PANJAB UNIVERSITY will vote for its student council in September. The office of the Dean of Student Welfare has stated that it has submitted an application to the UT Administration to hold the elections on a date either in the first week or the second week of September.
Last year, the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) swept the elections after a two-year drought. We bring to you the elections in a nutshell; the issues, the parties and how campus politics will play out in the next two weeks.
How does it work?
The PUCSC consists of four directly elected posts of office-bearers: president, vice-president, secretary and joint secretary. It also has over 100 department representatives (DRs) that are directly elected by students at the teaching departments. Elected office-bearers and DRs then elect the remaining five members of the executive. The Dean of Student Welfare is the chairman of the student council. Elections are simultaneously also held in 11 city colleges affiliated to the university
Who are the main players?
This year, at least 25 parties will be in the fray as compared to 21 in 2017. The prominent parties on the campus are Panjab University Students Union (PUSU), National Students Union of India (NSUI), Students Organisation of India (SOI), Students For Society (SFS) and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). Once a major homegrown party, the Students Organisation of Panjab University (SOPU) has lost relevance on the campus.
Smaller parties include Indian Students Association (ISA), Indian National Students Organisation (INSO) and Himachal Pradesh Students Union (HPSU) while some seasonal parties include Himachal Students Union (HIMSU), Pal Pehelwan Students Organisation (PPSO) and Gandhi Group Students Union (GGSU). Among the new parties, the Students Federation of Panjab University (SFPU) comprises student leaders who have broken away from PUSU and NSUI. Smaller parties often offer support to bigger parties. In 2016, for example, the PUSU joined hands with the faction of the NSUI to win the elections.
How are these elections different?
Student leaders say PU poll outcomes have very little to do with mainstream politics unlike that at DU or JNU. Here, there are separate parties with smaller ideologies that take up issues affecting students living on the campus. Even in the elections for department representatives, there is high polarisation. Also, a lot of cross-voting takes place due to which the result is often mixed and a single party does not get all the seats on the council. In JNUSU elections, most of the time, a single party sweeps the election.
Here, the votes get split. However, in 2015 and 2016, the SOI-led and PUSU-led alliances swept all the posts on the PUCSC. Between 2008 and 2017, however, the PUCSC election has witnessed mixed results four times in 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2017.
What are the main issues?
Student leaders add that issues at DU and JNU echo a larger activism that is missing at PU. For example, at DU, the NSUI won two out of four seats in 2017, through their ‘Take back DU’ slogan in the aftermath of the Ramjas violence.
Ishaan Sharma, an SFPU leader, says, “Things may have started changing in the last three years, but here it is the politics of vanity. No one cares about what is happening in the outside world.”
Harman Deep, SFS spokesperson, adds, “Student activism has little or no meaning over here. It may also be due to Chandigarh’s ‘island-like status’. Though there were no elections in Punjab colleges or universities for so long, Punjabi University in Patiala, Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar and Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana have been centres of strong movements such as Naxalbari and Khalistan.”
He adds that the campus has only seen unrest regarding the fee hike issue since 2014, culminating into a full-fledged violent clash in 2017.
Student leaders say the Lyngdoh guidelines have had more or less a similar effect in all institutions of higher education. The stringent rules on criminal record, attendance and age barrier for students in different courses have led to the emergence of ‘dummy’ candidates that is unhealthy for student politics.
“The guidelines are meant to curb student politics and nothing else as there is more focus on these issues. When it comes to monitoring party financing, the authorities turn a blind eye. The finance part is the most important takeaway of the Lyngdoh guidelines,” says Harman Deep.
This year, however, Dean of Student Welfare Emanual Nahar has stressed that there will be strict action against the defacement of public property and the parties will be encouraged to use minimum amount of paper
How does voting go down at PU?
Although PU has a population of over 60 per cent females, they have only 15 per cent involvement in active student politics. This also affects the voting on polling day. Many local girls do not come to the university. “My parents have always told me to stay away from politics on the campus and discourage me from going to the university on voting day, saying there will be too much rush,” says a student, who does not want to be named. Students say PU has a lukewarm voting response with 56 per cent in 2015, 67 per cent in 2016 and 62 per cent in 2017.
The largest departments include University Institute of Engineering and Technology (UIET), University Institute of Legal Studies and the department of laws, and University Institute of Chemical Engineering and Technology (UICET), amounting to at least 5,500 votes. All the parties always have a separate party panel for UIET as it is also located on the south campus.