The Panjab University (PU) campus and its affiliated colleges in Chandigarh UT are abuzz with campaigning for student union elections these days. But in the state of Punjab, it's been 29 years, and counting, since a ban was imposed on such elections. That ban remains, despite a 2006 Supreme Court direction that student elections be held in universities and colleges across the country within five years.
The deadline of the order - issued as per recommendations of a committee led by former chief election commissioner JM Lyngdoh - ended in September last year, and even the pretext of militancy sounds dated now in a state where assembly elections have been held every five years since 1992.
In case of PU, in 1997 its then vice-chancellor MM Puri had written to the Punjab governor-cum-UT administrator to revive student elections at least inside the campus and in the colleges within Chandigarh. The request was realised, but PU's regional centres and 198 affiliated colleges situated in Punjab still await the benefits of such an initiative.
Patiala-headquartered Punjabi University has also not held direct elections, nor have Amritsar's Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU) and the Punjab Technical University (PTU), which have hundreds of colleges besides their campuses inside the state.
The response of GNDU vice-chancellor Ajaib Singh Brar is revealing: "If universities are to be saved, such elections should be banned." Brar said universities were "helpless" in maintaining law and order during these elections "due to undue interference of political parties through their money and muscle power".
"The country's masses are not politically mature enough even for the Lok Sabha or assembly elections; forget about student elections," he opined.
The GNDU V-C's strong opinion aside, others just pass the buck. "It is the Punjab government that has to decide," said PU V-C Anil Kumar Grover. Asked whether the university had, on its part, ever initiated a move to revive student polls in Punjab, Grover took the plea that he had joined as V-C just over a month ago.
Grover's predecessor RC Sobti, who served two three-year terms as PU V-C until July this year, claimed to be in favour of "this democratic right", but added, "The onus for the elections falls on the state government."
When told that the Lyngdoh Committee has observed that universities, being autonomous bodies, could decide on holding these elections, Sobti evaded a reply. A senior PU academician said that not conducting direct elections in colleges amounted to contempt of court.
The PU senate has never debated the issue, sources said, adding that the authorities have not even written to the governor, the chancellor of the university or even to the Punjab chief minister to revive the elections. A three-time PU senate member, SS Sangha, who is the principal of Dashmesh Girls College of Education in Badal village of Muktsar, said college elections would be good for the youth. He lamented that there had never been any formal move from any lobby of academicians from Punjab in favour of such polls.