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Straight-talk with presidential candidates

chandigarh Updated: Aug 24, 2015 12:36 IST
Aneesha Bedi
Aneesha Bedi
Hindustan Times

In the past, Panjab University (PU) used to hold an open-house debate between the presidential candidates for the university’s council. The debate used to attract a huge crowd and used to play a major part in deciding which candidate the students voted for. The university has not held the debate since 2010. Hindustan Times, on Sunday, organised a debate between the candidates contesting for the post of president. Puneet Sharma from NSUI’s panel, Baljinder Singh from the PUSU-ABVP alliance and Jasmeen Kang from SOI’s panel came on one platform to put their views on the issues governing this year’s elections.

Transparency in council’s functioning

One of the primary election issues has been the use of grants by the last year’s Panjab University Campus Students’ Council (PUCSC). SOI has claimed that the council issued fake bills and indulged in unaccounted spending. Since charges of corruption are being leveled, shouldn’t the expenditure of grants given to PUCSC be made public?

Puneet: We were the first one to raise the issue of transparency in spending of funds. We had held a strike over the difference between the hostel fees collected from the students and their entry into the books. We had organised fests and saved Rs 10 lakh from the allotted funds which we donated for the benefit of the students from the economically weaker section (EWS).

Baljinder: There should be transparency in the council’s spendings. Bills are submitted to the authorities but the Dean Students Welfare (DSW) should check whether the submitted bills are authentic or not.

Jasmeen: We would ensure complete transparency in the council’s expenditure. We will put the expenditure made by the PUCSC on a website so that anyone can see it. Phone numbers of all office-bearers’ will be made available online so that students could approach them any time they want.

More power to the president

PUCSC president doesn’t have much of a say in the functioning of the university. Should the president be a member of the senate?

Puneet: The inclusion of the president of the students’ council in the senate will no doubt increase the involvement of the student body as well as of the students in the various issues related to the working of the university.

Baljinder: We must also talk about giving power to the department representatives to improve their say in the overall governance of Panjab University. Right now these representatives have no powers and zero say in the workings of the university.

Jasmeen: A student leader should be there to present the issues faced by the students as well as their demands in the senate. We will be putting pressure on the university authorities to include the 2015-16 student council president in the senate.

Ban on four-wheelers

PU will be holding a referendum on whether the university campus should be made four-wheeler- free. Is the move practical?

Puneet: Only students should not be targeted for bringing cars to the campus. The university’s staff also owns four-wheelers which they bring on the campus. In my view a ban on four-wheelers should be introduced stepwise. Some departments should first be selected to implement the move and it should be gradually taken forward.

Baljinder: There should be a proper proposal for the ban. The ban can only work effectively if we have other services like e-rickshaws and bus shuttle that the students can use to commute easily.

Jasmeen: A majority of cars on the campus are of the staff The swimming pool opposite to the administrative block has not been in use for a while and could be converted into a multi-level parking lot to accommodate the vehicles on campus.

Fee hike

Student bodies erupt in protest every time there is a marginal hike in the fee. PU too needs the adequate funds to function effectively. Why does an increase in fee become a rallying point for student parties?

Puneet: We have to take into account that there are students from the EWS too. Due to a shortage of hostel seats, they have to stay in rented accommodations. These students might have to leave their education in-between because they might not be able to afford the fee.

Baljinder: The authorities first hike the fee by 20% and then when students stage protest they lower it by 10%. The fee should not be increased repeatedly because students from all the economic sections study at the university

Kang: If we come to power, the fee will not be increased without my consent. If the need comes, I will consult department representatives over it to ensure that even if it is hiked it is within a reasonable limit.

Participation of girls

Even though girls form the majority of students on the campus, why hasn’t a girl candidate given the ticket to contest for the president’s post?
Puneet: Most girls face opposition at home and their parents do not allow them to contest the elections. No girl in our party volunteered to contest for the post of president. But we have girls on prominent positions in NSUI and in future more girl leaders will come forward.

Baljinder: Girls are reluctant to come forward as their parents discourage them from getting involved in politics. Girls who are appointed as department representatives should be encouraged to come forward and become more politically active.

Kang: This year we have given 50% representation to girls in our election panel. They constitute 70-80% of total voters. They need to be encouraged to join politics and voice their say. The negative notion associated with politics needs to be removed in order to get more girls involved.

Dummy candidates

Most of the student parties which are affiliated with political parties have a culture of kingmakers. Dummy candidates become presidents and then are forgotten the next year. Is there an absence of second rung of leadership in student parties?

Puneet: I was a covering candidate for Hardik Nain who is a very popular leader. He cannot be a dummy candidate. I have been working along with Hardik and last year’s president Divyanshu Budhiraja. I think the era of dummy candidates has passed.

Jasmeen: I joined PU in 2009 and have been living on the campus for the past six years. I am a research scholar at the physics department and would be here for the next four years too. I don’t think I will go missing next year.

Use of money

A lot of money is being spent to lure the voters. Doesn’t the practice malign the election process?

Puneet: If you do research you will find that one particular party has been trying to win votes using money. NSUI is not into all these things.
Baljinder : Voters are definitely lured because of which wrong people are selected.

Kang: After Lyngdoh guidelines, a candidate cannot spend more than Rs 5,000 per candidate. I have not even spent `10 so far from my pocket during the campaigning.

Woman candidates geared up to prove mettle

As part of the HT Open House, Hindustan Times on Sunday interacted with the woman candidates contesting the upcoming elections. The candidates included Gurvir Kaur, who is contesting for the post of vice-president from the NSUI’s panel, Anjali Thakur, fighting for the vice-president’s post from the PUSU-ABVP alliance and Preeti Negi and Swati Tiwana, who are competing for the posts of vice-president and join secretary respectively from the SOI’s panel. The political leaders spoke about what made them contest the elections, what steps they planned to take if their party came into power and the issues faced by girl students on campus

Eve-teasing, a major setback

On a campus that sees the presence of 70% women, just one woman had stood for the post of council president last year. Despite the fact that a large number of voters on campus are girls, not many come forward to contest for key posts of the student council because of the kind of environment they see on campus. Be it boys or girls, everyone has been raising the issue of eve-teasing as a major hindrance in this case. “We plan to introduce smart-cards to ensure that everyone on campus can be identified. The root cause of this vitiated atmosphere is the breed of outsiders who corrupt the campus scene,”said Gurvir Kaur and added that the security at the varsity needed to be strengthened to provide a secure environment for the girl students.

Agreeing with her rival’s opinion, Preeti Negi said the current ID system at the varsity was futile as the security personnel did not check the ID cards of all those entering except one person ( who would be driving the car). “Why should there be a need for police officials to be deployed? Why can’t the PU authorities ensure that the university’s security is able to take care of at least this? For Anjali Thakur, it was an incident of a girl being eve-teased on campus that actually motivated her to take up the issue through the elections. “I was so upset that I felt someone had to speak up, so then why not me!”she said.

“As students, we should be able to walk freely on the campus. The number of eveteasing incidents have been on the rise and we want to change that,”added Swati Tiwana.

Are women candidates threatened by jealousy?

While each of the candidates talked about how and why girls haven’t stood for the president’s post, many girls on campus claimed that jealousy among girls was also a deciding factor. The candidates, however, profusely denied the claim.

“I don’t think so; we all are here because we want to advocate women empowerment. I was a member of the gender equality society at the Post Graduate Government College for Girls, Sector 42 and this is only a step forward,” said Negi.

On being asked if they were sure their women comrades would vote for them, Tiwana said, “I am sure my close friends would vote for me, it is a healthy competitive environment.”

“A girl has never been elected PU student council’s president because the post requires experience. Today if we start from smaller posts and do well then one day we might be able to fight for the presidential post. Jealousy is not our way of dealing with things,” said Anjali Thakur.

Source of motivation

Commenting on what made them stand for the election, the candidates said that they wanted to break the notion that women did not make good leaders. “I want to prove that women are politically not weak,” said Kaur. Negi said she was driven by the urge to work for women empowerment. For Tiwana, it was the administration’s “ignorant” attitude which triggered her to contest and Thakur said she got motivated after a girl in her hostel faced harassment.