By Deepti Nair
Students’ Union election this time has all the trappings of a general election; every step is embroiled in controversies. Allegations and counter allegations have reverberated in the sprawling University of Hyderabad campus. Provocative slogans, heated arguments, instant dharnas and scuffles are common sights during each and every stage of the process. Sensing the surcharged atmosphere, the authorities ensured ‘unprecedented’ security. Wondering what led to this perfect chaos and deadlock?
Here goes a factual account of this year’s election.
The General Body Meeting (GBM), held on August 20, was called by the ex Students’ Union to dissolve itself and elect an Election Commission (EC). It witnessed widespread protests from parties like Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA) and National Students’ Union of India (NSUI). These unions argued that the GBM and the election should be postponed as around 400 students had not finished their semester registration and thus could not participate in this democratic process.
Though this sentiment is logical, it was not articulated clearly during the GBM but was clarified only in the posters that came out later. During the GBM, it was vehemently argued that new students, especially from rural backgrounds, were not well acquainted with the university and that freshers’ parties had not been conducted. It is thus not very surprising that the GBM did undertake its natural course despite the fact that most protestors staged a walkout. The election of the EC members which was taking place before the walkout, continued and, finally, a 29-member EC was constituted. A section of students cried foul over this but they couldn’t prevent the election process.
Arguments: Valid or not?
The validity of all the arguments put forward by different groups has to be examined. One is whether students who did not have a new semester registration card could enter the GBM with their admit cards or the old semester cards. Ramkrishna Reddy, president of the NSUI, said, “It (entering the GBM with admit cards) has not happened in the history of this university. The last date for my registration was August 25. Even I was not allowed to enter the DST for the GBM, but I entered from the side.”
The second question is regarding the validity of the EC that was formed. When a show of hands was called to vote for the continuation of the electoral processes, the ex Students’ Union President Nelson Mandela said that out of the 170 students present, 110 students had given the mandate to continue with it. These figures were readily contested by the other parties pointing out that 110 students in this university was hardly a majority.
Mandela had taken quite an erratic step by stating such a ‘fact.’ It is argued that the method of voting (hand count) is a cumbersome one and one can, at best, make a generalised count. Thus, in no way, one can say that 110 or 170 were accurate numbers or whether the real count was less or more. This mystery shall forever remain and the next GBM should learn its lessons from this one to come up with a better system of counting.
The opposing parties claim was that the EC consists of SFI supporters because it had been formed during the GBM which, according to them, did not have the required majority.
What followed was a deluge of protests by the ASA, NSUI, the Dalit Students’ Union (DSU) and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). Often marked by the use of foul language, they took place with alarming regularity outside the EC office. It culminated in the peaceful sit-in of August 29 in which they demanded the dissolving of the EC and the calling of a new GBM. What led to the sit-in was the fact that a parallel GBM had been called for with around 800 signatures collected in support. But the GBM failed to take place proving beyond doubt the disinterest of student community in the hugely politicised fiasco that the electoral process had become.
The following day witnessed more protests outside the office of the Dean, Students’ Welfare (DSW) to dissolve the EC and postpone the elections. This was the day which was set aside for the Open Dias session which for security reasons did not take place. A Grievance Redressal Committee (GRC) was set up on the next day and a decision was made to postpone the elections as the EC had not been able to carry out its duties. An irony is that while the protests at the DSW office were going on, election campaign by the same political parties were going on in other places.
The end - More fiasco
The election scheduled for September 7th took place on time. But the counting process which was scheduled for September 8th became a highly politicised drama which went on until the wee hours of the next morning. (more) Amid all the political games, the spirit of this democratic process was highly dampened. Rules were broken right, left and centre. Posters by all the contesting parties continued to appear despite the fact that it was against the norms. The EC, which is supposed to be an all-powerful body, became helpless. The election commission office was taken over and materials from inside went missing. Arguments aside, the fact that the Students’ Union election in an ‘intellectually enlightened academic institution’ like ours had to become such a divisive and appalling event cuts a sorry picture.