Perhaps the most important exercise in a democratic setup is an election. Members of a population record their preference (orally, written or digitally) and elect their representatives. In a very diverse and heterogeneous democratic setup of India, a number of factors play a role during elections.
Earlier this year, Chief Minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar, announced the government’s decision to conduct student body elections in the academic session 2018-19. This would be the first student body elections in the state after a gap of two decades. In 1996-97, the then C M Bansi Lal had banned students’ elections after a series of incidents of violence shook the state. Along with a ban on liquor, which was championed by Prof Sher Singh, this move was welcomed throughout the state.
However, a decade later, the demand for these elections started to build up again. Different political parties established their student wings in all districts, colleges and universities. Although INSO (Indian National Students’ Organisation), the student wing of INLD (Indian National Lok Dal) and NSUI (National Students’ Union of India), student wing of Indian National Congress had build solid ground; ABVP (Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad) was not far behind. In Kurukshetra University, some Left-leaning bodies like SFI (Students’ federation of India) gained ground too. In 2013, Member of Parliament Deepender Singh Hooda batted for student body elections and urged the government to lift the ban on these elections.
While campaigning in 2014, conducting student union elections was one of the prominent poll promises of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that targeted young blood. In lieu of inaction, politicians and youth leaders started to question government’s intentions to deliver on the poll promise.
Four years after assuming power and through many political pushes and pulls, the elections are being conducted today across Haryana. The government has announced the union elections for all universities and their affiliated colleges. However, self financed engineering colleges and colleges of education are exempted.
Indirect elections were planned by the government as a way forward. Each class will vote for a class representative who will then vote for the president. In the last few weeks, many student bodies have rejected the idea of indirect elections, going as far as to boycotting the elections. NSUI, INSO (now disbanded), SFI, Dr Ambedkar’s Students Front of India, Students’ Federation of India, Ambedkar Students Welfare Association and some other student bodies have alleged that the government wanted to lay ground for ABVP’s victory. Student bodies have even planned a protest on the day of elections to register their opposition. Agitation in Maharishi Dayanand University has spread to local colleges as well.
Student elections are a prominent and successful exercise in the neighbouring Delhi and Punjab. University elections pan India have given rise to prominent leaders. Hence the decision to hold these elections was a good move in the right direction. What departs from common ethical understanding is that nominees are passionate and are driven by easy influence. Social media has penetrated institutions like never before and access to information is easy. Equally easy is the flow of false information and dogmas. Add it to other factors and the exercise becomes vulnerable to violent practices. An often quoted instance is of 2011, when a popular student leader named Virender Singh was shot at point blank range.
In the last few weeks, instances of violence have been reported across the state. Protesting students in Rohtak have met with cane charge. While all this is happening, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has made clear that the result of elections would depend on the outcome of the writ petitions. The key point of petition is the government’s decision of disallowing research scholars to contest polls according to the recommendations of Tankeshwar Committee.
As reports come in, college representative elections are being conducted under the watchful eyes of district authorities. This year’s exercise needs to be seen as preparation for coming years. By next year students shall be more prepared and motivated to take on the challenges. Like for many other things, we shall wait and watch.
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