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Poll by and for quota students

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By Sidharth Mishra
The dust has settled on the outcome of the Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) elections. These polls for the past few years have been witnessing what can be termed as a caste-based election. This has been the butterfly effect of the quota introduced for candidates from the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in Delhi University by Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh during the UPA-I regime.
Though Arjun Singh’s formula made room for retaining the existing number of seats for the general category students, it did so by providing for extra seats to accommodate the increased number of OBC students.Little did he realise that he was going to create fault lines inside every classroom of Delhi University.
Today while the students with 90% marks from the general category find it absolutely difficult to get a toehold in a respectable course of a reasonable college of the university, those with a much lesser percentage walk into the same classrooms without much sweat. What has worsened the situation is the Delhi University administration’s open flouting of rules regarding the implementation of the creamy layer category for the OBC students.
Though this matter has been raised in the varsity’s arbitration body – the University Court– for the past two years there has not been much movement on it. Despite assurances given by vice-chancellor Dinesh Singh, the university administration has done little to implement it. The simple yet effective solution of asking the OBC applicants to append their parent’s annual income tax returns to ascertain whether their family belongs to creamy or non-creamy layer has not been yet accepted by the university.
This has created a situation where ‘deserving’ candidates from the OBC categories have been denied admission under the quota. Ironically at the same time Delhi’s economic elite from urban villages belonging to the Gujjar and Jat communities have been getting easy entry. They use their admissions tickets first to contest Delhi University polls and then flaunt their success in students’ politics for political positions at a higher level.
Questions may be asked as to what’s wrong with that. People may point out that students in the past too have graduated from Delhi University politics to state and national politics. That’s true, but the complexions of the elections have completely changed since direct polls started in the mid-1970s. The ‘student’ participation in these polls has come down, and those who are part of the process are generally such students who are there on the campus only for the cause of politics.
The polling percentage in these polls for the past few years has not moved beyond 45 percent, which should also be a cause of concern. This trend is reflective of the lack of participation by serious students in the poll process. It would be worthwhile for the Delhi University administration to find out the academic profile of the voters, and I am certain they would largely be from the quota categories. The proof of this is in the selection of candidates, be it the one affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the Congress or the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
That typical caste politics was being played out on the campus during the past week was best illustrated in former AAP leader Prashant Bhushan’s post on micro-blogging site Twitter. “DUSU lesson for AAP: When people vote for you for alternative politics, and you descend to money and muscle power, you fall between two stools and lose,” wrote Bhushan after AAP’s CYSS was routed in the polls despite an aggressive campaign propelled by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal himself.
Money indeed has come to play a big role in DUSU polls, and the financial sinews of those seeking tickets have become a major factor in deciding candidature. This is very unfortunate and has defeated the very purpose of allowing politics on the campus. In a recent update posted on social media, a former Delhi University teacher who spent a lifetime conducting students’ union elections wrote, “there is an urgent need to abolish students unions as now they have become a vehicle to perpetuate hooliganism and corruption and criminalisation in Indian politics. I do not think developed nations have this concept in their colleges. There should be a national debate on it”.
The Lyngdoh Committee, which was appointed by the Supreme Court, in its guidelines says, “The maximum permitted expenditure per candidate shall be Rs. 5000. With the view to prevent the inflow of funds from political parties into the student election process, the candidates are specially barred from utilising funds from any other sources than voluntary contributions from the student body.”
What was witnessed on the Delhi University campus last week would have entailed expenditure close to five crores each by the three leading parties. This would mean adding another four zeroes to the figure of Rs 5000. As Bhushan said in an earlier tweet during the run-up to the polls, “Crores on posters/pamphlets/billboards. Ministers were muscling into colleges. AAPs version of alternative politics in DU!”
Besides the use of money and muscle, what should be of greater concern is for those who have been through the portals of Delhi University is the social divide that these polls have increasingly come to reflect. The hoary university draws contrasting images when admissions happen and when elections take place. In an ideal world, universities should be portkeys for bridging social divides. They should not be instruments for widening existing chasms.
(The author is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post. ) 

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