By Anwarul Hoda:
“Candidate lobby ke piche, lobbyist candidate ke piche, it’s too much fun.” This is how a friend of mine characterises the Aligarh Muslim University Students Union (AMUSU) election . As the student election approaches, heat can be felt all around the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) campus. The students union election which happen every alternate year brings enthusiasm in the life of the students and results in a heavy headache for the administration.
Aligarh Muslim University not only has amazing infrastructure for the students union, but also a constitution which gives legitimacy to the institution. The body of the union comprises of the President, Vice President and a Secretary with a group of cabinet members. The Union hall of AMU has given world class leaders to several countries. The current Vice President of India is an alumus of AMU.
However, the only purpose of recalling the past is to measure the level of progress and compare it to the present. Anyway, presently AMU is not even close to the legacy it has built up over years. Currently, it is developing as an institution in a very negative manner. One will only understand when he is aware of the existing parasite of regionalism and how some old students keep on getting admitted in different courses, only to contest in the election so they can make their way into the regional politics of Uttar Pradesh. Broadly speaking, AMUSU election is seen by many as a ticket to mainstream politics.
Let me draw your attention to one more unique feature of the AMUSU. In AMU, election for the students union for undergraduate students in the Women’s College is held separately. Their student body is different from the main students union. This provision of separate student representatives along the lines of gender was brought back by the current Vice Chancellor Zameer Uddin Shah in 2012. The VC argues that Women’s College is distant from the main campus. So, they must have their own body for their affairs. Indian Express reported him saying, “This resulted in a massive disciplinary problem with members of the AMU Students Union barging into the Women’s College at odd hours on lame pretexts.”
A first year student from the Women’s college, who did not want to be named spoke to me. She differs with the Vice- Chancellor and has very strong views on it. She considers the separate elections a sign of bias and believes this is an attempt to deny women a bigger platform. She further elaborated and said, due to this segregation, the feeling of ‘not belonging‘ develops amongst women students. She questions the authorities by asking “If we are one university, then why do we have different unions?” She also asked the students of Women’s College to come out from their comfort zone. While there are many opinions, the neutral voices claim that a separate union for women’s college has both pros and cons depending upon individual perspectives.
Now, let’s turn towards the university administration. Besides this, the relation between candidates and the administration appears to be similar to that of ‘Tom and Jerry’. However, the drama this year began when the administration announced the schedule during the festivities of Eid. Calling the election during the festive season can also be interpreted as Tom does want Jerry to pick either kebab or an election ticket.
It’s not late to bring the real bosses of the election, ‘ladane wale’ (people who make others fight) into the discourse. The heads and activists of different regional lobbies are the main players. They decide the candidates and handle all the political tactics and rivalries. The burden of ensuring sponsorship also lies on the shoulders of these bosses. And the candidates become no more than the ‘show boys’. Election at AMU is all about a ‘pact’; managing different lobbies for a candidate.Whoever succeeds in mobilising maximum lobbies in one’s favour, ultimately limits the winning scope of their rivals. So, the election here is not decided over ideology or manifestos released but ‘jugaad’ or networking skills.
Another aspect which needs to be highlighted is the women’s participation in the election. The rate of participation is extremely low. This may be because there are two separate unions. Still, it needs to be discussed broadly among the Aligarh fraternity.
Let’s now turn to another side of the story. The story of change. Election this year does not seem to be on traditional lines. A large section of students are actively criticising and challenging the traditional ways of the election. Even a female candidate is participating for a chair and having great support in the campus. Many political candidates not affiliated to political parties are already in the field with the slogan of change to challenge the traditional masters.
The reason for such a change may be due to student movements across the country. Ideologically based elections at JNU and DU can also be seen as the drive for this change. However the efforts of the campus group ‘UnionForU’ in the year 2014 should also be praised. In the 2014 election they launched voters’ awareness campaign and successfully gave a strong setback to lobbyists due to their anti lobby campaign. Their candidate for the post of President registered the victory and appears as the hope and symbol for an anti lobby union.
I am very hopeful about this year’s election as the voices of common students are already very loud. Questions and discussions in the campus are shaping the election in a very desirable manner. So, this year, ‘tempo high hai’. It’s a slogan shouted in every election for the powerful candidates. However, this time it is high for the voters and not the candidates.