PUCL Bulletin, Oct., 1981
Violence in Student Elections in Delhi University
The PUCL. (Delhi) instituted a four member team comprising of Suresh Sharma, Smitu Kothari, Neerja Chowdhury and George Mathew to look into the intimidation and violence in student elections in Delhi University this year. Reproduced below is their report.
The University community and the citizens of Delhi are almost beginning to accept large scale terror and intimidation as inevitable during student elections in The University of Delhi, To many it seems to fit in with the general decline of values in public life. That it happens in the Delhi University, till recently so fond of the word 'autonomy', does not seem to shock people any more. The full import of this has been brought out this year: the Delhi University community has thought it necessary to entrust the delicate task of counting votes this year entirely to the p6lice. Basic regard for civil liberties, which alone makes electoral contention meaningful, is being relentlessly whittled away.
Symptomatic of the profound deterioration in the nature of political mobilisation have been a series of incidents during the Delhi University Students' Union (DUSU) election campaign this year. On August 20, about 300 students mostly from Shyam Lal College drove to Dayal Singh College in four hijacked DTC buses to avenge the beating up of Yogesh Sharma, a Janata Vidyarthi Morcha (J.V.M.) candidate for DUSU elections, and a student of Shyam Lal College. The tenor and details of the orgy of terror and vandalism that followed appear to have a frighteningly close correspondence to communal mobs on the rampage, smashing and burning whatever comes its way.
Another unusual feature of student elections this year, is the unopposed election of students' union office bearers in at least ten colleges affiliated to the University of Delhi. Representatives of his new found "unanimity" are supported largely by the National Students' Union of lndia (l) and to a lesser extent by the J.V.M. Dayal Singh College offers a particularly monolithic example of student "unanimity". The four office bearers of the college union and the two representatives to the Central University Council have all been elected unopposed. They are proud of having broken the "University record". In their multi-coloured posters all over the town they have characterised it as the triumph of their leaders, Shri F.M. Khan, MP, and Smt. Indira Gandhi.
Those elected unopposed, whom we interviewed, have a devastatingly simple explanation for this rare spectacle of student unanimity. "Friendly persuasion" convinced the rival candidates of the utter futility of a contest as they were 'manifestly best equipped to serve the interests of the students'.
Many others whom we met, however, do not regard the kind of persuasion used in elections as particularly friendly. Allegations of intimidation and unseen terror abound. The murder last year of Gajendra Mohan, a Congress(U) student activist of Shyam Lal College was mentioned as a grim reminder of the consequences for refusing to withdraw from the electoral contest.
The case this year, of Deepam Tikku, a candidate for the K.M. College President provides an instructive insight into what 'friendly persuasion' often entails. Of the five candidates, three chose to be persuded to withdraw in favour of Raj Kumar, supported by the N.S.U.l.(I) and an alumni of the local Hanuman akhada. On the day of the withdrawal Tikku's father met the College Principal and lodged a formal complaint that on the previous night some people stormed his house and threatened dire consequences if Tikku failed to withdraw from the contest. While Tikku's father was narrating the chilling details of the previous night, some students ran into the Principal's office to tell him that Tikku had just been whisked away from the college gate by Raj Kumar. Subsequently Tikku handed over his withdrawal papers to the Principal. But in the meanwhile, Tikku's father and the Principal had confirmed the fact of the kidnapping and filed an F.I.R. with the police. The Principal, in this one instance, decided immediately to expel Raj Kumar from the college and declared all the withdrawals invalid.
What could explain the phenomena this year, of 'friendly persuasion' sweeping away all opposition in college after college? To begin with, the number of contestants was in each instance fairly large. In Dayal Singh College as many as thirty candidates, representing various shades of student politics, withdrew from the contest. It is significant that all the six elected unopposed belong to the F. M. Khan faction of the NSUI (I)
In Deshbandhu College, five candidates withdrew from the contest in favour of the President-elect, Chaman Lal. Two of them belonged to the rival Subhash Chaudhry faction of the NSUI(l), patronised by Satyanarayan Rao and Rajesh Pilot, both MPs. The President-elect had the greatest difficulty in pursuading these two to withdraw. In the university circles it is generally believed that this faction is currently in favour with the apex of the ruling party. Factional feuds within the NSUl (I) seem fairly murky and fierce. According to Navin Sharma, a close associate of the President-elect, he was falsely implicated in a case of attempted murder by the rival Subhash Choudhary faction. The case has now been withdrawn. "Money," he informed us, "is a great force."
On 26th of August the Principal, Deshbandhu College, placed before a faculty committee letters threatening rival candidates with dire consequences if they failed to withdraw. The letters were signed: "Chambal ka Daku", and contained the declaration, 'We got the shots fired in Dayal Singh College'.
Intimidation of rivals has an interesting nuance in PGDAV. College. Formally there are several candidates in the field. But the NSUI.(I) supported candidate for the President has, we were told by informed people, effectively barred the rivals from canvassing in the college.
JVM., the only effective contender with a mobilisational capacity that can to some extent match the muscle and clout of the NSUI (l), has also been the beneficiary in a few cases of this new phenomenon of unopposed elections. Thus, according to Vijay Jolly, the former J.V.M. President of DUSU: Subodh Kumar, Joint Secretary-elect of Shyam Lal College (Morning) and Sitaram, the President-elect of Bhagat Singh College have "promised allegiance to the JVM." Similar promises have also been made by Rajendra Kumar, the president-elect of Shyam Lal College (Evening), and Vijendra Rathi, President-elect of the Law Centre both elected unopposed.
On August 20, 1981, the unopposed victors of college elections of Dayal Singh College were celebrating their triumph. According to some of the faculty members some of the revellers had also been drinking and dancing to the beat of drums. It was about 10 a.m. About 10 JVM. canvassers entered the college. They were forced into a "murga (chicken) position", on their haunches, and made to pull their ears from under their legs. When some of them resisted, a scuffle ensued causing injury and bleeding to two of the J.V.M. canvassers.
The news that swiftly travelled to Shyam Lal College (Morning) was that Yogesh Sharma had been fatally stabbed. In barely an hour the students of Shyam Lal College hijacked four DTC buses and drove towards Dayal Singh College. They arrived at Dayal Singh CoIlege around 1 O' Clock. The Shyam Lal Principal made futile attempts to dissuade them. When the incensed crowd of students reached the gates of Dayal ingh College they were met by a phalanx of about thirty students who barred their way into the college building. ANSUI (I) supporter of Shyam Lal College conceded that he too joined the others to storm Dayal Singh College because he felt the honour of his college was at stake.
Almost everyone agrees that four shots were fired. The crowd went on a rampage smashing windowpanes, pelting stones and it burnt down two scooters, a motorcycle and two cycles. Soda water bottles rained down on the college building. The crowd retaliated by hurling stones, bottles and whatever they could get hold of. According to the JVM sources the firing came from inside the college. Some of the faculty members of Dayal Singh College were also certain that shots were fired from the college. But one faculty member was emphatic that shots were fired from both sides.
Dayal Singh College boys were categorical that, no policemen were on the scene when the Shyam Lal College crowd entered their campus. President-elect Raj Singh stated that he himself sneaked out through the back gate to obtain police help. According to JVM boys from Shyam Lal College, however, at least fifty policemen were present on the scene and tried to stall them and 'even threatened to shoot us';
After the incident, the police arrested DUSU. president Vijay Jolly and other JVM. candidates in the DUSU elections this year (including the candidates for the President). But according to Arun Jaitley, President of the Delhi Unit of the JYM., the SHO. at the Lodhi Road police station refused to lodge his FIR. from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. on August 20 hen he went there to register his complaint. About 20 "NSUI (I) goondas", he said, were stationed inside the police station brandishing their pistols. When Jaitley rang up a senior police official to complain bout this partisan behaviour of the SHO, the latter informed his senior on the phone that no one else was present in the police station. It was only after Jaitley's vigorous refutation that the SHO. was instructed to ensure that the student leaders were escorted safely to heir respective homes that night,
In the last ten years Dayal Singh College has frequently been the scene of violent incidents. But invariably in such situations faculty members intervened and pacified the clashing groups. But for the past few months a virtual state of breakdown of communication prevails between the Principal and the staff members. Thus almost the entire staff has refused to co-operate with the Principal in the conduct of the elections. The Staff Council has passed a resolution demanding an enquiry into the incident and immediate suspension of the Principal. According to the Staff Council, the Principal did not care to visit the college for two long days after the incident.
They also felt that the absence of box to receive withdrawals the normal college election procedure according to them opened up possibilities of unfair manipulation.
It is clear that intimidation and coercion have been used on a large scale in this year's election to force withdrawals. It is also a fact that many candidates have a criminal record. They are reported to run gambling dens and liquor shops in the city and are part of a larger crime syndicate in operation in the capital. It has become a practice for political parties to co-opt them and get them admitted to colleges through sports and other special quotas with the connivance of university authorities.
Candidates of various parties admitted that each major group spent between Rs. 2 and 5 lakhs on the DUSU. presidential election. This is said to be a conservative figure. The NSUl (I) put out more than a dozen posters and the J.V.M. at least 10. Each poster costs a minimum of a rupee, with the four colour ones put up by the NSUI (I) costing twice as much. The minimum print order, according to our inquiries, was 10,000 per poster.
The two major contesting groups NSIJI (I) and JVM. had at least 6 to 7 vehicles at their disposal, entailing a minimum expense of Rs. 5,000 per day on their hire charges and petrol.
40 to 50 full-time canvassers had also to be fed everyday in hotels and restaurants. There were then the additional expenses for leaflets, handbills, payments to poster, pasters or removers. Last year, according to the students, a faction in the NSUI (I) was paying Rs. 1 for tearing down each rival poster. Though this year the midnight poster war was not conducted at last year's pitch, rival groups of musclemen armed with knives and pistols supervised the putting up of posters.
The money spent by the colleges for the election of their office-bearers was a separate item. "Even for the election of an unopposed candidate like me, Rs. 10,000 was spent", conceded Chaman Lal, President-elect of Deshbandhu College. "The canteen bill alone was Rs. 2000." If Shyam Lal College is any guide every inch of wall and ceiling space was covered by posters of all hues, even the floor and road space was not spared at least Rs. 25,000 to 30,000 must have been spent by each group in individual colleges where contests took place. With 46 of the 55 colleges having participated in D.U.S.U. elections, it would not be an exaggeration to say that a total of Rs. 30 lakhs were spent on the D.U.S.U. elections this year.
The figures do not include the expenses that the local colleges, the University, the municipality and the DTC have to incur to clean up the extensive defacing by the use of posters and coal tar-ink graffiti.
And what were the objectives and issues that justify this enormous mobilisation of resources? What do the student leaders mean when they say they are best equipped to serve the students? Could they let us, the PUCL investigating team, have a look at their certain manifesto, leaflet or anything else that could give us some clue as to what they stand for? Beyond simple phrases like "All students must stand together", "We will help students in everyway", we were confronted with empty stances and a total absence of any perspective at all. In response to a question about the role of ideology in student elections, the response of Chaman Lal, President-elect of Deshbandhu College was, "If one candidate promises to get a swimnming pool constructed, the rival candidate promises too."
It is significant that student leaders of all shades felt the system of elections needed to be urgently changed. Many of them were emphatic that the university elections had to be de-linked from the politics of political parties. "The political parties fight the elections in the universities", admitted Raj Singh, President of Dayal Singh College. "We candidates are mere rubber-stamps". He also suggested a ban on posters.
In all the noise and frequently bloody turmoil that has become an inseparable feature of student elections, the presence of the ordinary student is nowhere visible. He has simply been swamped and put aside. Even the "Students' Democratic Front" was a weak presence which could do very little to contain the pervasive violence and intimidation.
"Political mobilisation" seems to have lost any sense of a need to posit a meaningful objective. The gangs that intimidate and the crowds of students that go on the rampage are bound by the most narrow sense of primordial loyalty to a person or group of persons. These latter are often also musclemen who claim to be close to the centres of power.
The distance between persuasion and intimidation ceases to exist, student camaraderie tends to express itself in ways that have a disturbing similarity with frenzied communal mobs.
Unless the citizens of Delhi and the university community urgently awake to the impending disaster we would soon be slipping into a situation where meaningful human interaction would become impossible-- even in an university.