What ‘Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin’ did to Mona Singh’s character, the Panjab University student council elections did to our friend Chappal (real name withheld due to security reasons).
In my experience, when I pretended to study at the Sector-10 DAV College, here’s what a leader looked like: A bearded face and a modest body frame, a chequered shirt from a pricey brand, slim-fit pants in a shade of brown, loafers with white socks, dark sunglasses that blended with the beard, a chunky watch that could well be mistaken for a wall clock with straps, a voter-friendly smile, a thinly disguised short temper for anything and everything official, and a violent streak liberally employed while dealing with other parties.
Chappal was anything but that. He dressed in what are seen as a clerk’s clothes — loose pants with pleats, half-sleeved shirts with cuts on the sides, and specs that marked him out as ‘the one who will provide us with notes during exams’. Shoes were not his thing; he preferred slippers, hence the name Chappal.
A man of few words, he lived alone in a room that was originally allotted to me and three others. Chappal’s own room was in the adjoining hostel, but he did not appreciate the qualities of herbs that were smoked (up) there. As the four of us rented rooms and wasted our lives in Sector 15, Chappal piled his clothes up on three beds and was usually seen crouching over a fat book on the fourth. Not many understood how a history-sociology-English guy could study so much.
All that changed, thanks to a man called James Michael Lyngdoh.
Strict norms of attendance (a forgotten entity at DAV-10) and no criminal cases (‘How are leaders supposed to earn their stripes?’) meant that many who did not even know that Lyngdoh was a former chief election commissioner were struck by lightning. For those like Chappal, it was a godsend.
Within a month, Chappal graduated from carrying stickers on his notebook to the one who graced the posters. He had 75% attendance, had hardly been to a police station, and could speak English — the last trait making him a big draw among the Angrezi kids of Chandigarh who remain least interested in the student polls that are the plaything of those from the hinterland. The makeover of the presidential candidate from Malwa was quick. It brought a swagger to the way Chappal talked, even to us. His room was now full of poll strategies and stacks of ‘free gifts’.
But after three weeks of helping students with admissions and hostels, Chappal lost.
The other party’s candidate dressed and looked even better.
It was what happened after the elections that better defined PU’s student politics. Nothing happened, basically, except a protest that overturned the cancellation of a performance by singer Jasbir Jassi. Eventually, Jassi came, sang, left, and the whole thing ended in a bloody fight over god knows what, in the true traditions of DAV-10.
The elections on campus have remained inconsequential except that voters get guidance regarding admissions, form-filling and hostel. Sartorial qualities matter more than oratory, and regional affiliations have started taking over the system.
You may rightly argue that regionalism and money power reflect our off-campus politics. But key elements — power and accountability — are missing. All the students get to elect are pressure groups that make much hue and cry but remain largely powerless in times when mass-scale student agitations are limited to Facebook ire and Twitter abuse. Colleges aside, even on PU campus, the student council president is stipulated to be a mute spectator at syndicate meetings.
A 50% staff shortage, large-scale red tape and delayed results are only some of the issues that students ought to have a say on. Cynics may argue that power will lead to further corruption. In fact, these cynics are no different from those who oppose student politics in the first place. It is up to the students to drown out the cynical voices and ensure real democracy.
When performance becomes the parameter and parties are forced to take a stand on key issues, democracy largely takes care of itself. At PU, so far, democracy is limited to elections and entertainment.
P.S: Wondering what happened to Chappal? After college, he went on to contest for the post of PU campus student council president. He lost. The other guy looked better, again.