Informed debates and witty repartees are a passe. Muscle and money power now plays a key role in students’ bodies across Rajasthan, elections for which are being held today, barring the Jodhpur division.
Election campaigns are a free-for-all between the rival groups and perhaps for the first time, caste is playing an important role in deciding the fate of the budding leaders of Rajasthan.
The tension peaked on campuses Wednesday NSUI state president Abhimanyu Poonia and NSUI’s presidential candidate Ranveer Singhania were attacked on their way to Aravali hostel. A group of assailants had laid ambush and attacked the candidates when they were returning. Both of them sustained injuries and were discharged from the hospital on Thursday.
Poonia blamed the BJP for the incident but Arjun Tiwari, ABVP’s Jaipur region organisational secretary, refuted the charges. “We do not believe in such type of activities but the NSUI is losing its ground and there were factional fights in the NSUI,” Tiwari said. Since Rajasthan Assembly elections are scheduled in December, student body elections have become the prime focus for both the BJP and Congress. State Congress chief Sachin Pilot and leader of Opposition Rameshwar Dudi were quick to condemn attacks on NSUI leaders.
Both NSUI and ABVP have also had to face internal rebellion in the selection of candidates. “Though I deserve to be nominated as a candidate, the NSUI denied me the opportunity,” said Vinod Jakhar, a Dalit student leader. The ABVP managed to pacify its rebels to a larger extent.
“It is now a trend in institutions of higher education to let caste, money and muscle power play a key role in student body elections,” says Bhupendra Singh Shekhawat, public relations office, University of Rajasthan. “It is unfortunate and we are helpless,” he adds.
Poll campaigning also escalated the tension between the student wings. Despite repeated warnings by the university administration, the contestants pasted posters on the walls and littered campuses with impunity. Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the BJP, and the Congress-affiliated National Student's Union of India (NSUI) blamed each other for the mess. “Now universities are producing leaders who win the elections by using money and muscle power. Besides this, the caste becomes an important criteria in the candidate selection,” said Narendra Singh Shekhawat, former President of Rajasthan University.
The university authorities have claimed that elections will be conducted as per the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations and a candidate can spend five thousand rupees on campaigning. The university student body elections are also grappling with gender issues. In the last 71 years, the student wing has seen only female candidate emerge as the president.
Aditi Parashar, who is pursuing masters in journalism from the university, shared: “Girls do not take much interest in such elections because huge amount of money is needed to contest the polls. Incidents of violence also discourage girls from participating in the electoral battle.” Parashar pointed out that sometimes the parents also ask their girls to keep away from polls-related activities.
Rajasthan University Teachers Association (RUTA) president Jayant Singh said the association has witnessed “a decline in the quality of student leadership”. “It is most unfortunate that there is no debate and discourse during the elections. The evils of mainstream politics have forced their way into in student polls,” he added.
Social scientist Rajiv Gupta pointed out that when students enroll in universities they bring with them their identity of caste, religion and region. “The government and political parties also encourage such scenarios to support their own agendas. The students often start catering to their personal identity and lose interest in the fight for real issues,” says Gupta, who retired as the head of Sociology Department from Rajasthan University. “No one teaches them about the real relationship between education and politics,” he added.
There are over 22,000 registered voters in the university. Last year, only 51 percent students came out to exercise their voting rights.