Delhi University is a premier institute in India that is currently holding a student union election after a four-year break. This is an event where students of DU exercise their voting rights to elect a body called Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) that is supposed to represent and resolve their concerns. DUSU is the largest student union on the planet and the importance of this election can be understood by the fact that it has churned out leaders like Arun Jaitley, Ajay Maken etc.
A number of mainstream organisations contest elections, among them the ABVP of the BJP, the NSUI of the INC, the CYSS of the AAP, the SFI of the CPI(M), and the AISA of the CPI(ML). The promises of these outfits range from delivering basic infrastructure in colleges (like providing drinking water) to legislative reforms (like the Rent Control Act – to curb the exorbitant rent of students’ accommodation in the nearby locality).
In theory, this practice seems like one of the best practices where students – “the future leaders and voters of India” get to experience the festival of democracy and realise its valuable impact on our country. They are expected to inculcate democratic principles, practice them in their generation and preserve it for the next. But the questions which hound upon them are:-
- Are they adhering to democratic principles?
- Is the election fair at all?
- Does it allow anyone to contest and be elected as a DUSU member?
- Is it participatory in letter and spirit for all the voters of DU?
The answers to the above questions are resounding No, No, No and No. The observational, logical and intellectual premise of this answer can be witnessed on the DU campus through the headlights of the Range Rovers, the roaring exhaust note of G-Wagons and the daunting cavalcades of Fortuners and Scorpios.
The children of the affluent conquer the roads with their V8s and imported karyakartas in the hope of getting a ticket from the outfits mentioned above. The desire to get recognised as a student leader enables these “students” to spend exorbitant amounts of money on their campaigning which includes free food hours in canteens to endorsement videos from singers and celebrities. The cost of designing and executing a campaign like this may run to the tune of more than 2 crores for a candidate.
Mind you, all these practices violate the Lyngdoh Committee’s recommendations which aim to regulate the code of conduct in the Students Union elections. Broadly it caps the expenditure to be done by the candidate in the election to ₹5,000 to safeguard it from being too flashy and corrupt and it also provides for the usage of handmade materials for campaigning instead of printed to maximise participation of students among others.
The objective of student union elections was to give first-hand exposure to the democratic process to university-going students but it has exposed them to all types of malpractices one can witness in any election in India. The blatant use of muscle and money power, the flouting of the code of conduct and the plugins of regional and caste identity to wield support.
In fact, the DUSU Presidents for the last 10 years, have come primarily from two communities namely Jats and Gujjars who reside in the periphery of Delhi i.e. NCR, Haryana, West U.P etc. And this is applicable to all the student outfits involved whether it is ABVP or NSUI. The reason behind this can be the proximity to the University which enables them to mobilise resources like vehicles, money and people from their hometowns or villages with more ease than others. The Khap leaders can also be seen appealing for votes and support for candidates from their community.
More than 50 colleges of DU are bifurcated into zones like North, South and Off Campus and more than one lakh students studying in these colleges are expected to participate in this election as voters but you’ll be shocked to know that the voter turnout for the last seven DUSU elections has been below 40%. We witness more turnout in panchayat elections than this even though the DU is the intellectual factory of India and a panchayat may have a majority population who can’t read properly.
Institutions like DU have an image of producing intellectual resources for India via its world-class pedagogy. The students come to this institution after facing a hyper-competitive entrance like CUET (prior to 2022, it was merit-based). If students with an intellectual and educational acumen that is supposedly higher than an average Indian, who are expected to have more moral integrity than an average Indian, fail to create an environment where idealistic, corruption-free politics can thrive, the question that should haunt us is: are we being too naïve to expect idealism in the Indian political landscape in general?
Authored by: Vishal Narayan Singh