When policy trumps politics

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Unaustere campaign Lyngdoh norms are openly flouted in Delhi University Students Union polls every year. Photo: Pushkar Vyas
Unaustere campaign Lyngdoh norms are openly flouted in Delhi University Students Union polls every year. Photo: Pushkar Vyas

The Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus in Delhi once found its way into the heart of a leaked internal American secret communication. Referring to the campus as the “the Kremlin on the Jumna”, the leaked cable described the university as the centre of the Indian Left’s soft power with a “politically and intellectually charged” student body.

However, in the wake of the 2015 Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) election results, there is a strong sense of defeat in the air. “I think this election has made the impact of Lyngdoh visible and the results are a culmination of the depoliticisation of the campus,” says Umar Khalid, member of the Democratic Students Union (DSU) and the struggle committee against Lyngdoh. “At the School of International Studies (SIS), for instance, five councillors from five different organisations have been elected to power. Also, after a decade or more, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a right-wing organisation, has been elected to the central panel,”

Following a Supreme Court order of 2 December 2005, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) constituted a committee under JM Lyngdoh, former Election Commissioner, to examine certain aspects of the elections to student bodies in college and university campuses and make recommendations. The committee then submitted its report, following which the Supreme Court directed all colleges and universities to implement the recommendations.

Among other things, the Lyngdoh committee recommendations (LCR) were aimed at putting an end to the alleged criminalisation in student union elections and bring in financial transparency in the elections. Observing that campus spaces had become a “blot on the concept of politics”, the report was an effort to do away with campus politics itself as it allegedly ‘disrupted’ education. On 24 October 2008, the Supreme Court stayed the student union election in JNU since the students had fielded candidates breaching the new rules. Apart from ensuring that no organisation spends more than Rs 5,000 on campaigning, Lyngdoh had suggested age restrictions for candidates. It had also stated that no one should be allowed to contest twice for the central panel.

“When the court imposed a stay on the JNUSU elections, we had called a general body meeting where the students voted against Lyngdoh. For three years, we fought Lyngdoh,” says Kanhaiya Kumar, the newly elected JNUSU president. “The Lyngdoh Committee had praised the JNUSU model of election and had expressed how it could be a model for other campuses. Yet the court maintained that the university must follow the LCR.” The stay order was withdrawn in 2012 after the political organisations agreed to follow the LCR with a few relaxations.

Ever since, the campus has been following the LCR model both in letter and spirit. “Lyngdoh managed to depoliticise the campus so much that students were barely aware of the ‘new activists’ who contested each year,” points out Khalid. “Not just that, it denied those students who joined university education late the right to contest. For example, students coming from a madrasa background cannot contest because they would be too old according to the LCR. If the sole intention was to keep muscle and money power of the parties away from the campus, then why is Delhi University (DU) allowed to violate the LCR guidelines in broad daylight every year?”

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