Vandalism, roadshows, machismo: Delhi University gears up for student body polls after 3-year hiatus

The Delhi University Student Union elections will be held on September 22.

WrittenBy:Priyali Dhingra
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The beats of Indian drums, punctuated by car horns and the occasional siren, reverberated outside Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Khalsa College on Monday. It was a tacit announcement, especially for first-year students watching with intrigue — Delhi University students’ body polls are in the offing. The elections are due on September 22. 

Soon, members of the RSS student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad emerged in a sea of cars with banners pronouncing their prospective candidates’ names: Rishabh Choudhary, Vaibhav Choudhary, Akash Yadav, and many others. “This is our first day of campaigning in four years, the thrill is unmatched,” said an ABVP volunteer and third-year student at Hansraj College. As the elated crowd threw pamphlets in the air, other commuters waited for the road to be cleared. 

The polls for the four-member Delhi University Student Union are being held after a hiatus of three years. The elections were postponed for consecutive years due to Covid-19. As per the schedule, the last date of filing the nominations for the polls is September 12, and voting will be held on September 22 — from 8.30 am to 1 pm for morning students and 3 pm to 7 pm for evening college students.  

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An ABVP volunteer throws pamphlets in the air, outside SGBT Khalsa.
ABVP volunteers during their pre-campaign outside SGTB Khalsa. The sea of cars displaying the RSS student wing’s candidates' names led to a long traffic snarl on the north campus.
ABVP candidates Vaibhav Choudhary and Rishabh Choudhary during their pre-campaign at SRCC.
A vandalised signboard at Chhatra Marg.

Two days after releasing a list of 17 prospective candidates, the ABVP began its ‘pre-campaign’ for the elections on Monday. These prospective candidates and volunteers visited several colleges across the Delhi University campuses. At SGTB Khalsa and Shri Ram College of Commerce on the north campus, about 40 ABVP volunteers walked down the corridors to introduce themselves to students. They also addressed classrooms to the professors’ visible displeasure. Subsequently, the chants of “ABVP zindabad”, or long live ABVP, paired with the candidates’ names, resounded in the narrow roads of the north campus, as party members drove around in SUVs — all in a bid to regain the majority seats in the DUSU. 

“This feels almost like a riot. It’s like what they show in movies,” a first-year BCom student watching the ABVP parade through SGTB Khalsa’s canteen told Newslaundry, adding that the spectacle scared her and her friends.  

Notably, in the 2019 elections, the ABVP had managed to win the president’s post by a margin of 19,000 votes, reportedly the highest margin in the DUSU history. The party secured the posts of the student union’s president, vice-president, and joint secretary. Meanwhile, Congress’ student wing NSUI won one seat with Ashish Lamba securing the secretary’s post. Lamba was also seen partaking in road shows earlier this month on the north campus.

ABVP pamphlets scattered outside SGTB Khalsa.
NSUI graffiti and ABVP poster on the walls of DU proctor’s residence.
A large hoarding with name of an ABVP candidate seen alongside a UP government hoarding outside Vishwavidyalaya Metro Station. The DUSU elections are considered to be a stepping stone for young politicians.

Stage to flex power, flout norms 

For the longest time, the DUSU elections have been under fire for the campaign fever that overtakes the parties: defacing public walls, pasting posters and flyers on every inch, and engaging in bouts of violence. Having birthed politicians such as Arun Jaitley, Alka Lamba, and Ajay Maken, the student body elections tend to get heated and competitive — becoming a stage to flex money and muscle power — the brunt of which is borne by public infrastructure. 

Taking cognisance, the Supreme Court in 2005 had directed the union ministry of human resource development to appoint a committee, under former election commissioner JM Lyngdoh, to formulate guidelines for the DUSU polls. In May 2006, the committee floated norms that capped the maximum poll expenditure by each candidate at Rs 5,000. The committee also disallowed candidates from using “printed posters, printed pamphlets, or any other printed material” for canvassing. It permitted the use of “only hand-made posters at certain places” on the campus. However, about 18 years on, the guidelines issued by the Lyngdoh Committee seem inconsequential.  

Earlier this month, the Delhi Police issued a warning to DU students over the defacing of walls. The police department’s official Twitter handle posted that defacing walls for elections “might seem artsy”, but it will attract legal action. 

Rajeev Shah, SHO of Maurice Nagar police station told Newslaundry that those accused of vandalising public property will be charged under the Delhi Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, 2007, punishment for which includes six-month imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1,000. 

On being asked about the vandalism, DUSU’s outgoing president and ABVP leader Akshit Dahiya said, “This is the first time that the current batches of undergraduate students are witnessing and voting in DU polls…This is the first classroom of India’s democracy. Our candidates will make sure that we stick to the rules, and only use dedicated spaces for posters, such as the Wall of Democracy.” 

However, Newslaundry saw that posters and banners by the ABVP dominate the Chhatra Marg, while several graffiti by NSUI can be spotted as well. The posters and graffiti of both the parties were also seen outside DU’s proctor professor Rajni Abbi’s house and the walls of DU Women’s Hostel, Delhi School of Economics and Vishwavidyalaya Metro Station. 

Hansraj students look at the ‘Join ABVP’ posters on a wall near the Delhi School of Economics.
Posters of NSUI candidate Abhi Dahiya near Hindu College.
ABVP graffiti and posters on the walls of Ramjas College.

Members of both ABVP and NSUI, who spoke to Newslaundry, blamed the opposition for posters and graffiti put up in their name. “Ever since members of other parties realised that the NSUI is gaining ground and may give them a good run for votes this time, they’ve been spraying our names on the walls,” claimed Rohit Dedha, a final-year student at Dyal Singh College, whose brother Shivam Bhadana is one of the prospective candidates of the NSUI this year.

Meanwhile, sources at the ABVP said at least eight names will be shortlisted in the coming weeks, and eventually four names will be finalised before filing the nominations. Amid the party’s ‘pre-campaign’, Newslaundry saw that chants of “Chaudhary” and “Yadav” clashed at various points hinting at the intensifying competition between the party members too.  

Torn up posters of NSUI, ABVP, and AISA on the Wall of Democracy.
Names of various candidates spray-painted on the wall of University Hostel for Women at Chhatra Marg.
NSUI members during a membership drive at Kirori Mal College.
An NSUI candidate during the election campaign at Delhi University.

‘No focus on real issues’

Swati Garg, a BCom Honors student at Hansraj, said the student leaders’ conduct has been “really disappointing” and the parties should focus more on “connecting with students personally” and direct attention towards real issues. “Our campus looks dirty. The roadshows lead to excessive traffic, and instead of helping solve the issue, they take joy in it…Opposing parties tear off each other’s posters, littering the roads even more,” she said, standing next to a wall covered with ABVP posters outside Delhi School of Economics. 

“Most candidates that contest elections seem more occupied with spraying their names on lifts and hostel walls rather than working for actual welfare. They only look for power,” said Samay Agarwal, a first-year student at Ramjas College. Several others echoed this view, and said this may stop them from casting their vote.  

Anjali Sharma, secretary of All India Students’ Union’s DU chapter, said: “Putting posters up is a democratic right, but we must refrain from doing that on heritage buildings and public walls…There are dedicated spaces to do this, to express dissent via posters, and not vandalize our buildings.” 

Meanwhile, a second-year student of Political Science, Rajvardhan Singh said that several parties were approaching students, but none had “a plan for the future”.  “ABVP is busy talking about their accomplishments of the last four years, while NSUI is still looking for a designated face of their party,” he said, adding that the parties must work to demand better infrastructure for colleges on the north campus rather than damaging the buildings.  

However, NSUI Delhi president Kunal Sehrawat said the party was currently focused on their “campaigns against ragging”. “We are yet to work on our manifesto. Our focus right now is to address the issues faced by first years,  be it ragging, high-rent of PGs or concerns related to classes.” He added their party has been demanding for a Rent Control Act in areas with student accommodations. 

AISA’s Sharma said the four-year undergraduate programme will be the party’s “biggest election issue this time around”. She added that the party has been holding protests against it over the past year. 

With manifestos and final list of candidates expected to be released in the coming weeks, the campaigning is set to pick up pace. And in the race to garner the majority votes in a whopping electorate of over 1.3 lakh students across south, north, and west campuses of the Delhi University, the campus infrastructure is again likely to end up a scapegoat.

Posters adorn the Kirori Mal College bus stop.
A second-year student of Kirori Mal College in front of a vandalised divider.
A vandalised signboard at Chhatra Marg.
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