Having swept the students elections at Panjab University (PU) in Chandigarh, the Students’ Organisation of India (SOI) — the youth wing of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) — is now looking to use the victory as a springboard to consolidate its position in colleges across Punjab.
While student elections have been banned in Punjab since 1984, when campus politics was believed to be associated with the Khalistani movement, efforts are under way to get the ban revoked. PU authorities have already written to the Punjab government urging it to reconsider the moratorium.
With its parent party in power, SOI is ever-present in Punjab’s colleges these days — be it its recent support to girls, striking for a hostel at PAU, or the cycle rallies against drug addiction — as it hopes to reap the rewards once the ban is revoked. “Victory in PU polls has proved that students too support the Akali Dal. We will soon appoint presidents in all Ludhiana colleges including the girls’ ones,”says Meetpal Singh Dugri, SOI president Malwa Zone 3.
SOI has also been doing the necessary groundwork with none other than Punjab Deputy Chief Minister and Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal overseeing the changes. In March this year, Sukhbir revamped the student wing, appointing five presidents for each zone in the state.
“SOI was lethargic and dull, unappealing till a few ago as polls were anyway banned. There was just one president for the entire state which made it practically impossible to connect with students at all levels. With zonal heads announced in March, SOI is now rising, especially with Sukhbir Badal at the helm of affairs,” said a SOI member adding that soon the youth wing would soon launch a membership drive across Punjab.
Sources in SOI also say that they have orders from the party high command to project the deputy chief minister as the face of youth-oriented policies and to target students from rural backgrounds, whose families are already connected to the Akali Dal.
The appointment of students leaders like Arshdeep Singh alias Robin Brar (Malwa 1 incharge) and Bikram Jeet Middukhera (Chandigarh zone), who both have vast experience in PU campus politics, are further testimony to the party’s plans for Punjab.
“The Akali Dal as a party and Sukhbir Badal as party president want polls to be held in Punjab colleges and universities at the earliest. Almost a month back, PU has written to government to reconsider the ban on polls in Punjab colleges and varsities,” said Bunty Romana, all-India coordinator, SOI, and chairman of the Punjab Youth Development Board.
A Panjab University (PU) official confirmed that talks are on to lift the ban. “We have initiated the talks with the government for polls in our affiliated colleges but nothing has moved yet,” said Navdeep Goyal, director of students welfare at PU.
Even with the ban in place, students politics is mushrooming once again in Punjab, after a 30-year silence. Self-styled student parties and leaders have already declared themselves as presidents, general secretaries and other office-bearers in various colleges. In Ludhiana alone, the walls of GGN Khalsa College, Arya College, SCD Government College, Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) are adorned with posters of students’ groups and their self-declared leaders.