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Delhi University’s scheduled ‘Run for Developed India’ event on May 8, aimed at raising awareness of India’s developmental aspirations, faces backlash over alleged political affiliations amidst ongoing Lok Sabha elections. While university officials maintain non-partisanship, the involvement of a BJP member in planning sparks concern. Critics, including the Delhi University Teachers’ Front (DTF), accuse the administration of breaching the Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct. Amidst debates, the DTF urges cancellation, citing potential disruption to academic schedules and electoral integrity concerns.

 Nearly 5,000 students are anticipated to participate in Delhi University’s (DU) May 8 “Run for Developed India,” according to the university’s registrar, Vikas Gupta. The university declared that the run’s objective is to increase public awareness of India’s aspiration to become a developed country by 2047.

In response to queries concerning the event’s scheduling in light of the current Lok Sabha elections and the Model Code of Conduct’s (MCC) implementation, Gupta made it clear to The Indian Express that the run has no affiliation with any one political party. He underlined that the main goal is to inspire students to use their right to vote to engage in the political process.

The University of Delhi and the Vikas Bharat Ambassador Club are co-organizing the event, the university declared. However, Kuljeet Chahal of the BJP was present at the planning and success-ensuring meeting. Chahal, a member of the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) and the national convener of the Namo app, describes himself on X (formerly Twitter) as a “Viksit Bharat Ambassador.” There was no response when attempts were made to contact Chahal. The 2.4-kilometer run is scheduled to happen between University Gate No. 1 and the University sports complex, neither of which is governed by the NDMC, according to the university.

With the release of the election dates on March 16, the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) went into force. In an announcement posted on its website on March 21, the Election Commission of India’s (ECI) Secretariat ordered the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to stop “disseminating messages about Viksit Bharat during the Model Code of Conduct.” About WhatsApp messages sent on March 15, before the implementation of the MCC, the statement mentioned that “some messages may have been delivered late due to system architecture and network limitations.

The Commission further received complaints indicating that such messages continue to be delivered to citizens’ phones. “Given that the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is currently in effect, you are instructed to take immediate measures to halt the dissemination of WhatsApp messages during the MCC period. A report confirming compliance with this directive should be provided promptly,” it continued.

When questioned about obtaining permission from the ECI, Gupta responded:

This event is organized by the university and colleges to inspire students. We are not collaborating with any political party or involving any ministry.

In a joint statement, the teachers’ body declared that “Viksit Bharat” is an election agenda for Narendra Modi and the BJP-led Central government. The university was urged to cancel the event by members of the Delhi University Teachers’ Front (DTF). However, the teachers’ organization claimed that the program is being run against the Election Commission’s (EC) Model Code of Conduct, which was in effect during the Lok Sabha elections.

The teachers’ body noted in its statement that:

Previously, the EC had legally admonished the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology for circulating messages about the ‘Viksit Bharat Abhiyan’ in March 2024.

The forthcoming event is not politically connected, and it should be judged on its own merits rather than its affiliation with any one party.

– stressed A. K. Bhagi, president of the DU Teachers’ Association.

The teachers association stated:

In the run-up to this proposed violation of the model code of conduct, a functionary of the ruling party in the incumbent Union government has been involved in preparatory activities. It is clear that a public institution is seeking to be converted into an appendage of the outgoing ruling dispensation to influence the decisions of voters. If this were not the case, then this event could have been scheduled for a date after the Lok Sabha elections have been concluded. Surely, Bharat needs Vikas through an Abhiyan even after the first week of June 2024.

In a statement made public on Friday, the DTF questioned the rationale offered by the Delhi University administration for putting on the event. It was suggested that the event should have been called “Run for Participative Democracy” rather than “Run for Viksit Bharat” if the goal was to raise awareness of and participation in the Lok Sabha elections. Moreover, the DTF maintains that the Election Commission should have been consulted and involved in advance of any event intended to raise voter awareness and participation.

Nandita Narain, president of the DTF, voiced worries about how the event would affect the students, saying:

Delhi University is failing in its responsibility towards students. Colleges will be forced to send students to this event. It is the fag end of the teaching-learning calendar. Practical exams are already scheduled, and students are busy preparing for exams and submissions. Scheduling this event at such a time will disrupt the teaching-learning process as well as the ability of students to prepare themselves academically for the forthcoming end-semester exams.

The Delhi University administration came under fire from the DTF for what they saw as an attempt to compromise the university’s standing as a public institution and break the Model Code of Conduct that the Election Commission was enforcing in light of the Lok Sabha elections. They demanded that the event be called off right away.

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Featured Image Credits: Himanshu Kumar for DU Beat

Divya Malhotra

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