While most students, who take up campus politics, contest elections with the backing of student unions associated with political parties, some are taking a different route. Battling all odds, these students contest polls as independents – something not usual in student politics in India.
The recently concluded elections across various universities in India show a clear trend, depicting the electoral rise of the independent candidates in campus politics.
Raja Choudhary, a student of Campus Law Centre in Delhi University fought for the post of president in this year’s Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) elections and bagged many votes. Even though Choudhary couldn’t secure a win, his performance has paved a promising path for the future independent candidates on the campus.
Choudhary says the experience has been fascinating and students were largely receptive of his political campaigning.
However, he also laments that student politics on Delhi University campus is marred by intricate complexities.
According to Choudhary, “DUSU elections are very different. They are not fought on the ideology of either left or right. The voter base, which mostly includes undergraduate students, are not necessarily ideologically aware or are very scared to take an ideological stance, this early in life.”
The 25-year-old law student was offered the post of ‘secretary’ by AISA, which he refused due to ideological differences.
He believes that the campus politics is enormously polluted by corruption.“Initially, my campaign wasn’t taken seriously. However, when I started to garner support, I received life threats from a lot of people. I was also offered ₹2,00,000 by ABVP to withdraw my nomination. When the final ballots were released, my name wasn’t mentioned. Only after I submitted a video-documentary evidence to the election commission, the ballots were revised,” he says.
Karan Vohra, a Jadavpur University student, contested as an independent candidate for the post of chairperson in the arts faculty students union this year. Although he wasn’t successful in getting a substantial amount of votes, he hopes that his candidature would motivate students to fight independently in the future.
During campaigning Karan was critical of the excessive littering on the campus by the politically affiliated unions.
“Just as elections approach, there are literally billboards everywhere, and it is horrendous to see cigarette butts and used alcohol bottles thrown all around the campus.”
Karan also alleges that he was attacked by a lot of political unions due to his regional identity. “Being a ‘Gujarati’ in a largely ‘Bengali’ dominated campus, I was on the radar of many political groups. People even called me a fan of Narendra Modi and drew parallels between my ‘Clean the Campus’ campaign and ‘Swacch Bharat Abhiyan‘.”
Aman Sinha, a student in the School of Social Sciences at JNU has also trodden a somewhat similar path.
Before contesting as an independent candidate, he was the joint secretary of AISA unit in Delhi University during the 2015-16 session. However, this time around, he decided to compete as an independent candidate as he felt his suggestions weren’t included in the bigger framework of the political union. “Even after having a good hierarchal position, my suggestions weren’t included in the decision making. Only two to three professors run the AISA unit in JNU,” said Sinha.
He said that his main motivation to contest the campus elections was largely in defiance to the current political discourse, as he believes that JNUSU has been hijacked by the political student unions.
“There aren’t any grassroots initiatives in JNU and most of the student issues are neglected in the larger political framework,” said Sinha.
Although Sinha feels that he gave his best to the campaign but he regrets having started it late. “I did not get access to the hostel list and it is almost impossible to campaign in JNUSU without it, as the specific details of the students.”
What adds relevance to the emergence of these independent candidates is that in the recent years, individuals rather than any student associations initiated many successful campus movements like ‘Pinjra Tod’– which garnered a lot of student support.
Students across various universities seem to challenge the hegemony of the politically backed student unions. Fighting as an independent may have its own limitations, however, the spirit of democracy is what keeps the idea of being independent ignited.