Open house debates between presidential candidates were one of the deciding factors during the Panjab University student council elections. But not a single one has been held since 2010. For the third consecutive year, HT conducted a debate for presidential candidates where leaders from all the three major alliance groups – Siya Minocha (NSUI), Piyush Anand (SOI) and Nishant Kaushal (PUSU) – expressed their views over a host of issues ranging from PU’s financial crunch to representation of girls in elections.
I would say you all are dummy candidates. You were chosen because real leaders running the student wings are either not PU students or have a criminal background or don’t have enough attendance. Vicky Middukhera is running SOI, Manoj Lubana is handling NSUI affairs and Navaldeep is in charge of PUSU.
Piyush: There is no such thing in our party. While I was a student at UIET, I was involved in party affairs for the last five years. That is why the SOI has chosen me. (He is presently a student of the Urdu department.)
Nishant: The party committee has selected me. Navaldeep is only the face of the party. I have been involved with the party for many years now. Navaldeep is not the party alone, there are other senior leaders who chose me.
Siya: It is wrong to say I am Manoj Lubana’s candidate. He doesn’t decide the candidates. The whole party has chosen me. I am not a dummy candidate.
There varsity is facing a severe financial crunch due to which it increased the fee. Both the central and state governments have long dithered from supporting PU. Had it been a central university, the problem would have been solved. I want to ask Piyush whether the SOI ever raised the issue with its parent political party Shiromani Akali Dal, that is running Punjab.
Piyush: We will raise the issue with the state government. Last year, student president Jasmeen Kang had demanded details from the varsity over shortage of funds and the funding pattern which were never provided to him.
Nishant: Our party can only raise its voice for the issue. Both SOI and NSUI are student wings of major political parties. Together they can push for converting PU to a central university.
Siya: There’s a fee hike every six months. The financially weak get affected due to this. But there is hardly any improvement in the facilities provided to students. We demand a central university status for PU. We launched ‘Save PU’ campaign which ran for 27 days and finally the ministry of human resource development had to release grants.
Retirement age of teachers
Do you all agree that the retirement age of PU teachers should be increased from 60 to 65? Presently, the issue is pending in the high court. The university authorities are in favour of extending the retirement age.
Siya: We condemn any increase in the retirement age of teachers. Young blood should be given a chance.
Nishant: At present even after retirement at 60, teachers continue to work till the age of 65 on a reemployment basis. They should not be allowed to continue beyond 60.
Piyush: Newcomers should be given a chance.
Representation of girls
Though 75% girls comprise PU’s strength, why are girls not the first choice of student wings for the post of president? Women are still not decision-makers in student wings.
Nishant: There are social dogmas. Girls are not welcome. Their parents do not support them for contesting elections. Siya has been named as the presidential candidate by NSUI. She has an edge while campaigning in girls’ hostels.
Siya: I was doing as well as the boys. I was chosen among all. It’s the first time a major party has chosen a female candidate for the president’s post. I belong to an ordinary family but my parents have supported me. Issues related to girls’ security are on my agenda. Female security guards should be increased. There should be a helpline for girls. The PUCASH (Panjab University Committee Against Sexual Harassment) should be more active.
Piyush: The party decides the candidates. This time we have given two seats to girls. Last time too, we had given two seats that won. But one shouldn’t seek sympathy for being a girl. Siya shouldn’t tell girls to vote for her because she is a girl.
Money spent on polls
Students are bribed by free lunches and dinners, tours and disco parties before voting. You all are involved in this.
Nishant: We are a student party. Students gather funds for us. We hardly have money to bribe voters.
Siya: We do not organise parties. We also collect funds from students.
Piyush: We work for students and resolve their issues. We do not take students to discotheques.
Violence on campus
There was a firing incident on campus in April. The NSUI ‘factions’ also got into a fight. What do you have to say about this?
Siya: Students should be ensured their safety. If political interests of parties are leading to violence, I condemn it.
Nishant: The varsity is a place where we come for overall development and not just for a degree. The firing incident was unfortunate and we condemn it.
Piyush: We condemn it too. We did not even discuss it during our campaigning so that first year voters feel safe.