Panjab University, which has acted as a nursery for grooming political leaders projecting youths' voice and democratic values through the student council elections till the recent past, has steadily been witnessing trends like opportunism, use of power and political interference by mainstream parties.
Bemoaning the recent trends, Satya Pal Jain, senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader who was 'instrumental' in introduction of direct elections to student council says, "Those were the days when nationalistic issues used to dominate the student elections. The issues which dominate the election today such as fee hike, mess charges and parking are also important, but issues concerning the nation are not getting their right importance."
Jain was member of the students' council in 1974, three years before direct elections to students' council started in PU.
Senior Congress leader Jagmohan Kang, who was a student at the Panjab University from 1971-76 feels the leaders used to be sincere, loyal and affectionate in those days. He adds, "Now, in the type of student politicians we have today, we see more selfishness."
Senior BJP leader Satya Pal Jain Senior Congress leader Jagmohan Kang
Due to problems in Punjab, the elections were not held in the eighties and a large part of nineties, but when they started again in 1997, the national student parties like National Student Union of India (NSUI) and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) started losing grip, while PU saw emergence of non-political outfits such as Panjab University Student Union (PUSU) and Student Organisation of Panjab University (SOPU) ruling the campus.
Congress MLA, who was one of the brains behind the formation of non-political student outfit at the university - PUSU - Kuljit Nagra, says, "The student leaders in pre and post independence era had a more nationalistic approach. As political interference started in student politics, criminalisation and money power started affecting the elections in the nineties."
Nagra adds, "Now, it has come to a stage where our student leaders lack requisite instinct and many of them are only bothered about their posts."
His contemporary DP Randhawa, a lawyer, who formed SOPU in 1997 among others, says he formed SOPU as national student wings had become 'inactive'. "Our idea then was to put forward strongly the demands of students which clicked with the students," says Randhawa. He adds, "But I feel students were mature back then. Now, with the introduction of undergraduate courses, we have students directly coming from schools. Use of money power has also spoiled the elections."
Among the former PU students, one voice which has slightly contrary views, is that of senior Congress politician and Haryana MLA Randeep Surjewala.
Though, he agrees with others and says money power has gone up and interference of mainstream political parties has become far more pronounced. But, he adds, "Quality of candidates and identification of issues has become more pronounced in student elections at PU now."
Current student council leader Satinder Singh Satti who switched over from SOPU to NSUI after winning the polls, says the new breed of politicians is equally good.
"We work tirelessly to get students' work done; be it of hostels or fee. National issues and our views on them also dominate the polls. If there are certain changes in the way we work, they are because of the changing face of the society," says Satti.