Student elections in state after 25 years, stringent guidelines to curb violence on campus

A complete overhaul of university election structure in Maharashtra with heavy restrictions in place holds significance against the backdrop of the student turmoil and clashes at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), central university, Hyderabad and elsewhere in recent years.

While campus politics is returning to Maharashtra after 25 years, prominent universities like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi University and University of Hyderabad had hit the headlines during 2016-17 over their student elections and clashes between politically-affiliated student groups.

In a bid to bring in sobriety in campus politics, Maharashtra has come up with a strong code of conduct and rules to prevent violence.

A cap on expenses, ban on processions and electoral participation by student wings of political parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-backed Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) or Congress-backed National Students Union of India (NSUI) are among the restrictions introduced.

The contesting students won’t be allowed to form panels of candidates and use symbol, logo, photo or image of any political party or organisations with caste and religious links.

The use of a public address system or vehicles during the campaign will also be prohibited. Only full-time students who have cleared all heads of passing of previous years without any backlog of subjects or benefit of Allow to Keep Term (ATKT) will be eligible as per the new rules.

“To inform students about the election process, universities have been asked to hold workshops. There are many changes we have introduced as election returns after more than two-and-a-half decades,” said Vinod Tawde, Maharashtra minister for higher education. Tawde said the aim of holding election is to groom student leaders and help them develop leadership skills.

According to NS Umrani, pro-vice-chancellor, Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU), the election schedule is likely to be announced by the end of July as the education department has asked all universities in the state to conduct elections by September end.

It was the daylight murder of Owen D’Souza, a first-year law student from the Jitendra Chauhan (JC) College of Law, Mumbai, in 1989, which along with other cases of violence had led to the ban on student elections in Maharashtra. The ban was enforced in 1993.

D’Souza’s murder was one of a series of incidents which had tainted campus politics. Another incident was an attack on Shiv Sena youth wing member Vijay Kamat who was contesting for the post of general secretary. Members of the BJP-backed ABVP were alleged to have conducted that attack, and in retaliation, Sena youth wing members reportedly attacked the ABVP office in Matunga in 1991.

The violence was the result of the direct involvement of political parties in students’ elections. The issues which dominated were a hike in fees, gross neglect of university hostels and classrooms.

In Pune, while youth leaders of political parties participated in elections, the process was largely peaceful barring a few exceptions, according to Raja Dixit, former head of history department at Savitribai Phule Pune University.

Top leaders product of student politics

Many politicians in Maharashtra such as state education minister Vinod Tawde, late Congressman Vilasrao Deshmukh, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar and union minister Nitin Gadkari have risen from the ranks of student leaders.

Others who studied in Pune cut their teeth in student politics and emerged as key political figures years later were personalities like former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders Pramod Mahajan, Gopinath Munde and minister of environment, forest and climate change Prakash Javadekar.

In one of his speeches after becoming human resource development minister in 2016, Javadekar said, “I was also a product of student politics.”

The ban on university elections in subsequent years reflected on the kind of leadership at various levels in state politics.

“In most districts, sons or daughters of established leaders have taken over the space for next-generation leadership in the absence of any other democratic process like student elections,” said Pradeep Rawat, who rose through the ranks in the Patit Pawan Sanghatana, and later, BJP.

‘Elections are a good chance for students to groom themselves’

Many student organisations and individuals have started preparations to take part in the student elections that will be held in the city after almost 25 years. Prabhakar Desai, director, students’ welfare department of Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU), shares details of how the elections will be conducted. The elections will be held in all the colleges, institutes and research institutes affiliated with SPPU in Pune, Nashik and Ahmednagar districts under the guidance of the department.

How will the students’ election be conducted?

The students’ election was stopped 25 years ago as it was marked by violence. Democracy is the core issue in these elections and it should have cultural and social dimensions to it. As the Election Commission of India declares the plan of the entire election process, similarly we will be declaring it soon, tentatively by the end of this month. There are around 960 colleges, institutes and research institutes under Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) where these elections will be held and we are working on its overall planning. A university student council election advisory committee will soon be formed to carry out the election process which will go on for around two months. The election will be held in every college and SPPU separately.

What kind of preparations has been undertaken to conduct these elections?

We have already started taking workshops for all the college principals to create awareness about the election process. From every college one ‘election officer’ will be chosen who will work along with the senior officials and the staff to hold the election at their college. It is necessary to have the involvement of all the teaching and non-teaching staff in this election process. The election officer will conduct a training programme for college teachers and other staff members. While the teachers will explain all the election process to their students once the college starts in August. Also, as any panel made by any groups and students organisations affiliated to political parties cannot participate in these elections, interested students will have to manage on their own.

Your appeal to students who are interested in taking part in the election

It is a very good start and the decision taken by the state government is commendable. Students are looking forward to it as it gives them a good chance to groom themselves. It is the election where the projection of individual students will be done rather than any political party, organisation and ideology. So, students should prepare well and actively participate in the elections.

First Published:
Jul 27, 2019 15:13 IST

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