The Delhi University Students Union election season just culminated and there’s clearly something wrong. Voter turnout for the DUSU elections have been slipping for a while but dropped to the abysmally low level of 36.9% this year, down nearly 7% from last year. If no one cared about the student union and hence the elections for it, the numbers would be worrisome but would still make sense. The fact that DUSU elections are one of the most talked-about periods in DU, even if just due to the inconvenience they cause with the layers of pamphlets and disruption of classes for campaigning, and that the Union is criticised and cribbed about, makes me believe there’s a bigger question to tackle – are we alienating students from participating in a process to elect their own student union?
The sanctity of a democracy comes from its election process but we must remember that while all modern democracies hold elections, not all elections are democratic. If the majority that is going to be affected by a governing body is not participating in the process of electing it, in a system that means ‘rule of the people’, we should have serious qualms in calling the process democratic. As soon as we question the voting process, the democratic system also loses its legitimacy.
Apathy is not a good enough explanation, especially when I see multitudes of people discussing the relevance of a student union and giving valid reasons why they think the existing union is problematic. Clearly, they don’t consider the entire exercise irrelevant and know what they don’t want. The question then is, are the candidates available to them to vote for giving them what they want? Has the so-called ‘political class’ of DU lost touch with the very people it’s supposed to stand for? The possibility is valid enough, given that the general student gets to experience the pamphlets, the noise and, this year, people wearing inflatable suits, and hear rumours about freebies being distributed, more than they get to know what the parties actually stand for and plan to do if elected. The political groups who stay away from the money and the muscle either talk just about the others using unfair means or are simply drowned in the general cacophony of a typical election season. I also find the assumption that freebies and the noise is a better way to get an average DU student to pay attention than addressing the actual issues insulting to their intellect. Surely, we’re capable of more. We definitely deserve more.
Another line of thought that makes sense emerges from an argument that socio-linguist Deborah Tannen makes in her book ‘The Argument Culture’. Maybe the elections have become more about winning and losing than the reasons why someone wins or loses. The stances of various political groups on important issues are also usually so polarised, often just for the heck of it and to show that they’re distinct from the others, that there remains no middle ground for people who don’t agree with either to access, and they end up opting out of the entire process.
I wish the newly elected student union my best, but at the same time, the entire process has left me with no illusions about what a general DU student can expect from them, mostly because we’ve resigned ourselves to opting out (although, hey, I did vote.)
Image credits: telegraph.co.uk