The Manohar Lal Khattar led BJP government in Haryana has reportedly revoked the two-decade-old ban on Students’ Union elections imposed in 1996. The ban was imposed by the then government led by CM Bansi Lal given the “unruly behaviour of some student political parties.” The demand to lift the ban has been made by several student organisations for the last two decades. In 2013, Deepender Singh Hooda, Congress MP from Rohtak, after the “historic” victory of NSUI in Punjab Students Union elections, had said that he would deliberate with the CM over conducting Students Union elections.
Students Union elections have remained a key poll issue in Haryana. In the 2014 election manifesto, the restoration of student politics on campus had been one of the provisions and BJP had promised that if voted to power it will restore student body elections in the state. Ram Bilas Sharma had announced last year that the state government has decided to evolve a foolproof and modern system of free, fair, and peaceful elections. In 2017, a four-member committee was set up to make arrangements for students’ union elections to be held in colleges and universities of the state.
In February 2018, the CM had announced that the students’ union elections would be held in September or October. However, whether it would be a direct or an indirect election wasn’t specified though the four-member panel had recommended indirect elections. In July 2018, Khattar announced that the elections would be held either in the last week of September or the first week of October. Reportedly, through a video conference, Khattar had issued directions to the Deputy Commissioners and Superintendent of Police to make arrangements for the peaceful conduct of students elections in the state.
The decision was taken after the ABVP delegation met the CM and the Education Minister of the state. The timing of the decision has been questioned by the Indian National Students Organisation- the student wing of the principal opposition party Indian National Lok Dal. They dismissed the government’s decision as a “diversionary tactic” to scuttle August 5 rally of the INSO in which the youth body was set to announce its statewide agitation for holding students body polls.
Haryana is not the only state which had banned student politics citing violence as a prime concern. In the year 1997, the Banaras Hindu University Students Union too was dissolved following the death of two students. Later, in 2007 when it was restored, indirect elections were conducted to the Student Council, but students protested this and demanded direct elections to the Students Union. This consequently led to clashes between the police and students due to which elections did not take place in 2015 or 2016.
Haryana government lifting the ban on Punjab is likely to follow. In 1984, after the militancy, the state had banned students’ elections, and despite repeated demands by the students it hasn’t yet been restored. Students’ union elections in colleges and universities have been highly criticised for their misuse of funds, use of muscle power, violence within the campus as these disrupt the peaceful environment of the educational institutions.
Keeping in view these challenges the MHRDC came up with the Lyngdoh committee which presented recommendations that were to be followed during student union elections. The recommendations of the committee were accepted by the Supreme Court for implementation. However, these have been blatantly flouted by students time and again. Many students do have a problem with the committee as they view the recommendations as circumscribing free student politics in the campus under the banner of ‘maintaining peace’ and ‘following
Governments everywhere have always been wary of student politics whether it is in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, or the United States. Governments have never underestimated student politics and thus, curbing activism in campus areas has always been on the bucket list of every government that comes to power. This may not always be done or made explicit in obvious forms like banning student elections but still exists low-key by restricting the freedom of expression within campus areas or by replacing direct elections with indirect elections. India has seen the revolutionary success of student movements, be it during the 1974 Bihar Movement or the 1967 success of DMK in
It would be interesting to note how “free and fair” the Haryana Students Union elections will be if they are held at all. Over 7 lakh students are studying in colleges and universities across the state. As per official figures, there are 227 colleges: 147 government and 80 government-aided. Haryana has 12 state government-run universities, four central universities, 28 deemed and 19 private universities. Despite the discontinuation of elections, student wings (ABVP, NSUI, INSO) have continued to exist and make their presence felt through agitations or protests.
It’s always Christmas ahead of elections for voters. It’s the time of the year when four-year-old promises will finally (hopefully) reach fruition. The promise made in the manifesto four years ago may get fulfilled as stated by the Education Minister Ram Bilas Sharma; who coincidentally happens to be the same person who had imposed the ban two decades ago. While peace and non-violence must be maintained during these elections, the words must not become euphemisms for carrying out undemocratic elections or used as counter arguments for banning university/college level elections.