NEW DELHI: After months of uncertainty, students at JNU are now gearing up for the biggest event in their calendar—the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) elections. The big question is—when is the correct time for the polls, not whether it can be held—as was the case a few months ago. When a university is as famous for its protests as its polls, a combination naturally throws up several compelling points-of-view.
Student groups like the All India Students Association (AISA) and the Students Federation of India (SFI) launched a hunger strike last week to pressurise the “dilly-dallying” university administration to notify the polls, and form a grievance redressal committee to ensure that polls are held during the ongoing winter semester itself. “We can consider this semester to be the begining of an academic session, as some PhD students do join in January,” says Sucheta De, General Secretary, AISA. She also points out that several senior students, who have experience of conducting polls, will pass out, if polls are delayed to the beginning of the next session in September. “There’s no harm in having an interim union. We don’t believe polls during this session will violate either Lyngdoh or Supreme Court (SC) guidelines. It’s okay for the university to have sought clarification, but surely it can notify elections in the meanwhile,” she explains, while continuing discussions with the administration and the VC on the next course of action.
The SC had vacated its stay on JNUSU polls on December 8, 2011, and allowed polls to be held as per Lyngdoh recommendations. The apex court had allowed JNUSU polls to be held 6-8 weeks from the start of the new session, which in JNU is July 22, says the university, pointing out that the SC hasn’t ordered for polls to be held this semester. A meeting of deans and administrators convened by the VC has appointed a committee to study the Lyngdoh report and advise on the modalities of holding the polls. “We’ve sought clarification from the SC on whether polls can be held during the current semester as well,” says Prof Abdul Nafey, Dean, Students Welfare, and member of the VC-appointed committee. A Grievance Redressal Committee, a requirement of the Lyngdoh report, is in the process of being set up, says a press note by the university.
The National Students Union of India (NSUI) and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) agree with the caution exercised by the university and state that they’d not want to risk contempt of court by insisting on polls this semester.
“Elections are bound to happen. If we get the SC clarification soon, we can still hold them this semester. We don’t support the agitation by other groups, and we’re spreading this message through posters,” says Manoranjan Mohapatra, president, NSUI. Student leaders from ABVP agree with NSUI. “Let’s wait for the SC’s go-ahead. There’s no denying the urgent need for a union,” says Saket, ABVP National Executive Committee member.
The Democratic Students Union (DSU) has challenged the applicability of the Lyngdoh recommendations in totality, and says the JNUSU constitution should be followed as before. They feel Lyngdoh puts some unnecessary powers in the hands of the administration. Students have always managed their own polls here. They do, however, agree that elections must be held as soon as possible, till the SC takes a decision on the Lyngdoh report.
While student groups battle it out with the administration, opinion among students is, as always, divided. Some senior PhD students are willing to wait till September. Some newbies are apprehensive of managing the polls with fewer senior students on campus and cite the example of the accommodation crunch on campus as one of the issues that need to be taken up. A group of foreign students are also making their presence felt by putting up posters in support of the agitations demanding immediate polls. Meanwhile, posters and handbills are being circulated with fresh enthusiasm. So, when will JNUSU have its polls? The next few days will determine the schedule while the matter is debated among one of India’s most politically vocal student communities.