Student elections were banned in universities and affiliated colleges in Punjab in 1984 and in Panjab University (OU) in Chandigarh, when Khalistani militancy was at its peak after that year’s Operation Blue Star to flush out militants from the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
So there have been no elections all these years?
After a three-month fast unto death by a then student leader Kuljit Singh Nagra (he was also a Congress MLA at the time), an indirect election took place in Chandigarh’s PU in 1993. Later, after the consistent efforts of Nagra and his supporters, a full-fledged election was held in PU in 1996. However, elections and campus politics stayed banned in PU-affiliated Punjab colleges. Just when it seemed that the Beant Singh-led Congress government in Punjab had controlled militancy and there were voices demanding lifting of the ban on students elections in Punjab,the assassination of Beant Singh in 1996 put paid to that.
It’s now more than 20 years since that incident, and militancy has been all but eliminated. So why did it take so long to bring back campus elections?
No political party wanted to risk it. Campuses that were hotbeds of militancy were still viewed with suspicion. Criminal gangs had also got entrenched on campuses. It has taken a campaign by several former student leaders for the decision to revoke the ban. Those who have come up in politics through the campus accuse mainstream leaders of not encouraging student politics and leaders for fear that it would affect the prospects of their own children. But now, the absence of student politics is being felt in other ways. It is being blamed for the ‘directionlessness’ of Punjab youth. There is little debate on issues confronting young people today in colleges and universities. Campus politics is being seen as a way to make them talk about issues.
Are there any leaders in the Punjab Assembly now who came up through student politics?
The last student leader from Punjab who became MLA was Prem Singh Chandumajra in 1985. After that it was Nagra, who was elected in 2012. He is a product of PU. This time, AICC president Rahul Gandhi got party tickets for five student leaders: Dalvir Singh Goldy from Dhuri, Kushbaaz Jatana from Talwandi Sabo, Daaman Bajwa, Barinder Pahda from Gurdaspur and Barinder Dhillon from Ropar. Two – Goldy and Pahda – were elected.