Teams comprised exclusively of girls, open jeeps and SUVs for campaigning, and pepper spray to ward off any stalkers - parties contesting Panjab University student polls have a solid strategy involving girls this time. Little wonder, since over 70% of the voters are female.
The Student Organisation of India (SOI), a wing of Punjab's ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, was first off the blocks with five jeeps to its female leaders. The girls roam about the campus and nearby areas like the Sector 10-11 'gehri route'. So much so that the girls - all decked up - have become the talk of the town. SOI backer Amneet Kaur, who is behind the wheel, says, "We have been riding a Mahindra Thar for the past one week. We were asked to choose from a Chevy Cruze, Innova, i20, a Gypsy or the Thar. But Thar has a certain status. Now, from inside campus to the CITCO Stop 'n Stare café in Sector 10 to even Sector 8, we are the 'Thar girls'. Many people are jealous too."
From the Students' Organisation of Panjab University (SOPU), Parneet Kaur is spotted in a Toyota Innova packed with girl friends. "I've been supporting the party for two years, campaigning in jeeps and on Bullet bikes. But now others have started copying us, so we got an Innova from the party. Girls usually have two-wheelers, so it's convenient."
The girls don't forget mentioning 'gehri', but former campus union chief Dalvir Singh Khangura 'Goldy', who is now guiding Congress wing National Students' Union of India (NSUI), is guarded: "We do provide separate cars to the girls. But these are not for unnecessary 'gehris'." NSUI national coordinator Brinder Dhillon adds, "We will distribute pepper spray so that girls can ward off harassers. We don't want only symbolic gestures; the idea is to empower them."
SOI media incharge Manveer Chaudhary details the strategy, "We always felt a sort of disconnect between male leaders and the female voters. Separate cars allow girls to work independently." Hindustan Students' Association (HSA) has also adopted the strategy. "Many of our voters felt uncomfortable with boys around. So we roped in female leaders who take along groups during campaigning," says Vishal Sharma, HSA campus president.
The results, the leaders say, are encouraging. "There is a marked change. At a couple of places, seeing us girls in groups, many female voters approached us with their problems," says Gurpreet Kaur, a SOI supporter who ferries party workers in a Gypsy.
However, SOPU's Arshnoor Dhillon insists, "We do provide separate cars when girls want them. But our focus is groundwork, like solving hostel and admissions tangles or even personal problems."