What are the factors affecting college elections and how they put the average student with political aspirations at a disadvantage?
It is important to keep in mind that student life and the functioning of a college is largely influenced by the elected student representatives. These members wield immense power over the day-to-day functioning of the college. They have an essential say in everything ranging from the cultural events to be organized, the fests, facilities offered to students and more. For a lot of students, this is an opportunity to actively participate in student governance, and have a say in how the administration runs. It is important to keep into account that in politics, the beam always tilts heavily towards the side that has money, muscle power and influence at its disposal.
And while it would have been naïve to assume that college elections in the University of Delhi (DU) are free from these influences, the extent of power these factors exert is shocking.
1) Hostellers vs Day scholars
It seems that in the College union elections, the beam always tilts heavily towards hostellers. Student’s studying in DU College’s that have both a hostel and elected students union know that in most cases, as far as elections are concerned, hostellers are at an added advantage. They have the benefit of not just being physically present on the campus at all times which allows them to contribute effectively and easily for the college welfare but also gain traction over scholars over the same. The fact that they are present in college at all times allows them to participate more actively in college activities. Hosteller’s also had a closely knit network and support group which opens up more avenues for them. The relevance of being a hosteller is particularly more in college’s that are not affiliated to DUSU, since this reduces the influence of political groups. Sanchita from the Daulat Ram College Hostel says “ day scholars are at a disadvantage because they can’t be present on campus 24*7. Hostellers are more available during fest season and other events which puts them at an advantage”
2) Student political groups
Another major factor influencing college elections is the association with parent parties and organizations that help create background support. Recently Chattra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti, Aam Aadmi Party’s student wing won 25 seats out of the 28 seats it fielded its candidates on, across DU. ABVP and NSUI are key players in these elections. A lot of support from parent parties is covert and goes into the background. Building traction, getting contacts, organizational support during the campaigning period are all ways in which these parties contribute and influence college elections. While this kind of backing may not be very public and may seem irrelevant, it ends up influencing elections in a major way. It is especially relevant in Delhi University Student’s Union (DUSU) affiliated colleges, where student political groups help leaders in their campaign to win college elections and subsequently these students help them in DUSU elections. It is a symbiotic relationship that benefits both the parties into gaining supporters.
3) Regional sentiment
Regional sentiment plays a significant role in these elections. A student belonging to a particular region is more likely to support a candidate from the same place. Not just that the idea of community and regional pride runs deep in the conscience of the majority. Recently a video was seen on social media which showed the celebrations post the victory of Shivam Bhadana as the President of Shaheed Bhagat Singh College Morning. The victory was seen as not just the candidate’s but also his community’s, it seemed. Statements like #GurjarPower and “Gurjar is king “could be seen in the comments section, which showed how relevant community lines are for a lot of voters. Student politics does not exist in isolation and the kind of regional sentiment that is central in all aspects of national politics, cannot miraculously be absent from universities. A source from KMC that chose to stay anonymous says “This regional idea is very internal, it’s not really broadcasted with people saying things like- we are from Haryana or we are from UP, but it’s there and it has a big role to play”.
A bevy of SUVs, music, crackers to celebrate victory and the occasional brightly coloured sports car is a frequent sight at off-campus colleges during election season. Candidates charm voters by their army of loyal supporters, their flashy automobiles and the slogans, drums, and claps that accompany them, each attesting to their popularity and influence. These shiny toys come with a shock value and they provide the student body all the more reasons to talk about the candidate. It is an effective way to generate interest and grab eyeballs. To add to that election costs include the cost of posters, hoardings, pamphlets and more. These banners and hoardings are ripped out and damaged by rival candidates and their supporters and need to be replaced regularly. These additional costs that come with contesting and winning elections acts as a barrier that filters out the majority of students. It is a primary reason why student unions’ are not as effective as they ideally should be. These candidates, with wealth and resources at their disposal, may not always be able to comprehend and relate to the struggles of the average student, which makes them ineffective as leaders. Students with an active interest in politics and a desire to contribute to change are dissuaded from pursuing it because more often than not, these factors passively work against them. A lot of debate has been going about around the idea that student politics has somehow lost its relevance. Student politics has not and will not lose its relevance but it has become ineffective and the marginal benefits gained from it are continuously decreasing. The first step to making it more effective would be realising how it has become an elite institution which heavily favours a small group of students, where everybody does not stand an equal chance. Once this insight is present in the student body at large, they will be less likely to fall prey to tried-and-tested election campaigning tricks and this would allow more dedicated students with political aspirations to pursue their goals.
Feature image credits: Facebook page of Shivam Bhadana