Parties, issues and polls at PU centre stage

With Panjab University and city colleges headed towards student elections, here’s a look at campus politics, issues that dominate and parties in the fray.

Written by Ifrah Mufti , Meghna Malik | Chandigarh | Updated: August 3, 2015 4:48:02 am
PU-elections759 Leaders of SOI at the Students’ Centre at Panjab University. (Source: Express photo by Sahil Walia)

It is that time of the year again when preparations are underway for the elections to the Panjab University Campus Students’ Council (PUCSC) and similar bodies in city colleges.

Protests over issues ranging from problems faced by students in hostel admissions to increase in prices of food items are being held almost every day on the campus. Student organisations are busy highlighting their demands.

Though parties are yet to reveal the faces that would represent them in the election, several issues seem to be on the agenda. Campaigning on social media has picked up pace.

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Most of the student organisations are promising to provide PhD scholars with more fellowships, better hostel facilities and improved financial support. Students are also being promised a cleaner university campus, improvements in terms of infrastructure, better hostel facilities and curbing of sexual harassment on the campus. Student organisations are also claiming to work towards improving Panjab University’s worldwide ranking, and helping the university attain Central University status.

PU-presidentDemanding women security, safe campus, separate Students’ Centre for PU’s south campus, better sports facilities and an improved placement cell, members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) say that they are planning to work on ground realities. Members of ABVP also intend including aggressive campaigns against corruption on the campus and helping girl students from Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh find accommodation in the hostels.

The members of Society for Students (SFS) are actively speaking up on issues of sexual harassment at PU, and are demanding democratisation of Panjab University Committee Against Sexual Harassment (PUCASH). However, the members claim that the party has no intention of contesting the upcoming elections. SFS is, however, planning to continue addressing issues on women security and women emancipation while bringing up talks about setting up of a separate women cell at PU. President of SFS, Amandeep Kaur, who is a research scholar at PU, says they are also going to raise the issues faced by research scholars in the university.

The Indian National Students Organisation (INSO) is going to work towards improvement of Students’ Centre at PU by providing better seating and adequate facilities for handwashing. They are also going to demand a reduction in the rates of food items that are sold at the Students’ Centre — a demand which has been put forward by members of Students Organisation of India (SOI) as well. INSO is also expected to work on providing travel concessions to research students at PU.

Besides, student outfits can be seen talking about old issues that have been left unheard in the last few years. These issues include provision of better water facilities in departments, clean washrooms in hostels, Wi-Fi on south campus, provision of more dustbins on the university campus for cleanliness, token system for the outsiders on the campus, extra security outside the hostels and maintenance of the AC Joshi Library.

This time around, many parties are also claiming to get more youngsters to join them in order to gain a fresh perspective on the problems at Panjab University.

Talking about the instructions that have been issued to the students for the elections, Dean Students Welfare (Women) Nandita Shukla said, “Any defacement with respect to election campaigning inside the PU campus and in the Tricity will not be permitted. And failure to abide by this will lead to the disqualification of the students’ candidature.”

For the first time in the history of PU elections, the authorities have also decided upon setting up only one centre for the counting of votes. Dean Students’ Welfare Navdeep Goyal said, “Last year, there was some confusion and recounting had to be done for a post after the votes were brought to the DSW office. To avoid any such hassles, counting of votes for the office-bearers will be done in one place.”

As per the authorities, the counting of votes for the four posts of president, vice-president, secretary and joint secretary will be held at the Gymnasium Hall, Panjab University.

However, counting of votes for the department representatives will be done at the respective departments only. Professor Shukla said, “All the ballots will be sent the Gymnasium Hall, and to make sure that information is not leaked during the counting process, no one will be allowed to take cell phones inside the hall.”

Electoral history

During the 1970s, indirect elections were held in PU-affiliated colleges. The department representatives used to elect two vice-presidents. They used to work under the leadership of Dean Students’ Welfare who was also the president of the council. During the emergency in 1975, these elections were stopped.

During the late 70s and early 80s, organisations like the Progressive Students’ Union founded by Ajaib Singh and Panjab University Students’ Union started emerging. The Punjab government banned elections in 1984 and political activity was relatively non-existent. The Students’ Organisation of Panjab University (SOPU) was founded in 1997. For several years these parties dominated the electoral scene, with intense rivalry between the two.

However, over the past few years, parties like National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) and Students’ Organisation of India (SOI) have also been making their presence felt. Other parties like the Haryana Students’ Union, ABVP, INSO and SFI have remained marginal players.

With the Lyngdoh guidelines that came into force, the dynamics on the campus changed further. The stringent conditions ensured that parties propped up relatively unknown faces just before the elections.

The Fab Four

Panjab University Students’ Union

Founded in 1977, the Panjab University Students’ Union (PUSU) gave a tough fight to the Progressive Students’ Union (PSU) that was prominent on the campus then. It was in 1982 that PUSU made a clean sweep, established its dominance on the campus and sounded a death knell for PSU. The post-Emergency period was marked by murder of an emerging leader from PUSU, Makhan Singh, but PUSU continued to dominate the student politics. Kuljeet Singh Nagra, who was the president of the Students’ Council from 1992-93, became the face of the party.

Since there was no significant organisation which was working for the students’ welfare, PUSU was the one which constantly raised various issues relating to students, teachers and non-teaching staff. It remained active throughout the year. Among all the student organisations on the campus at present, PUSU is the oldest one.

Those who have been a part of PUSU for the past eight years continue to be the executive members of the student body. The executive team includes president Navaldeep, Resham Singh, Manveer Dhillon, Amandeep Kamboj and Anshul. The party managed to secure one seat in the Panjab University Campus Students’ Council Election (PUCSC)- 2014 and is gearing up for the 2015 election.

Though the organisation is comparatively not that active, it continues to highlight student-related issues and the problems faced by them on the campus. The executive members of the team believe that the other student bodies on the campus are influenced by political parties, due to which welfare of students is not their main agenda.

On the agenda of the party this time is central status for PU, hostel admissions to be made online, strengthening of women’s security on campus, sports facilities and timely grants for research scholars.

Students’ Organisation of Panjab University

A prominent presence on the campus earlier that had challenged PUSU, the Students’ Organisation of Panjab University (SOPU) is fearing for its existence on the campus. Members who were a part of the organisation over the past five years are not associated with it anymore.

Founded by Dayal Pratap Randhawa in 1997, SOPU had defeated PUSU in seven elections. Randhawa was elected as president of the PU Campus Students’ Council for two consecutive terms. He is a member of the PU Senate at present.

The members of SOPU who were quite active till last year say that they are not even sure if SOPU will be contesting the election this time, since the senior leaders who were taking the charge of the organisation have quit.

Amninder Mann, who has been associated with SOPU since 2011 and was the president of the party last year, said, “The caretakers of our student organisation have left to join other student parties. We are staring at a situation where nobody wants to support us. SOPU has almost reached its dead end with no executive members, leaders, management or even well-wishers to help us. I would not like to be associated with this party anymore.”

“Our organisation lost its significance last year only, when some students whom we had never seen on the campus had made a new panel under the name of SOPU. We worked for the entire year and a group came into the picture 10 days before the election. A number of students got divided and we could do nothing since our parties are not registered. Thus, no legal action can be taken against anybody who claims to be a leader of SOPU,” Mann added.

He said that though SOPU would not be contesting the election, the party’s name would be used by some new group, like last year.

Vikramjeet Singh Middhukhera, state president of the Students’ Organisation of India (SOI) who was once president of SOPU as well, said, “I am also not sure if SOPU will be contesting since there are no members left in the party. If some group arises at the last moment, then we will not be forming any alliance with that group.”

However, Brinder Dhillon, now a senior leader with the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), said that it pains to see that how PUSU is slowly disappearing from the campus and even in the colleges, since this was the organisation he had started his career with. Dhillon was associated with SOPU from 2008-2012 as a president of the party for two years and a chairman for two years.

National Students’ Union of India

Though the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) has been contesting the PU elections from 1997, the party has managed to make its presence felt in the last two years.

During Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s visit to PU in 2012, many leaders from Students’ Organisation of India joined NSUI. Amongst these leaders were Barinder Dhillion, Chandan Rana, president of SOPU for 2012, Manoj Lubana, and council president of SOPU in 2012 Satinder Satti.

In 2013, NSUI won the Students’ Council elections after having contested independently for the first time. And then in 2014, NSUI swept the PUCSC elections by winning three posts in the council. Divyanshu Budhiraja was elected as the president, Snighdha Bawa as the vice-president and Ankur Sehrawat as the secretary of the Students’ Council. This was the first time in the history of PUCSC elections that one party managed to bag three positions.

For the upcoming elections, NSUI is going to address the issues faced by freshers, and will also continue with the promises it made last year. The party aims at addressing the day-to-day issues of students, and is also planning to look into the problems faced by the research scholars. A major issue that NSUI has actively worked on is the introduction of student feedback mechanism in the university.

Manoj Lubana, a senior member of NSUI, said, “Another issue that we are going to bring up again is the Right to Speak for the Students’ Council president during the Senate meetings. Currently, the council president is only allowed to sit in the gallery during Senate meetings.”

Students’ Organisation of India

The Students’ Organisation of India (SOI), which is the students’ wing of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), was founded in 2007. Back then, the party did not have a strong base in Panjab University.

Most of the leaders who are now active in the party joined SOI in 2012. The current Chandigarh president of SOI Vikramjit Singh alias Vicky Middukhera was the party president of SOPU during 2010-12, and joined SOI in February 2014. For SOI, 2014 was a year when they re-launched themselves in Panjab University. During the PU Campus Students’ Council elections, the party lost by a margin of merely 58 votes. However, this year, for the upcoming elections, members of SOI feel confident enough about making up for the lost chance. “We lost by a very small margin last year, but this time around we are very confident about the upcoming elections. Groundwork for the elections has already begun, and is being carried out in full swing,” said Vikramjit Singh.

The party was faced with a controversy when Middukhera was disqualified from the three-year law admission test held at PU amidst allegations of using unfair means. Along with its chairman Rashpal Singh and president Yadvinder Dhaliwal, the party is planning on an agenda for the upcoming elections.The party is looking to conduct a survey across the university, and get feedback about various problems that students are facing in PU. “We are going to give the freshers, hostellers and students from all departments a feedback form. Based on that, department-specific issues and other university problems will be raised,” Vikramjit said. The party is also expected to release its new member panel in the next few days.

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