Quite conspicuously, the use of muscle power and excessive money in spirit is something that both major student union bodies and political parties at the state and national level deny with air of confidence. The layman, who although knows that there lies hidden acceptance to malpractices behind such denial indulges into a paradoxical form of behaviour. They both accept and deny the claims. Their acceptance to the self cleansing by many political outfits is fuelled by their faith in democracy and their denial to such cleansing by their conscience. Who is the oxymoron here, the layman or the many behaviourally similar political outfits or perhaps both?
The imagery that student union elections bring about is that of propaganda pamphlets all over the earth’s crust, vehicles as portable posters or humans themselves or the quintessential electronic store scene on every wall – every poster on the wall mimicking the televisions in electronic stores which show identical graphic. Imagery, after all is supposed to be imagination’s play and different with different people. But, due to the similar definitions which have naturalised these elements of elections, visualisation of student union elections is done in the same way by different minds. It was indeed necessary to call such practice as a part of the naturalised state affairs since the recommendations of the Lyngdoh Committee deemed them so and subsequently said that the moral ground to be thus taken during college elections is a different one.
Formed by UPA government on the recommendations of the Supreme Court in 2005 in the wake of the horrific lynching of Prof. H S Sabarwal of Government Madhav College Ujjain by an ABVP mob, Lyngdoh Committee was formed to give recommendations to ‘cleanse the system of muscle power and regulate college elections.’ The Committee was headed by one of the former Chief Election Commissioners of India J M Lyngdoh and submitted its report in 2006 after which the Supreme Court ordered the implemented of the recommendations.
One of the recommendations numbered 6.7.5 says that ‘No candidate shall be permitted to make use of printed posters printed pamphlets, or any other printed material for the purpose of canvassing. Candidates may only utilise hand-made posters for the purpose of canvassing’. This led to outrage from major student bodies like the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishiad( ABVP) and National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) which claimed that such recommendation in practice would impede the democratic functioning of electoral machinery and would deter the candidates in reaching out to the electorate and thus campaign effectively. Although the outrage went unheard and no further debates were entertained, many bodies continued to use pamphlets which were in violation of the code. The Supreme Court never took suo motu cognisance of such instances and neither has the government taken any action in this regard. There are also certain student bodies which have been compliant with the recommendation and have as a result had to face unfair competition despite the Lyngdoh recommendations already being in practice on paper.
The committee also put a utopian bar on the maximum expenditure on campaigning by a candidate to Rs 5000. Many outfits continue to use more money which is explicit from the material investments they make pre elections. The committee ignored the indulgence of crony capitalists and national political parties which regularly fund many student bodies that then use the money to indulge into ‘cash or kind for votes’ by majorly distributing movie tickets and organising trips to lure the electorate.
Flouting of the recommendations is done even when defacement of property is done by putting posters around. According to the committee ‘Candidates may only utilise hand-made posters at certain places in the campus, which shall be notified in advance by the election commission / university authority.’ (6.7.6). No such step is taken by many universities, which hints at the involvement of college administrations along with the judiciary and the government in the rupturing of the recommendations. University authorities also hold the power to disqualify candidates violating the recommendations.
Major loopholes in the recommendations were brought to public scrutiny by various student bodies in 2008 when Jawaharlal Nehru University’s elections were cancelled due to alleged malpractices. The All India Students Association (AISA) along with students from universities like Allahabad University, BHU, Jamia Millia Islamia, Punjab University, DU and Garhwal University protested against the ‘assault on democracy’ by the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations. Then, 8 out of 24 central universities held annual elections as per the data provided by the HRD Minister Arjun Singh to a question in the Rajya Sabha on October 20, 2008. This indeed was a violation of recommendations which say that elections are mandatory for every university in order to uphold student democracy.
With many malpractices up on the pedestal, it is also important for the electorate to vote for the bodies which although may flout the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations do not, after all compromise on the free and fair conduct of elections and endeavour to promote equality in the realm of campaigning. This time, vote wisely to ensure that democracy wins over muscle power and money. Violation of these major recommendations apart from others can strip a candidate of his/her candidature: Use of vehicles for campaigning, using printed pamphlets and not handmade ones, disturbing the academic orientation of a college for campaigning, using caste as a political tool, giving freebees, defacing university property, putting posters outside the university campus and indulging in physical violence.