The National Students Union of India, the student wing of the Congress, celebrated its golden jubilee on Friday (9 April) by recalling the contributions of the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, under whose leadership the frontal organisation was launched in 1971. To mark the occasion, a poster of the former PM with Brij Mohan Bhama, one of the founding members flanking her, was released. Also on this day, Hari Shankar Gupta, former Delhi University Students’ Union president, the first NSUI nominee to be elected to any position in the capital, also released a letter signed by former NSUI chief Geetanjali Maken appointing him as the treasurer of the Delhi unit in 1977.

The NSUI has come a long way since its inception and has produced several distinguished leaders including Rangarajan Kumaramanglam, the founding president, K.C. Joseph, Harikesh Bahadur, Ashok Gehlot, Anand Sharma, Mukul Wasnik, Ramesh Chenithala, Ajay Maken and Manish Tewari amongst others. Soon after the Congress split in 1969, and Babu Jagjivan Ram was appointed the president of the Congress owing allegiance to Indira Gandhi with Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna as his general secretary, a need was felt to have a students’ wing of the party to oppose the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student arm of the RSS, as well as the Samajwadi Yuvjan Sabha (Socialist Party), the All India Students Federation (CPI) and the Students Federation of India (CPM). Bahuguna was successful in getting Indira Gandhi’s approval and the organisation was founded under the name of National Union Of Students at a convention attended by four of its founding members—Rangarajan, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Vyalar Ravi and Brij Mohan Bhama, then an upcoming student leader of Delhi. However, in 1972-73, the NUS was renamed as the NSUI with Rangarajan as the first president and Harikesh Bahadur, K.C. Joseph and Pradeep Bhattacharya as general secretaries. The body was expanded by including Ram Kumar Bhargava as general secretary and Rohit Bal Vohra (Pappu) as the secretary besides Raman Chopra as office secretary.

The NSUI contested its first DUSU election by fielding Mool Chand Sharma against the present VHP chief, Alok Kumar, in 1973-74 and a year later by declaring Bhama as its candidate to oppose Arun Jaitley of the ABVP. In Delhi, it became a force under the leadership of Deepak Malhotra, who was ably assisted by Prem Swarup Nayyar, Vijay Lochav, Kewal Krishan Handa, Kavita Mehra and subsequently by Sunil Chopra and Mehmood Zia. The NSUI was also patronised by Nasikrao Tirupude and Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra. Tirupude was able to assist Satish Chaturvedi to get elected as the president of the Nagpur University despite a stiff challenge from the ABVP in the RSS bastion. Geetanjali was elected as the president of the Bhopal University Students Union.  After Rangarajan, the NSUI was headed by Mohan Gopal, till recently a close aide of Rahul Gandhi and then by Geetanjali Maken. Deepak Malhotra, Anand Sharma and Imran Kidwai were its principal leaders with Ashok Gehlot heading the Rajasthan unit. In fact, when Gehlot was declared as the Rajasthan chief, Rohit Bal Vohra, drove all the way to Jaipur to deliver his appointment letter personally to him. Gehlot never forgot this gesture and when Vohra passed away in 2011, he flew especially from Jaipur to attend his funeral. Such were the bonds.

In Delhi, the NSUI tasted success for the first time in 1978 with Hari Shankar Gupta as its candidate. The losing ABVP nominee, Surendra Pushkarna, committed suicide. A mystery in the Congress is that Hari Shankar despite being a great organisation man has never been considered for heading the Delhi Congress which badly needs a person of his calibre. The NSUI saga in the university had begun and in 1985, Ajay Maken and a year after him, Madan Singh Bisht were elected DUSU presidents. The Congress, if it wishes to revive itself, must strengthen its frontal organisations. And when it celebrates its momentous occasions, it must not forget to invite its former members and office bearers. All of them had, in their own ways, played a role in the evolution of the NSUI.