City colleges wary as students demand elections | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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City colleges wary as students demand elections

Sep 19, 2022 12:06 AM IST

While the MU started welcoming nominations from all MU-affiliated institutes and planned student elections between August and September of 2019, the same had to be postponed that year due to ongoing state elections

Mumbai Twenty five years after the state government called for a ban on student elections in state universities, campus politics was all set to make a re-entry in Maharashtra after the enactment of Maharashtra Public Universities Act 2016. In 2019, University of Mumbai (MU) released a schedule for student elections. However, three years later, the clause still remains on paper.

With physical classes and work finally back, student bodies are now demanding that state universities restart election nominations (HT File)
With physical classes and work finally back, student bodies are now demanding that state universities restart election nominations (HT File)

While the MU started welcoming nominations from all MU-affiliated institutes and planned student elections between August and September of 2019, the same had to be postponed that year due to ongoing state elections. By 2020, Covid hit and a nation-wide lockdown was initiated, pushing the campus elections process by another two years. With physical classes and work finally back, student bodies are now demanding that state universities restart election nominations.

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“Despite having a policy in place, the fact that student elections remains only in paper in the past five years shows how the administration of state universities have no interest in allowing student bodies to voice their opinion or raise objections to any wrongdoings in the universities,” said Sainath Durge, Yuvsena core committee member.

“There’s no reason for any further delay in the process. Lack of student representatives is the cause for several issues faced by the student community, which often goes unheard and unsolved,” he added.

Maharashtra college campuses have for long been the training ground for future politicians. Bharatiya Janata Party’s Vinod Tawde, Congress’s late Gurudas Kamat, Nationalist Congress Party’s Jitendra Avhad, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s Raj Thackeray and Shiv Sena’s Aditya Thackeray are just a few examples of politicians whose careers began as student leaders.

While universities in Delhi, Kerala and West Bengal are known for being hotbeds of political activism, campus politics in Mumbai has been a low-key affair historically, barring the phase in the late 1980s that saw spiralling violence between student unions, which led to campus elections being banned in the state.

The late 1980s saw incidents of kidnapping and other criminal activity on campuses across the state, culminating in the brutal murder of Owen D’Souza in October 1989. The last student elections were held in 1993. Indirect elections – in which students elected class representatives who went on to elect chairpersons and other functionaries – continued till 1993, after which elections in state universities were banned in 1994. For the intervening 24 years, student representatives were chosen on the basis of their academic record and nominated for positions by college and university authorities. The only elections that were allowed were internal college polls and those to appoint presidents and secretaries of student councils.

Prof Harshad Bhosale, professor at Kriti College, Dadar, has studied student movements and politics in Maharashtra as part of his PhD research. “Student elections stand as the edifice of democratic practices, which is very important not only as an important platform for students to build leadership qualities but also helps develop a robust political system in place. Bringing campus elections back will also help reduce the over-importance of dynasty politics in the state and country,” said Bhosale. He added that encouraging student elections will give an opportunity to dynamic individuals to understand politics and its importance for a healthy democracy at the ground-level. “Dynasty politics has led to elitism in the system, and this needs to change.”

Several student bodies have, for long, demanded for a robust student council system in place for the sake of the student community. “Politics aside, student representatives play the larger role of bridging the gap between students and the administration. By postponing student elections, state universities are taking away the basic rights of students to voice their opinions and be heard by the administration,” said Vipin Singh, member of the National Student Union of India (NSUI).

However, city colleges are wary. Many feel, in the past, campus elections were used to arm-twist education institutes as well as varsities to get their work done and very little was done about student issues. “Student elections are welcome, but politics in an education institute can lead to unnecessary trouble. The fact that several student political outfits are backed by larger political dynasties is not a good sign for student elections,” stated the principal of a prominent south Mumbai college, on condition of anonymity.

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