Delhi University students’ union elections are scheduled for the next week. In an ideal set up, these elections should have been highly politicized and keenly contested. Delhi University has just implemented, amidst deep controversies and vociferous protests from the teachers and students, changes in the course duration and syllabi that can have far reaching consequences for the future of higher education in the country. Duration of the Bachelors’ course for the regular courses is four years now, instead of three as it used to be earlier. These changes caused wide ranging debates regarding their implications both in the social media and the print and electronic media, but these issues remain absent from the election campaign of the two major students organizations, ABVP and NSUI backed by BJP and Congress respectively. This time too they are relying on the time tested formula of winning students elections; organize a few parties, negotiate with the right people, fund the right kind of candidates and pump in a lot of money in the form of alcohol and hard cash.
University politics is dominated by the scions of political leaders and businessmen. There are certain families that completely dominate the scene, supplying at least one major candidate for election every few years. DUSU election despite its relatively small constituency generates a lot of attention and media coverage. Candidates who win this election are projected as future leaders of the country and most likely get the ticket for the parliamentary elections in a few years. It is for this reason that many ambitious families see these elections as a launching pad for their scions. The division of labor in such families is rather simple and ‘rational’, some children go into business and some go into politics; while some children mint money, the rest ensure through getting elected that the family business never goes without lucrative orders. Elections are thus nothing less than an investment in which humongous sums of money are involved.
Not surprisingly, no political or ethical issues ever dominate these elections. As a student it was always amusing for us to see the media people invent reasons why a particular candidate won and the rest lost. All kinds of speculations did rounds in the national dailies till the elections remained in news. The reality is what every students of Delhi University knows, whosoever throws in the biggest sum of money wins, plain and simple.
Last week was particularly interesting because Delhi University students caused two traffic jams in the city on the same day. AISA, a left wing students’ organization was holding a referendum in the University over the newly implemented four year course. Almost ten thousand students from different colleges of the University voted against the four year course, whereas around one thousand favored it. The referendum was carried out under extremely trying circumstances as both the University administration and the police tried to bar it resulting in two incidents of violent clashes. The university was trying to ensure that this ‘undemocratic’ referendum did not happen. A university official told NDTV in an interview that this referendum was illegitimate because the said reforms over which the vote was being taken had full support of the elected students union headed by NSUI. The same day another traffic jam was being caused by the students’ of Delhi University. The same NSUI which had supported the reforms on being elected last year was campaigning for the next election; they had organized a ‘rain dance party’ and a jam session. This was a part of a series of similar election campaigns like DJ party, trip to a theme park etc that they are organizing this year. In this instance the University administration remained silent and the police exercised ‘extreme caution and restraint’. I am certain that like every year, this year too they will do exceeding well in the elections owing to their efforts toward democratizing students’ access to music, alcohol and fun; ‘dance of democracy’ it is indeed (pun intended).
Before we start blaming the University students for not being ‘honest citizens’ and putting up with such corrupt leaders, it is pertinent here to take stock of the constituency that we are talking about. We live in a country, in which, according to the HRD data, just around 12 % of all the students who pass out from school go on to get a higher education. University education is the preserve of the privileged few. This University education too is not the same for all, thanks to the state policy, our Universities are divided between mediocre regional universities and a handful of elite universities; Delhi University being the most elite among them all.
The recent slew of reforms is aimed at further upgrading the curriculum at the most elite of the universities. It may be true that the policy makers have bungled their jobs and created a mediocre syllabus, but probably none can deny that in the longer run, in the job market, the four year degree of Delhi University would carry a much heavier weight vis-à-vis the three year degree of the regional universities. It is hardly surprising that the students from this elite campus are hardly interested in the fate of higher education in the country in general, conscious of the fact that most of them would end up doing better than their peers in the regional universities, the cries of disparity in access to higher education hardly appeal to them. They can afford to behave like junkies, lapping up rock shows organized by the ruling parties, guzzling the alcohol served by them and eventually voting for them in the elections. The future of the movement for equitable access to higher education for the deprived masses depends upon how far the leftwing organizations are able to galvanize the mass of the youth which remains outside the university. So the students’ union elections at the elite campus probably should not matter to them within the larger scheme of things.
Image Source: By Pt. Lachmi Dhar Kalla (1891–1953) (The logo may be obtained from University of Delhi.) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons