A failing game of... money, muscle & caste
Earlier, student politics meant something. For example, during freedom struggle students were one of the main cogs in the wheel of India’s protracted war against the Raj. Be it in the Non-Cooperation, the Civil Disobedience or the Quit India movement, students in thousands led processions, organised hartals and courted arrest. Besides, the legend of Master Surya Sen and his students are etched on stones in the annals of history.
Even after independence, especially in 1960s and 1970s students’ politics rocked the country. It would not be an exaggeration to state that to a great extent India’s current political landscape is more or less shaped by student politics of the 1970s.
The fact that the current ruling parties BJP, along with others, had their genesis in the students’ movement in Bihar and Gujarat in mid-1970s which later flourished into the famous JP movement. The Emergency, imposed by Indira Gandhi after the JP movement, assumed country-wide proportion, led to the emergence of opposition parties in the Congress-dominated post-independence India. This brings us to my initial thought... Student politics meant something then.
Given the legendary history of politics in educational institutions, the image of the current political scenario in Delhi University (DU) does not inspire confidence. Far from steering discourse on nationally important issues the students politics on the DU campus has been reduced to circles of elections where crores are being spent. In this splurge of resources, it becomes very difficult to say whether Congress-backed National Students Union of India (NSUI) or the BJP-supported Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) is the winner.
The elections in the campus have been reduced to two-Ms: Money and muscle. Elections in the University are held for four posts in Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU), the official student body recognised by the University as the representative of the students. However, a closer analysis of the Union reveals that it the four posts are not as representative as those involved in it make us believe.
The primary reason for its unrepresentativeness is the over-representation of a few castes in the union. Two castes, Jats and Gujjars, have been at the helms of many affairs, with Yadavs just being able to squeeze in, making elections in the varsity nothing but a game of ugly caste-based politics.
The genesis of the caste-based politics lies in the introduction of the OBC quota. It would be immature to blame the constitutionally mandated reservation of 27 per cent seats in various courses for this degeneration of the student politics to a caste-based quagmire. It is in fact the non-implementation of the “creamy-layer” rule in the OBC quota by the University administration. “This has created a situation where “deserving” candidates from OBC categories have been denied admission under the quota.
Ironically at the same time Delhi’s economic elite from urban villages belonging to the Gujjar and Jat communities have been getting easy entry. They use their admissions tickets, first to contest Delhi University polls and then flaunt their success in students’ politics for political positions at a higher level,” said an expert on campus politics.
To bring the above assertion to perspective, all Presidents of the students’ union from previous years have been either Jats or Gujjars. ABVP’s Gujjar Jitendra Chaudhary was President in 2010 NSUI’s Jat Ajay Chikara became one the next year. Another NSUI Arun Hooda, a Jat, served as president in 2012 and a Gujjar Aman Awana of ABVP a year after. Similarly, 2014 and 2015 also had ABVP Gujjar president.
Panel announced by both the parties for this year’s election was held on September 9 stayed true to the caste-ridden characteristic. For the four central panel seats, ABVP had put up two Gujjar candidates, one Yadav and one Jat. Similarly, NSUI’s panel consists of one member each from Jat, Gujjar, Yadav and Dalit communities. Eventually in the results declared on September 10, Gujjar Amit Tanwar of ABVP defeated NSUI’s Yadav candidate.
These rich urban students politicians, apparently from OBCs, bring money and manpower to the table, which becomes a primary criterion in the final selection of the candidates by the student wings. “Parties select local candidates because of money and muscle power.
Most of the men who campaign for candidates are not DU students, but from the urban villages of Delhi, where these two communities constitutes majority. Another factor is that if the candidates are non-Jats and non-Gujjars, students from these communities in various colleges will not allow non-Jat or non-Gujjar candidates to enter their respective colleges to canvass votes,” said a senior ABVP member requesting anonymity. “I don’t think that these two communities make more than 10 per cent of the total student strength of DU.
But because of fact that they are widely visible makes them appear in a majority in the campus,” he added. This caste-determined elections are far different from the 1970s and 1980s when hostel residents with modest family backgrounds used to get tickets from the students parties. Participatory expressive representation of the students is completely missing in the University.
The preponderance of two-castes in campus politics has led to a lack of interest of serious students in campus politics. Those who are part of the election process are generally students who exist only for the cause of politics. With the voting percentage not crossing a mere 45 per cent since ages, this year’s elections was an abysmal 36 per cent. The turnout faced a dip of seven per cent from last year’s 43.3 per cent. If one is to conduct a study to find out the profile of those who go to vote, it is expected that the majorities of them will be Jats and Gujjar .
This year DU administration introduced a NOTA option, a longstanding demand of a section of students. As many as 5,616 (highest among the four posts) have been polled for the post of secretary, amounting to 12.6 per cent vote share. For the post of president, 6.3 per cent vote share, totaling 3,021 votes. The NOTA vote share for the vice-president was 8.8 per cent and joint secretary post was 11.4 per cent.
“I have selected the NOTA option as I have seen how the elected candidates vanish after elections. In a way, the NOTA is liberating as we have the option to release our anger by rejecting all the candidates,” said Anjali, a third year student of Kirori Mal College.
Another reason why DUSU is not the embodiment of the ‘general will’ of the students is that many colleges are not part of the student’s union. Out of 67 colleges affiliated with the DU, only 42 are associated with DUSU. Apart from professional colleges, elite colleges like St. Stephens and Lady Sri Ram College are not affiliated with central elections. These colleges only have internal college polls.
Given this, it would be wrong to call it the representative of students of the varsity. “The show of strength by those associated with politics in the campus and the ensuing hooliganism and vandalism is the cause why some colleges don’t want to associate with the Central Union,” said a Delhi University professor.
Nor are the researchers, M Phil and PhD, part of the poll process. They cannot vote and nor can they stand for position. The Lyngdoh committee had called universities to include researchers in the process.
However, the administration has failed to follow this simple guideline. When LCRs were adopted in 2008 by the administration, none of the candidates were researchers. So the university didn’t bother to franchise the researchers. Here, it must be noted that research students do not make more than 10 per cent of the total voters and will be a deciding factor in the overwhelmingly graduate university. But if they are allowed to run for posts, at least the quality of post-holders may improve.
Over the years, a big gap has emerged in the expectation and actual work of the DUSU. Rowdy and immature students have won leadership positions in the union. These student leaders lack the necessary administrative prowess and are clueless when they win a position. DU administration is answerable to student leaders.
The real question is: Do these minnows have the capacity to ask questions and demand accountability from the administration? No! Which is exactly why the administration does not take student representatives seriously.
It is time that the Students’ Union goes in for a complete makeover... Before it’s too late.
''I have selected the NOTA option as I have seen how the elected candidates vanish after elections. In a way, the NOTA is liberating as we have the option to release our anger by rejecting all the candidates''- Anjali, Student, Kirori Mal College.