What PU polls teach us

The circus is back in town. Student union elections at Panjab University and its colleges in Chandigarh, I mean. And I do not mean that in a mean way. Circus is fun, and teaches you many things — how to put your life at risk to play to the gallery. Writes Aarish Chhabra.

chandigarh Updated: Aug 17, 2014 10:03 IST
Aarish Chhabra
Aarish Chhabra
Hindustan Times

The circus is back in town. Student union elections at Panjab University and its colleges in Chandigarh, I mean. And I do not mean that in a mean way. Circus is fun, and teaches you many things — how to put your life at risk to play to the gallery, how to see animals as intuitive creatures and handlers as the ultimate masters, how to laugh along with the joker and leer at the short-skirt girls, and how to generally have a merry time as the performers go about their business as usual.

The newer generations may see the circus as a poor man’s entertainment, but, let me tell you, it is riveting stuff.

In the same manner, it is time to celebrate the riveting stuff that is democracy on the campus.

Like anyone else who’s spent useless years studying history, sociology or even English literature at that famous college in Sector 10, I have my share of campus poll tales. Some of these involve free trips to Kasauli; others involve trips to the police station. In between, there was that odd trip to the hospital when free booze proved troublesome for my tummy. Quick tip: The Sector-16 government hospital is the best in handling puking drunks.

But I may be painting a negative picture of a noble endeavour by sharing these stupid open secrets.

My endeavour today, before I forget, is to make a point in favour of these elections. No, it’s not because I loved violent video games as a child. It’s also not because I was a huge fan of WWF (before it became WWE). I actually believe in these elections, so much so that I feel bad for Punjab that does not have them since the militancy era.

I’ll tell you why.

See, most of you must have studied basic public administration/political science/civics in Class 9-10. Some of you must have taken it further by picking these subjects at the senior secondary level and beyond. And, given how we are a nation full of uneducated and over-educated people, I sure hope there is at least one PhD-holder in pub-ad or pol-science reading this article too.

But one thing is for sure: None of that studying and researching can teach you as much about our political system as can these campus elections.

The power-play of opportunity and the irrelevance of ideology, the blatant parochialism and boasting posters, the colourful defacement and the abundance of colourful liquids — what’s not to love? Even Modi’s sculpted beard seems to be an inspiration from PU’s macho boys who grace the posters pasted all over campus and even beyond Chandigarh. Lessons are aplenty, and go beyond Chandigarh too.

Parties at PU are dominated by men, while the women are mostly trophies for the road shows. I must underline that women form the majority vote on campus but have never elected a woman president.

Maybe the women just do not vote along gender lines, and choose the best man for the job instead. But that would mean elections at the University of Utopia.

Money and muscle matter. The advent, or re-launch, of mainstream parties’ student wings at PU has certainly upped the game, or at least made it easier for candidates who now get party funding apart from saved-up shopping money or daddy’s generous backing.

The same leaders seem to be participating for years, even though names on the ballot change due to strict rules about admission, attendance and criminal record. These leaders like musical chairs so much that journalists have to check frequently which party they are in. There have been situations where allegiance has been so strong that two brothers have stayed steadfastly with different parties while staying in the same hostel room. But that kind of commitment is rare. Recently we had a leader switch parties in the morning only to switch back by the night. No one cared by the next morning anyway.

And when the degree of violence or threat thereof determines the leaders’ pedigree, the average student, the voter that is, prefers to remain an amazed spectator.

Police remain a joke. What can they do anyway? Put these hormone-driven mini-leaders under precautionary house arrest? That would be undemocratic, you see. As for the university and college managements, they are very much like the Election Commission — much noise, but very little action.

Constrained, again, by convention and the fear of being termed undemocratic.

If any of this sounds way too familiar, that’s because the theatre played out a larger scale across the country only three months ago. At PU, it becomes more of a farce because the elected representatives get almost no power and thus no responsibility. It is just a smaller, non-serious version of the real thing, for educational purposes only.

First Published: Aug 17, 2014 10:00 IST