The NSUI has made a decisive comeback in these DUSU elections, winning two out of four seats (one of the results is disputed by us) of the student union. After many unofficial confirmations, the result for the Joint Secretary was changed at the last minute and the Election Office refused a recount. The NSUI is thus moving court with an election petition. The verdict, however, goes beyond seats won and lost. While our comeback after four years shows that the students have rejected the politics of hate and ideological totalitarianism, the DUSU poll outcome is also a positive mandate. The NSUI pitched this election as a contest over the idea of the university and the role of student unions within it. And the students have spoken decisively.
At its core, the university is a place to develop critical thinking: Inquiry, dialogue, debate, dissent are virtues in this conception. However, over the last few years, there has been a concerted attempt to change the character of the university. Instead of a free flow of ideas, a single idea is being propagated. Debate over this idea is not just discouraged but crushed. Students and teachers have been beaten up; seminars, documentary screenings, theatre festivals have been forcibly cancelled. With topics and discussants having to be pre-approved, the university is becoming a space for indoctrination, not education.
Student union elections are an opportunity for students to assert democratic control over the university space and in the above context, have acquired significance beyond the university. However, most student unions have lost legitimacy over the years. There is a perception of the space having been taken over by professional politicians and/or thugs. Consequently, many states have stopped student union elections altogether. Even within DU, many colleges have opted out of DUSU elections. This trend should be opposed because it is using the current crisis of legitimacy of student representation to do away with democratic representation altogether.
The NSUI thus ran a two-pronged campaign: We asked students to #TakeBackDU while clearly articulating what we see as the role of student unions in the governance of the university. Launching our manifesto well in advance, we focused on four areas where a student union is relevant in a university: Provide a forum to resolve student grievances vis a vis the administration; enable structured student participation in academic and executive decision-making; provide support and facilitation for students who need additional help; provide a platform for student learning and community.
Permeating all the above is the conception of the university. The NSUI sees universities as a public good not a clique for the rich. Increasingly, even public universities are moving towards self-financing courses with prohibitive tuition fees. In DU, colleges have to raise funds from students instead of being covered by government grants. Consequently, fees varies from Rs 30,000 to Rs 48,000 across colleges pricing out many poor students. Connected to this is the need to make space in the universities for the marginalised, especially first-generation learners — and be responsible for their assimilation for this space to be meaningful.
Three organisations — the NSUI, ABVP and AISA — were in the fray in these elections. The main issues highlighted by the other two organisations were hostels, university buses and metro passes. AISA also raised the ABVP’s goondaism. While violence on university campus is an important concern, focus on these other issues is indicative of the limited imagination of both ABVP and AISA. It is not that these issues are not important — they are and the NSUI is committed to addressing them — but they are almost municipal concerns, which do nothing to address the real questions of governance of DU. The NSUI on the other hand highlighted the iniquitous disparity between colleges, high fees, the need for a grievance redress process, facilitation for marginalised students as its main issues. These issues are difficult to raise because they are not already common currency among students though they are fundamental to the governance of any university. The NSUI has also raised the constraints on personal freedoms being imposed by the ABVP and its parent organisation, the RSS, in universities across the country.
It is evident that these issues resonated with the students. Our DUSU win is more than just a satisfying victory over the bigotry of the ABVP; it is the beginning of an exciting new shift in student politics.