Curbing campus Politics is Undemocratic

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Banning students union elections is not the way to free varsities from the clutches of money power and vested interests

By Roshan Kishore

Illustration: Anand Naorem

THOUSANDS OF students and youth are occupying Wall Street in protest against the policies that have plunged the capitalist world in a deep crisis. Students have played a major role in the recent upsurges in Chile, Europe and the Arab world. The generation that grew up under the hegemony of the TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor, careerism and denigration of student politics in colleges is beginning to challenge these very notions today.

In India, only a small fraction of the youth is enrolled in institutions of higher learning. Neo-liberal policies are taking education beyond the reach of the common man. For all the economic growth we are told about, inequality and unemployment continue to rise. The student movement in India has a glorious legacy, right from the days of the freedom struggle. The recent anti-graft protests saw a growing participation by students and youth.

However, any discussion about the student movement wouldn’t be complete without discussing the disdain with which it has been seen in the neo-liberal times. The Birla-Ambani report and the proposed Model Act sought to curb student politics altogether. The subsequent Lyngdoh Committee report made recommendations for the conduct of students union elections. The stated intent was to free unions from the corrosive influence of money and muscle power. It formulated guidelines regarding eligibility criterion for candidates and for the conduct of students union elections. The only silver lining in the report was that elections should be held in all educational institutions, including private ones.

However, five years down the line, it is clear that the latter recommendation has been ignored and the former has been implemented in a mechanical and selective manner. The biggest example of this is the case of JNU. It is ironical that the Lyngdoh report was cited by the Supreme Court to stay elections to the JNU Students Union (JNUSU). The JNUSU has been one of the best examples of students politics in our country, which is based on substantive issues and is free from the influence of money or muscle power. Since 2008, JNU students have been fighting an arduous battle for the restoration of their basic right to conduct elections.

Today, a majority of the Central universities don’t have an elected students union

By contrast, in places where the Lyngdoh recommendations are being implemented, no drastic changes have taken place. The implementation has meant a mechanical adherence to restrictions on candidature, which are the easiest to implement. Money and muscle power flow through different routes. In this year’s Delhi University elections, there was an incident of stabbing between two factions of the same party in the university campus. On polling day, Union ministers and senior leaders of major political parties were seen supervising the last moment “management” and campaign.

Today, a majority of the Central universities, including Jamia Millia Islamia, don’t have an elected students union. Often, demand for an elected union is met with repression. Recently, Allahabad Central University students, who were agitating for elections, were lathicharged. The West Bengal government has issued an ordinance putting an end to student representation in the executive council of universities.

Banning elections is not the way to free campuses from the clutches of money- muscle power and vested interests. It is imperative that both the government and the courts take steps to democratise student life in colleges. In times when students and youth are taking firm steps to ensure a better future for their people in countries across the world, our country too requires the active participation of youth.

A popular slogan of students in JNU is: “When politics decides your future, decide what your politics must be.” It is only in a free and democratic environment that the students and youth can set right many of the ills that plague our country today.

Roshan Kishore is President, SFI Delhi state committee. 
[email protected]

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