As part of my MA Convergent Journalism course work at Jamia Millia Islamia’s AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, I paid a visit to Delhi University’s North Campus on September 3 with the purpose of doing a video story on the upcoming Delhi University Student Union (DUSU) elections. A triumph in DUSU elections can turn out to be a life changing experience for young students interested in taking the political plunge.
Several DUSU presidents have used the opportunity to launch their political careers, including BJP’s Nupur Sharma who contested against Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal in the Assembly elections held earlier this year. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s MLA Alka Lamba, who was formerly associated with the Congress, has also been a DUSU president. But the most prominent name in the list is that of Union finance, corporate Affairs & information & broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley, who served as DUSU president prior to the Emergency.
Traditionally, DUSU elections have been dominated by the Congress’ National Students Union of India (NSUI) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). But the entry of debutante Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti (CYSS), the student wing of AAP, has transformed it into a triangular contest. Unfortunately, all the three student parties, that is, CYSS, ABVP and NSUI are united in one thing – the violation of the poll code as laid out by the Lyngdoh Committee guidelines, which carry the sanction of the Supreme Court.
Among its many recommendations, the Lyngdoh Committee suggested that election expenditure cannot exceed Rs 5,000 per candidate. It also stated that students would not be allowed to make use of any printed posters or pamphlets and would have to resort only to handmade posters and pamphlets while canvassing for votes. However, a visit to the university campus made me a firsthand witness to the blatant violations of the binding Lyngdoh Committee guidelines by different political parties. Right outside the Vishwavidyalaya metro station at North Campus was a huge billboard advertisement of the CYSS, which displayed the findings of a survey predicting their victory in the DUSU elections slated for September 11.
A few metres away, I saw yet another billboard – this one belonged to the NSUI. This advertisement also listed the findings of an election survey and claimed that the NSUI would win hands down. Such surveys have become a point of controversy since the veracity of the research agencies that conducted them is not fully known. The sample size is also not established. But the worst thing is the fact that the advertisement costs run into thousands of rupees and are printed digitally. They clearly violate Lyngdoh Committee guidelines and yet they find space inside the university campus.
When I met Hitanshi Chauhan, a student leader belonging to CYSS and asked her about the printed advertisements as also who was funding them, she told me that these things were taken care of by Arvind Kejriwal and that she would like to “thank him” for whatever he is doing for them. Isn’t it unfortunate that a sitting chief minister is blatantly violating the code of conduct of the student union elections? Student leaders like Hitanshi Chauhan, who should categorically distance themselves from such unethical election conduct, do not condemn such violations. They would rather choose to convey their regards to their party supremo.
Considering the fact that ABVP swept the last elections by winning all the four posts – president, vice-president, secretary and joint secretary – I thought that it was necessary to have a word with their leaders and proceeded to their office, which is walking distance from Patel Chest Institute. I did not get a chance to interact with their leaders as they were busy campaigning, but realised that ABVP is no different when it comes to following the Lyngdoh Committee guidelines.
Sunil Kumar, a shopkeeper outside Ramjas College, showed me how ABVP and other student wings had stuck posters and stickers all over his shop without seeking permission. He pointed out that this kind of publicity material is either stuck early on in the morning or late at night, much before his arrival and after his departure. What kind of student elections are these? Poll code violations are bipartisan and rampant in the case of DUSU elections, with student parties defiling property clandestinely.
No one is spending as much on advertisements as AAP’s CYSS. Every corner of the university I went to had an advertisement with CYSS’ name and Arvind Kejriwal’s photograph. The upcoming DUSU elections are being treated as a prestige battle by Kejriwal. He is not content with his dramatic victory in the Assembly elections, wherein he won 67 out of the 70 seats. He probably wants to win every election inside Delhi – be it the much politicised student union elections of Delhi University or the municipal body elections.
Winning DUSU elections is important for Kejriwal. He hasn’t delivered much after becoming the chief minister. His government has been embroiled in an ugly faceoff with Lieutenant-Governor Najeeb Jung and blamed the central government led by Narendra Modi for everything that has gone wrong. Internally, the party has shown signs of disarray with the ouster of Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav. AAP’s supposedly clean image also suffered a setback due to the fake degree row surrounding former state law minister Jitender Singh.
Kejriwal realises that such incidents have hit his popularity. That’s the reason why he has thrown money behind CYSS to ensure its victory. A win in DUSU elections for CYSS would lead to the pundits predicting Arvind Kejriwal’s continuing popularity among Delhi’s youngsters. But a defeat in DUSU elections would be detrimental to Kejriwal’s image. Political parties would use the occasion to suggest that Kejriwal has lost the trust of Dilliwaalas. Party insiders would echo the need for bringing back Bhushan and Yadav so as to salvage AAP and prevent it from degrading into a one-man party whose political fortunes are solely dependent on the image of a single person called Arvind Kejriwal.
To avoid such embarrassment, Kejriwal is leaving no stone unturned to conquer DUSU. But what happened to the idealistic Kejriwal? Aren’t student elections meant to be fought by students and not chief ministers? Kejriwal probably thinks otherwise. That’s why he has put billboard advertisements outside the metro station at Delhi University, urging students to “say no to muscle power, say no to money power”. But the entry of a chief minister in a mere university election itself speaks volumes of the muscle power being utilised by the AAP and the CYSS. As far as money power is concerned, it doesn’t take Einstein to figure out how much 20-30 ft-long printed billboard advertisements cost.
NSUI and ABVP have been habitual offenders of the poll code, but CYSS has lost an opportunity to portray itself differently. In fact it has taken DUSU elections to a new low.
(This article was originally published in DailyO.)