DUSU elections are here, and the view that greets the eye on entering University Campuses speak volumes about the effort put in by student-run political parties. Delhi University Student’s Union elections are going to be held on September 9 and Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), having been in power for two years in succession already, could well be preparing itself for a hattrick.
At the same time, the issues raised by National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) this year seem to be as promising as the ones brought up by ABVP. If the NSUI wins and even kick-starts process for implementation of some of the demands made through the party’s manifesto before the session ends, it would prove to be quite favourable for them. Tracing its way back to early 1970s and the Indian National Congress, NSUI brings out several key issues that trouble students on a regular basis. From greater support to athletes and increase in number of housing facilities for students, to stringent measures for women’s safety, the party seems to be at par with other political contenders in their enthusiasm to eliminate some basic problems prevalent in the campuses.
It seems ironical that two of the main parties in DUSU elections wish to promote equality and protection for their female counterparts, yet shy away from revolting against regressive rules followed by all the PGs and hostels in the University. After all, how much freedom can a girl really exercise within an academic arena, if a few female journalists cannot ask questions on ‘Sexual Preferences and Safety’ without being harassed by police officials and party members? (The two journalists, from The Quint, were taken to police station for asking ‘indecent questions’ and ‘corrupting young minds.’) If changes are not sought from the ground level, what use will superficial improvements be of?
However, what also catches attention in NSUI’s manifesto is the demand to roll back Choice Based Credit System (CBCS). Quite like the Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP), CBCS too ran into controversy before its official implementation. In their own words,“CBCS seeks to violate the very idea of pluralism and heterogeneity that is the bedrock of India as a nation. It is designed to take away the autonomy of all Central Universities. CBCS is also a misnomer because instead of increasing the number of choices with respect to the subject papers, the same have been limited to 14 since, the syllabus is pre-decided for all the educational institutions, (and) the promise of ‘Choice’ is farcical.”
Considering that the University seems to have already settled into the ways framed under the new system, it would prove to be very challenging for party leaders to rehash the debate and revoke CBCS. Moreover, unlike ABVP members who claimed to have “successfully mobilised students and teachers”, and “rolled back FYUP” last year, NSUI is yet to start on their agenda for eliminating CBCS.
What also stood out from other demands was an appeal for “Earn While You Learn” wherein NSUI would get the University to “issue guidelines to all the colleges to start providing short-term jobs for their students who are in need of financial aid”. Going by the limited opportunities available to students to earn their own living, this demand, if successfully executed, would bring laurels for the party. Apart from that, incentivising part-time jobs for students would blend well with the existing pool of internships and volunteer projects available to them.
All in all, there seems to be no perceptible differences between this year’s manifesto, and the previous years’, wherein NSUI demanded changes along similar lines – women’s safety, rollback of CBCS, better accommodation for students, and emphasis on sports equipment for athletes. At the same time, their wish to invite Student Counsellors if brought to power, stresses on a crucial issue. Given the numerical strength of the University, a majority of the student would require guidance and support which might otherwise be absent from other sources. After all, the responsibility of a good Institution does not end with providing world-class education – their ¬-accountability goes deeper than that.
On a different note, apart from the ‘traditional’ contenders, that is, NSUI and ABVP, other parties appear to be losing out on occupying the voter’s attention for a significant amount of time. On seeing the condition of North Campus in the early hours of afternoon, to take an example at random, one would feel overwhelmed by the visual onslaught of campaigning tactics engaged in by the ‘dominant’ party groups. Student’s Federation of India (SFI), for instance, seems to get lost under layers of pamphlets and tyre tracks. Earlier last year, they promised rollback of CBCS, rent control of PGs and flats, as well as getting official affiliation for LLB Courses in the University – something that has recently been awarded, though temporarily. Even though the accreditation arrived with hints of controversy, the fact that the party included a crucial problem faced by students, solicits commendation.
Similarly, All India Students Association (AISA), too, released their manifesto, taking into consideration problem areas such as lack of accommodation (naming the movement ‘A Room of My Own’), infrastructural shortcomings, active committees that would deal with sexual harassment and other such grievance committees, as well as a need to reform election process in the University. While most of the parties had several common demands and past victories, AISA stood out with their success at removing “undemocratic practice of name-changing by putting prefixes like ‘AAA,’ ‘..aa’ in order to secure undue advantage to get higher ballot numbers, thus violating the principle of equal opportunity in a democratic process” – a legal battle they engaged in for two years. By adding letters to their given names, many candidates from ABVP and NSUI had previously obtained higher votes by confusing voters into selecting the top-most names by default, since allotment of ballot numbers was done alphabetically. Claiming the practice to be a violation of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, the AISA came out victorious as they moved the Delhi High Court in disallowing this practice to take place from 2015 elections.
This year, quite unlike ABVP and NSUI’s show of monetary and muscle strength, AISA engaged in a low-profile campaigning, though, at the same time, trying their level best to reach out to students despite the white noise created by other parties. Clad in ethnic wear and armed with dhols, instead of bundles of pamphlets to be thrown around like confetti, AISA members walked around college campuses two days before the Election Day, appealing to students in a harmonious, systematic, and quite an agreeable manner, to look beyond ABVP and NSUI.
In contrast, in the previous year, AISA had actively engaged in protests against the relative grading system under CBCS, asking instead for an absolute grading system. They had also shown solidarity with prospective and existing LLB students from DU Law Faculty, ever since the Bar Council of India announced their decision to cut down on seats, before revoking the decision.
Through this year’s manifesto, emphasis is also put on scholarship for economically and socially backward categories. Indeed, incentives for education need to be a prime aspect for every student representative, and AISA seems to acknowledge this. Given that University of Delhi is amongst the top institutions in the country, financial aid is something that should ideally be provided to students in need. While there are provisions already available, improved facilities, according to AISA would prove to be more beneficial and appropriate.
On the other hand, Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti (CYSS), affiliated to Aam Aadmi Party, for example, has opted out of contesting in the coming election. They have instead decided to launch an independent campaign against ‘muscle and money’ politics this year – mismanagement of finances seem to be a dominant aspect of DUSU elections till date, which is what the party wishes to address. While stating manpower as the main cause of withdrawal from University level polls, CYSS confirms its college-level participation, showing hopes of coming back to the former in the near future.
Disruption, of any form, fails to be a desirable component in ruling parties, yet that seems to be the path internalised by some of them. As the parties go into polls within a few days’ time, one wonders what the new ruling party would bring to the forefront.