Elections in Delhi University are finally over and what is likely to follow (after the tell-the-world-we’ve-won celebrations by the winning party) is the cleanliness drive by the NSS of different colleges to make up for the mess that it creates every year. I had taken for granted the posters, the cards, and the banners that were hung, flung, handed and stamped over by the university students. I made my peace this year too with it until I came across the Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations.
In the year 2006, Lyngdoh Committee was formed by the HRD to suggest reforms in the student union elections at the college/university levels as it was argued that these were becoming places of political tensions escalating into violent encounters between students. Under the leadership of JM Lyngdoh, it submitted its report to the Supreme Court of India on May 26, 2006. The Supreme Court on September 22nd of the same year had issued an order directing the college/university to follow and implement the committee’s recommendations hereafter. Lyngdoh Committee aimed at making elections cleaner, non-violent, and curbing the use of money and muscle power in the elections.
Elections in Delhi University are marked by vandalized walls, littered posters, garlanded men and women (a rare figure usually present for PR purpose because feminism is trendy and marketable) and most importantly, the rallying of SUVs and Audis. Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations is to DU what Directive Principles have become to our government.
Back in 2006, Lyngdoh in a conversation with The Tribune had said that “the recommendations made by the Committee could have far-reaching consequences in reforming student body politics in the country if implemented properly.” However, the very markers of DU elections are a violation of the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations.
While one can provide a long list of flouted recommendations, the article aims at covering the ones that are popularly criticized for being flouted and most of these fall under the election-related expenditure and financial accountability section.
1) 6.6.1 The maximum permitted expenditure per candidate shall be ₹5000
The recommendation has often been a bone of contention between the major parties and the committee. While students argue that in a University as huge as Delhi University, it is absolutely impossible to spend under ₹5000 by individual candidates, the committee had argued that the rule has been made to provide a fair chance to independent candidates or parties which lack proper funding as this will curb the role of money in elections and provide a fair chance to everybody. However, the exuberance of Delhi University elections is marked by an opulence that exceeds the spending limit set by the LCR. It is very difficult to imagine how a party can afford to campaign throughout the day on campus areas in cars and even provide freebies to students under a budget of ₹5000 (both of which are illegal in the first place).
2) Clause 6.7.5: No candidate shall be permitted to make use of printed posters, printed pamphlets, or any other printed material for the purpose of canvassing. Candidates may only utilize handmade posters for the purpose of canvassing, provided that such handmade posters are procured within the expenditure limit set out herein above:
Posters, Banners and cards are in the air during election season and none of them are “handmade”. Most parties get away with this rule by utilizing the loopholes in LCR to their advantage. One of the most popular tactics is to misspell a name which would still disseminate the required information but the party would manage to escape legal action. Handmade posters are too much of a hassle for parties with the kind of money to own printing presses. Recently, a Miranda student reported how INSO party candidates in an SUV drove by the front gate, stuck out their head from the window and flung the posters up in the air and when the student confronted them and said, “aise vote nahi milenge,” they replied with an impressive sense of self righteousness “aise attitude ke sath chahiye bhi nahi.”
It is not at all surprising to find people who are not from the University, campaigning or canvassing for different parties. CYSS has been called out by the ABVP and NSUI for violating this provision by involving AAP members in the election campaigning to which CYSS retorted by saying that ABVP and NSUI have been violating this for decades (because an accusation against an accusation is how election debates work here).
3) Clause 6.7.9: During the election period the candidates may hold processions and/or public meetings, provided that they do not, in any manner, disturb classes and other academic and co-curricular activities of the college/university. Further, such procession/ public meeting may not be held without the prior written permission of the college/university authority.
While the election season is on, it is comparatively easier to enter colleges without ID cards, and if the guards don’t let you in and you’re from ABVP, you can coerce them into letting you in any way (case in point, Miranda House 2018 elections). The disruption of classes is a regular phenomenon taken for granted during elections. This is not so prevalent in the North Campus as it is in the South Campus (which this year witnessed violent clashes between students and party members).
Anahita Nanda, a student of Delhi University says, “Almost all our classes got disrupted in the last week leading up to the elections. Our teachers were welcoming but some students walked in with complete impunity, screaming their ballot numbers and distributing pamphlets even when explicitly asked not to. Once, these ABVP guys in their mob-fashion literally threw their pamphlets at my face.”
However, there is another reading of the Lyngdoh Committee – Recommendations that argue that these suggested rules are an attack on the democratic nature of the student elections and aim at limiting student activism and crippling campus politics.
Jawaharlal Nehru University has had a long history of fighting against the Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations. From 2008 to 2012, no student union elections were held in JNU due to the impasse between the students and administration regarding the Lyngdoh Committee guidelines. They went ahead with the polls after a five-point relaxation was offered as a solution after a four-year-long legal battle. Many of the recommendations by the Lyngdoh Committee aim at de-politicizing student bodies and limiting participation. For example, one of the recommendations sets an age limit for candidates contesting elections. The arbitrariness of the rule has been questioned by research scholars of different universities who argue that they’ve been excluded from political processes in the campus that has a direct bearing upon their lives.
Moreover, one of the recommendations makes it mandatory for the candidate to have minimum attendance, the committee has certainly failed to understand that the academic presence of a student in a classroom is not a measure of their political understanding. One of the most controversial recommendations has been the “Grievance Redressal Mechanism” which provides the university administration to actively interfere in campus politics.
The Lyngdoh Committee thus is not the answer to strengthening or democratizing student politics and DU is a classic example of its failure in limiting money and muscle power politics. The Delhi University elections are a microcosm of the Lok Sabha polls when it comes to the flaunting of wealth, flouting of rules or exploiting the loopholes of the legal system.
However, before we chide the University students for their delinquency during elections, we must also examine and debate the peremptorily undemocratic and restrictive nature of the Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations itself.