JNUSU polls conclude peacefully; highest voter turnout in five years, NSUI, ABVP top contenders

New Delhi: Students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) voted in the Students' Union election 2018 on Friday to elect candidates for the posts of president, vice-president, general secretary and joint secretary. Polling by ballot papers to elect representatives began at 10 am with eight candidates in the contest for the coveted presidential post.

The National Student Union of India (NSUI) fielded Vikas Yadav as their presidential candidate while the right-leaning Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) fielded Lalit Pandey. The Left-leaning All India Students’ Association (AISA), Democratic Students Federation (DSF), Student Federation of India (SFI) and All India Students Federation (AISF) have come together to form the United Left Alliance, which has fielded N Sai Balaji as its presidential candidate.

The results are expected to be out by Sunday (16 September) morning.

In comparison to the Delhi University Student Elections (DUSU), JNUSU elections were conducted in a more peaceful manner. Election day saw a vibrant crowd geared up for polling. Students and cheerleaders showed their support by singing slogans in favour of their favourite candidates and beating drums. “Vaam pant se aaya rahat Lalit, Geetasri, Ganesh, Venkat”, and “Jai Shri Ram” slogans were raised by the ABVP supporters.

 JNUSU polls conclude peacefully; highest voter turnout in five years, NSUI, ABVP top contenders

Students in a queue to cast their votes at JNU. Image: Rahul Satija/101Reporters

The voter turnout was recorded at 68 percent, with 5,185 votes polled, highest in the last five JNUSU elections.

To help create an inclusive election process, the election organising committee at the university ensured that each differently-abled student was accompanied by a person who could help them cast their vote, said Sumit, a committee member.

An interesting mechanism was used to assist the visually-impaired in voting. Through a set of headphones, the names of candidates are announced to each visually-challenged person. Once the voter makes a decision, they select their desired candidate on laptop that is embedded with screenreader - a software programme that allows visually-impaired users to read the displayed text on the computer screen with a speech synthesizer or braille display. Next, the voter’s choice is printed from the screenreader and entered into the ballot box.

A common pattern noticed across the Delhi University and JNU student elections was the mass wastage of paper. While comparatively there was less usage and wastage in JNU, thousands of sheets of paper lay scattered across the ground. This, despite designated cardboard boxes being placed around the campus to collect pamphlets for recycling.

Crowds of students started gathering around 9.30am, and the voting process began at 10.00am, which continued till 1.00pm. The second round of voting began at 2.30pm and went on till 5.30pm.

Jahnu Kumar Heer, an independent candidate vying for the president’s post, said, “I am working as a one-man army. I am alone distributing pamphlets and campaigning. If I win I would work to improve the situation of all hostels in the university.”

With ABVP playing the saffron card, many of its supporters showed up dressed in orange. Raghavendra Mishra, an ABVP supporter pursuing his PhD in Sanskrit, was dressed as a priest. Vivank, an ABVP worker, also turned up to show his support for party candidates, stating, “We want to make this institution world class. One of our party agendas is to inculcate a sense of nationalism among students. And if we win, we would organise such nationalistic programmes.” He also added that the Left wing is against any form of development.

Jayant Kumar, who is representing Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in the contest for the presidential post, disagrees that ABVP will succeed. “We have made complete arrangements for the polling day. Our supporters seemed to be very active. We want to throw ABVP ideology out of India. We don't want their ideology to persist.”

When asked about what changes he would bring about as president provided he gets elected, Kumar said that they want to uplift all minority groups and help them out through the new admission process. “Due to the UGC guidelines that were introduced last year, the admission process gives more weightage to Viva now.”

Unlike earlier, where maximum weightage was given to the entrance exam as compared to viva-voce, the former is merely a procedure to qualify, while most importance is given to the viva. This, Kumar says, creates a hindrance for minority groups. “It is difficult for students who belong to the backward community or are poor to perform well in viva. We want the viva contribution for the selection procedure to be reduced to 30 percent.”

Election pamphlets lying around the JNU campus. Rahul Satija/101Reporters

Election pamphlets lying around the JNU campus. Rahul Satija/101Reporters

Confident of his victory, ABVP’s Lalit Pandey said after their party wins, they would make arrangements for new hostels, renovate existing ones, and incorporate compulsory attendance.

Students alleged that ABVP tried to influence voters through bribes. Udita, a student of JNU’s School of Social Sciences, said, “ABVP gave treats at nearby restaurants and they also took students to a movie in order to influence their votes.” Govind Dangi of ABVP, who is contesting for the post of the counsellor at School of International Studies, denied claims that the Parishad was bribing student voters.

In view of the ensuing Lok Sabha elections, JNUSU elections are vital in the political scenario of the nation. Requesting anonymity, some JNU students opined that JNU is the core of youth politics and since many young leaders from JNU are currently contributing to national politics, the varsity election would also set the tone for ensuing Lok Sabha election.

National media convener of ABVP, Monika Chaudhary, however, believes the impact of JNUSU polls on Lok Sabha polls could at most be indirect, if any. “If the Left wing is raising agenda of arrest of Left activists in JNUSU polls, it proves that Left unity is in favour of Urban naxalism,” she had said.

Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association (BAPSA), which raised issues of the students belonging to marginalized groups in JNUSU 2018, could also play a vital role in cutting votes, as it is considered an alternative of the Left and Right Wing. Thallapelli Praveen contested as BAPSA’s presidential candidate.

With inputs from Ashish Mani Tiwari

The authors are New Delhi-based freelance writers, and members of 101Reporters.com.

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Updated Date: Sep 14, 2018 21:17:32 IST