KSU was always a role model for other democratic student organizations of the country. Even the NSUI was formed at the national level taking inspiration from KSU in Kerala and the ‘Chhatra parishad’ in West Bengal.
But KSU suffered some setbacks after the emergency period (1975-77) and consequent split in the Congress party. By then, factionalism in the Congress party peeped into this organization also, which weakened KSU. This was exploited by SFI, ABVP and other communal organizations to a considerable extent. However they could not attract the same level of acceptance of the students and their parents alike, as the KSU was able to do in its times of glory. These organizations tried to criminalize campus politics and derogated it of its charm and values. KSU workers are widely attacked in the campuses and they are not given freedom to work and campaign. However, KSU still retains its position as the biggest democratic student organization attracting support of a substantial section of the student community.
KSU always stood for upholding and protecting the rights of the student community irrespective of who rules, and it continues this legacy even today. It put up a series of agitations against the corruption in plus two schools allotment policy of the previous LDF government and is now going ahead with agitations against the irregularities in the self-financing institutions policy of the present government. A brave war front was also put up against the attempt to “Marxistise” school textbooks and the government eventually had to concede to our demands.
Under the leadership of Shri. Rahul Gandhi as the AICC general secretary in charge of NSUI, the organization is witnessing a comprehensive change in all its outlooks and prepares to be a democratic space where the new generation students could rediscover themselves and manifest the leadership inherent in them. KSU conducted a full-fledged organizational election in 2009 and is now perhaps the only student organization which has its committees from the unit level to the state level formed through the most transparent and legitimate election process. Our commitment to the ideals of true democracy and individual freedom makes us different from others who wear masks of freedom and democracy only to conceal their ugly fascist faces.