One of the biggest scams in this age of neoliberal depoliticization is the institutional caricature of student politics that is the ‘Youth Parliament’. Are you a young adult, intellectually curious and interested in politics? Don’t join an actual student organization or political party that can impact real life – come and play make-believe politics in a sanitized and class-insulated atmosphere that will look great on your CV, with an elaborate pretense of making a difference!
In different circumstances, perhaps they (and their cousins, the equally ubiquitous and insufferable Model UNs) could be seen as an innocuous extra-curricular endeavor for hormonally-charged young people out to have a good time. But in an era of mass depoliticization where political and military elites have run amok while students are told to ‘stay out of politics’ (in Pakistan’s case, through an absurd, now 30-year old student union ban) these NGO-led simulations of politics are far from harmless. They wean away students who should be asking actual questions of those in power and teach them that politics is not about challenging the status-quo but engaging in elaborate parliamentary (or diplomatic) pantomime. Instead of getting students to question why the state bans them from organizing, they engage them in mock ‘electoral campaigns’ for the presidency, prime ministership and other meaningless positions of meaningless bodies, where they pass countless ‘resolutions’ that do not have the faintest echo outside the exclusive auditoriums they take place in.
I remember having a taste of this insulated idiocy at LUMS during the 2007 Anti-Emergency movement. While some of us were getting arrested and beat up every other day by police for protesting against a fucking martial law in which literally thousands had been jailed, LUMS’ Model UN society was getting ready to host its annual MUN extravaganza, in which hundreds of students from across the country would be congregating. Naturally, we thought it may be a good opportunity to get a message across to Pakistani students and get them to think about what was going on in the country, so we approached the organizers to get them to, if nothing else, center just one of their many ‘debates’ around the Emergency currently imposed on the country. Their response? Sorry, but we don’t want to make our event unnecessarily controversial. Yes, of course, God forbid your students actually contemplate what is going on in the society they are living in.
There is nothing wrong with having your own little club or society where you hone your debating skills and get a chance to make trips abroad. But please let’s not assign it a higher social or political purpose beyond what it actually is – an elaborate exercise to brandish on your CV for your next interview at Deloitte or Unilever. A cursory look at the career paths of most former MUN-ers and Youth-Parliamentarians suffices for an evaluation of how much of their ‘political’ training they are actually putting to use.
We don’t need to ‘prepare students for the future’ through sanitized simulation. We need them to be engaged in the messy grime of real politics right now.