If imitation is art, Delhi University Student Union (DUSU) elections are a masterpiece. They provide scaled-down versions of parliamentary elections, with scope of influence being the only factors that are reduced. Display of money and muscle power has taken over these elections to such an extent that students in Delhi University have grown to expect freebies — such as free food coupons and movie tickets — along with extensive traffic jams caused by party campaign vehicles.
In response to all this, in 2005, the Supreme Court decided to set up a committee to ensure measures that would curb unrest caused by college elections and introduce an age limit for candidates so that students did not keep picking one course after another, just so that they could participate in elections.
Following the Supreme Court order, the Ministry of Human Resource Development constituted a six-member panel headed by former Chief Election Commissioner J M Lyngdoh. The committee submitted its report in May 2006 with guidelines regarding eligibility criteria of candidates, transparency in expenditure during elections as well as barring candidates from re-contesting, irrespective of whether they’ve won or lost in the election.
The Lyngdoh Committee has, however, been largely denounced by student unions due to its restrictive nature. It is seen to be limiting the democratic functioning of student unions. Students are generally the sole authority for conducting student elections and the Lyngdoh Committee has been criticised for allowing intrusion of university authorities in the process.
The disallowance for candidates to re-contest elections has been seen as a big hindrance as it limits the number of candidates. It is also restrictive — why should a candidate not be re-elected if she/he has been doing commendable work during their year in the student union?
All India Students’ Association (AISA) member Sunny Kumar said, “AISA is against Lyngdoh Committee recommendations as it seeks to restrain the democratic rights of the students. Besides, DU itself is not willing to implement the recommendations on ground level. Money and muscle display goes on by the student parties funded by their parent organisation; freebies are handed out, posters are pasted all over the campus, so called ‘cultural events’ are organized to entice students.”
It does not take an economics major to recognize that all of this expenditure definitely exceeds the Rs 5,000 limit set by the Committee. Apart from cultural events, student organisations arrange large-scale freshers’ parties to entice students at the beginning of academic sessions. These often have performances by artists who are expensive.
The National Green Tribunal ordered on July 18, 2016 that DUSU polls must be conducted without excessive wastage of paper (essentially, posters and pamphlets). The NGT order declared that, “Only allow candidates contesting elections or their pre-notified student agents to utilise handmade posters at certain notified places, not exceeding two on each campus.”
Anoop Panwar, of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP)’s Delhi State Working Committee, maintained that ABVP was working according to the guidelines laid down by the Committiee and NGT orders. He said, “We have taken the social media route this time to attract more voters and cut down on the use of posters.”
However, take a look at the writing on the wall.
The Committee’s effectiveness thus comes under serious scrutiny. Even though the NGT re-ordered for implementation of the committee’s orders, the rules have by and large been flouted. As visible in the images, far more than two posters have been put up in the campus and none are handmade.
The fact that most recommendations of the report have been denounced by student organisations and the rest are being blatantly ignored begs the question that do DUSU and other student unions require a fresh set of guidelines to follow?