Campus elections: Party time is over
The face of student politics may never be the same. With the Supreme Court’s recent order on the implementation of the Lyngdoh Committee report, money and muscle power is likely to get leaner in campus elections. More transparency, accountability and discipline will also be ensured.
Smriti Kak Ramachandran gets the reactions of present and former student leaders and men from academia to the order that is set to stamp out the dark side of campus politics.
Poll reforms shall restrain big spenders and undesirable campus goings-on.
— Photo by Mukesh Aggarwal
process is a job that Ramon Magsaysay awardee James Michael
Lyngdoh knows all too well. Having stood his ground during the
Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir elections that won him both
bouquets and brickbats, the former Chief Election Commissioner
was roped in to reform student elections that have become
notorious for money, muscle and even murder.
intrinsic part of everybody’s college years, student union
elections have graduated from campus debates to a struggle
between political parties over the control of the youth, a
potent pawn to net the bigger game.
The frenzy, the
finances and the fury that union elections bring with them
became reason for the Supreme Court to direct the Union Human
Resource Development Ministry to set up a committee to examine
what ails present-day campus politics.
Committee — set up to dissect, diagnose and design a remedy
— has come up with a series of far-reaching recommendations
that are expected to change the face of students’ politics.
Curbs & checks
The following are some of
the recommendations offered by the Lyngdoh Committee:
5,000 limit on election expenses per candidate
printed posters, printed pamphlets or any other
printed material for the purpose of canvassing will be
to be held on a yearly basis and the same should be
held between six and eight weeks from the date of
commencement of the academic session.
a view to prevent the inflow of funds from political
parties into the students’ elections, the candidates
are specially barred from utilising funds from any
other source than voluntary contribution from the
academic arrears for the candidates in the year of
per cent attendance record or the minimum prescribed
by university, whichever is higher
age limit of the candidate is fixed at 28 years for
- Student representation
should be regulated by a statute either central, state
or individual university statute.
the Committee has frowned upon the marriage of convenience
between mainstream political parties and students’ factions.
The Lyngdoh Committee report accepted by the Supreme Court to
frame guidelines on student elections today is favoured by not
just teachers threatened by the increasing violence against them
but has also found support among those in the civil society, who
stood witness to the murkier side of student politics.
The death of a
professor in Ujjain, the vandalism at a Vice-Chancellor’s
residence in Meerut or blackening the face of a teacher in
Mumbai — incidents such as these have pushed the country to
debate whether student politics, as it prevails, is desirable at
teachers continue to be beaten up by students then elections
should be a no-no. There is a need to reform the system. If a
teacher is guilty, there are punishments that can be doled out,
but being beaten up by students is not acceptable," says
Prof Surinder Nath, Head of the Anthropology Department, Delhi
In the face of criticism,
student leaders and their political patrons are trying to
salvage the tarnished image of politics on the campus. "It
is incorrect to say that students — who at 18 have the power
and the sense to cast their vote for assembly and parliamentary
elections — should not be allowed to form unions in
colleges," says Vijay Goel, who was the BJP’s MP from
Delhi’s Chandni Chowk.
Having been a
student union leader in 1977, Goel welcomes the initiative to
decriminalise student politics but says he is against keeping
political parties out of campus elections.
recommendation to keep political parties out has for once got
the Congress and the BJP to talk the same language.
claim that their "presence is to foster the future
leadership of the country". They claim that in a democracy
where students fight elections based on ideology, political
parties are like a "source of inspiration". In other
words, they insist that the umbilical chord cannot be snapped.
With both the
Lyngdoh Committee and students taking divergent views on the
issue, a middle path offered by others calls for students to
maintain their identity and not end up as playthings of any
factions need to be more autonomous, they should not receive
funding, but can share ideology. At the end of the day they
should be able to question their party, otherwise they would end
up as agents," offers Tyler Walker Williams, a US national
who is a counsellor at the School of Languages, Literature and
Cultural Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
The proposal to
have indirect elections is being seen as a move to "kill
student activism". Says K K Ragesh, all-India president of
the Students’ Federation of Indian (SFI), "Ours is an
independent organisation and it is our prerogative to invite a
political leader during electioneering. While there is need to
eradicate violence and criminalisation of student politics, we
must remember that it is in the interest of private managements
to put an end to student movement."
The SFI, which is
aligned to the CPM, has expressed scepticism over the proposal
to have indirect elections. "It is not quite correct to
dismantle student bodies because unlike candidates from a
particular organisation, you cannot hold an individual
accountable," says Albina Shakeel, former JNUSU president
and SFI activist.
Now will there be an end to hi-fi electioneering? —
Photo by Mukesh Aggarwal
recommendation that has caused a furore amongst students is one
that limits the candidates’ election spending to a mere Rs
5,000. This, Goel claims, is even less than what they spent more
than 25 years ago.
"How can they
say Rs 5,000? How did they decide the amount? Can a university
like Delhi be compared to one in Patna or West Bengal? In Delhi
where a candidate has to canvass in 52 college spread all over
the city, can Rs 5,000 be enough to meet even the petrol
bills," asks the ABVP’s state general secretary, Nakul
One of the big
spenders, the National Students Union of India (NSUI), which
plans to become a party to the case, says the amount is
"unrealistic". "There is a need to understand how
electioneering varies in each college, not to mention
universities. In Delhi alone, the elections in different
varsities are vastly different. If you can drive home the
message with hand-painted posters in JNU, you need thousands of
coloured posters just to acquaint the students with the
candidates in DU, because it is huge and scattered," points
out NSUI spokesperson Kuntal Krishna.
Their argument is
rubbished by Lyngdoh who claims he has arrived upon the figure
after "wider consultations". "When we went across
the country, we met hundreds of people and the impression that
we were given was that Rs 5,000 should be enough. We have
interacted with reasonable people."
counters the argument that students involved in politics should
be exempted from the mandatory minimum attendance and the focus
should not be on academic excellence. "I thought
universities are meant to be competitive places," he
expressed by the students and their leaders aside, the Lyngdoh
Committee’s report is being perceived as one designed to
ensure transparency, accountability and discipline in the
Islamic Organisation of India (SIO), for instance, welcomes the
suggestions. National SIO president S. Zameer Quadri says the
recommendations given "would certainly bring transparency
and would ensure free and fair elections."
Quadri hopes the
guidelines would "prepare better leaders for the country as
it would inculcate democratic credentials in the students".
that calls for having an age limit (between 18 and 25 years) for
the candidate has also won public approval.
When Lyngdoh says
"there is no scope for hangers-on", there is hardly
"It is only
fair to have an age bar. In my college the candidate contesting
for the president’s post was already married. He had by then
even graduated thrice. How can students identify with such
candidates," questions S Abhilash, who works for an MNC.
"It was a
practice that needed to be eradicated. Students just kept
getting admission in different courses in different colleges,
just to remain eligible for contesting elections. The Buddhist
Studies Department in DU had a problem on its hands when the
contestants began demanding admission only to meet the
eligibility," points out a senior official of the
The only protest
over the age limit has come from research scholars in JNU, who
feel they have been barred from participation in campus
politics. "There should be some relaxation in JNU where
researchers are between 26 and 30 years. Why should they be left
out?" Mathew, a JNU student who is also an NSUI activist,
The list of
complaints runs long. The ABVP election manager for the recently
conducted DUSU poll, Rajeev Babber, comes up with this,
"The Lyngdoh Committee report should not remain silent on
issues like dummy candidates and permission to use
criticism and the counter arguments are basically noise, being
instigated by political parties. The very fact that the Congress
in Delhi appointed senior party functionaries like Ashok Gehlot
to ensure they win the elections speaks aloud of the interest
that political parties have in student union elections. Which
political party does not want the youth on its side? And when
you can predict in the national Capital whether a party will win
or lose the assembly and parliamentary elections based on the
performance of its youth wings in universities, can they afford
to not invest time and money," argues a senior functionary
Pointing out that
"guidelines are necessary than ever before", he says,
"It should not require a Lyngdoh Committee to remind people
that students behave like hoodlums, extracting money,
intimidating voters, flaunting their money and muscle and even
boasting of getting away with murder. Prof H.S. Sabharwal’s
death in Ujjain is still a raw wound and public memory should
not be so short."