PUSC Election 2017:
Chandigarh: Counting is on for the Panjab University Students’ Council elections and time won’t be a constraint for long to find out who lost and who won. Victories and defeats are all part and parcel of the poll game but what mattered this time around was the mood that preceded the election held on Thursday.
A day before the hotly contested Panjab University Students’ Council elections, the absence of any violent incident — which has been a norm otherwise — and an overwhelming presence of police carrying out flag march, turned pale in comparison to the rise of SFS(Students for Society) on the campus.
The slipper-donning SFS supporters with their ubiquitous jholas and hand made posters outnumbered the loud muscle flexing of white pajama-kurta donning kakajis (uncles) driving Mercedes and BMWs around the campus with an open sunroof and their followers hanging out precariously from windows and doors.
SFS began as a discussion group on the campus about three decades ago. But now, students from the other groups attribute their rise to the sole agenda of opposing the Right-wing government at the Centre. They claim, the group is creating another JNU in PU. Their allegations are based on the unprecedented violence the campus witnessed in April this year when opposing the 1,000 percent fee hike. Stone pelting students clashed with police who resorted to water cannons and tear gas shells leaving 60 injured. Of these 22 were policemen. The university, facing severe fund crunch, had reached a stage where it could not pay salaries of its staff when its “think tank” decided to raise the fee. Sedition and other criminal charges against the students were scripting another JNU story, though eventually sedition charges were withdrawn. Of the 66 students arrested, 50 were from SFS, both cadre and leadership.
“It’s just a fashionable Left group. Fashion trends change in the campus,” says a former student of PU. Not all agree. “People in Punjab and Haryana are headstrong individuals, they don’t like being told what to speak, that’s why SFI and AISF, supported by CPI and CPM respectively, never succeeded here,” says Rajiv Lochan, a professor in the department of History.
To help their wards contest university elections, parents of the kakajis sell a killa of agricultural land, hoping victory would pave the way to getting an MLA ticket, if not that, at least a sarpanch seat.
A killa is equivalent to an acre of land.
The university is about networking and social climbing — the aim always to access more power and money. All this seems to be changing.
This year neither lavish parties nor DJs were used for canvassing, the sobering effect perhaps came from a strong following of the SFS that claims to have initiated “intellectual debate among the science faculty and professional courses and emotional appeal to the arts faculty students”.
“For elections in 2016, we spent about Rs 350, this year we spent Rs 4,000, most of it has gone for printing leaflets for the freshers. We start canvassing from the time of admissions, and we have struggled for the past five years consistently by raising issues that really matter,” says Harmandeep, media secretary, SFS. As a result, students are complaining, there is no atmosphere for elections this year, what they mean actually is money isn’t flowing.
Parking blues and gender parity
It began with parking problems inside the campus. There are about 3,000 cars parked only by the students, creating driving hazards inside the campus. When all efforts failed to persuade students not to bring their cars, the registrar’s office had a survey conducted, more than 50 percent students voted against cars in the campus. This gave a valid plank to SFS. Students got entrenched in issues that affect them.
The radical among SFS are accused of inciting violence, but their leaders don’t agree to that view.
“We occupied the ideological vacuum, there was no progressive politics in the campus, why is it that no woman candidate ever contested for president’s post? We introduced a female candidate last year, this year too our presidential candidate is a female,” says Amritpal Singh, another office bearer of SFS.
While most parties contest elections and also win by alliances in PU, SFS is going all alone, all its four candidates are contesting the election on their own strength.
“We have earned a lot of goodwill by helping students, our supporters come from the middle and poor classes, they understand our language,” says Harman. While other strong contesters like NSUI and PUSU are supported by Congress, other Left-wing parties like SFI, have put up their candidates separately.
The allegation that SFS is rising against the Right-wing groups is not denied.
“We claim openly we are anti-fascist and anti-RSS, but ABVP is not even present on this campus. They are waiting for our growth so that they can find a plank to grow,” says Damanpreet Singh, last year’s presidential candidate for SFS.
“When things can be sorted out by peaceful debate, why should we resort to violence and create a situation where police and other forces enter the campus? It’s giving PU a bad name. We are here for education not for practicing activism,” says a presidential candidate, who is a strong contender against SFS candidates.