On 14 September, two of the country’s most popular academic institutions – Delhi University (DU) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) – will go into polls. Except that fact that the election will see aggressive students crying themselves hoarse over a plethora of issues, there’s little in common between the student body elections in the two Delhi-based universities.
Elections in DU and JNU present a study in contrast given the sharp differences in the number of students involved, campaigning styles, amount of money that’s pumped in, issues addressed and media coverage.
DU reflects Delhi’s demography, culture and history. Campaigning in DU means reaching out to more than 3 lakh students enrolled in 71 colleges.
DU Students’ Union (DUSU) election has always been a fight between Congress affiliated National Students Union of India (NSUI) and BJP-affiliated Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). Mail Today says that political parties consider three broad factors while selecting candidates – caste (majority of the contenders are jat, gujjars, biharis and brahmins), financial background and physical appearance.
DUSU elections, conducted by the university authorities, is said to be the warm-up for mainstream national politics. Before going national, Arun Jaitely, Mani Shankar Aiyer, Ajay Maken and Vijay Goel slugged it out in campus. Because the stakes are high, contestants offer freebies to woo students. “After the Lyngdoh committee recommendations were issued for student elections, use of money and muscle power has reduced. But it is said that winning candidates still throw parties for supporters,” said Indrajeet Jha, a DU student.
Contenders in DU harp mainly on students’ issues such as bad condition of hostels, safety of women students and problems in semester system. “They have been repeating some of these issues for five years now,” said Vikas Kumar, a PhD student in DU.
This year, NSUI says it will work to ensure sports quota students don’t run into attendance-related problems. It will also demand the conversion of the North campus into a closed campus for the safety of female students. ABVP’s manifesto mentions adding more colleges to the varsity and 50 per cent discount for college students in public transport.
It helps if the parent party of the rival group is facing trouble at the Centre. “This party has given us the PM who says that his silence is better than his words. What do you expect from these people?” said Ankit Dhananjay Chaudhary, ABVP’s presidential candidate at a press briefing on Monday.
In contrast, JNU, located near the IGI airport in South Delhi, is a little more sensitised version of a closed campus.
CAG noted that JNU is a favourite among students in UP and Bihar with 10,000 students applying every year from these states, outnumbering students from other states.
JNU is a citadel of the Left where student elections pitch Students Federation of India (SFI), a student body of CPI (Marxist) against All India Students Association (AISA), the student wing of CPI (Marxist- Leninist). “Nowhere outside West Bengal, a fight within the Left is as exciting as it is in JNU,” said Iqbal Abhimanyu, M Phil students in JNU.
Prakash Karat, Brinda Karat and Sitaram Yechuri are JNU products.
There are many reasons why JNUSU is about intellectual debates as compared to DU’s much publicised, festival-like election. JNU was established in 1969. What followed was a decade of radical social transformation in India. Secondly, introductory courses in JNU were research courses followed by graduate and undergraduate courses. Which means, less whimsical, more matured individuals, presumably peopled the university initially. Also, the first school established in JNU was school of international studies.
G Parthasarthy, a liberal thinker in Nehru’s regime, was JNU’s first vice- chancellor. “JNU kicked off a search for a constructive political alternative. Students were exposed to a range of perspectives. What you see today, is a continuation of that tradition,” said Indu Agnihotri, who belonged to the 1973 batch of MA (History) in JNU.
On 3 May, 1974, Agnihotri remembered, she and her classmates forced the university administration to reschedule their ‘feudalism’ exam as they were going to Boat Club to participate in ‘All India Railway Strike’.
JNUSU is purely managed by students. They formulate poll rules and regulations, select election commissioner from students and count votes.
There are no signs of impulsive politicking in JNU. The signature exercise, here, is an intellectual debate in which contestants put forth their views on different issues such as India’s nuclear policy, US invasion of Iraq, migration of different populations within India and FDI. “To participate in these debates, students have to read. They substantiate their opinion by quoting different scholars,” said Agnihotri. “And student leaders in JNU don’t abandon issues once the election is over. They remain loyal to causes for decades,” she added.