25 years later, campus politics makes a Maha return
Twenty-five years after the state government had called for a ban on elections in state universities, campus politics are all set to make a re-entry in Maharashtra. The enactment of the Maharashtra Public Universities Act 2016 has reintroduced campus elections and on Tuesday, University of Mumbai (MU) released a schedule for student elections. As per the schedule, the process will start on August 19 and end on September 30.
“While election statutes were released last year, we couldn’t implement elections because we had already passed the September 30 deadline in 2018. This year, elections will be conducted as per the new statutes and within the rules and regulations as prescribed by the Supreme Court as well as the state universities Act of 2016,” said a senior official from the state higher education department.
Starting mid-August, nominations will be welcomed from all MU-affiliated institutes to fill up elected posts, including student council president, secretary, reserved category representative (RR) and lady representative (LR).
Student elections were banned in Maharashtra in 1994, after a spate of kidnappings and violence related to campus politics. The Maharashtra Universities Act 1994 had replaced elections with nominations for student representative bodies in colleges and universities. With the new Act replacing the old one, the state government has not only revived elections, but also widened their scope.
“We welcome this move by the state government to bring students into the limelight again. These elections will not only help students find their potential and become future leaders of the country, but also help bring student issues to the fore and resolve the same,” said Aniket Ovhal, state secretary, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), Konkan. He added that with the announcement of the elections schedule, all parties will be reaching out to students of MU-affiliated colleges.
With the University of Mumbai announcing the schedule for the first student council elections in 25 years, there are mixed reactions to the official re-entry of politics into campus life. While some students and political experts feel this move is a welcome new chapter in student activism, others have asked for better control mechanisms to ensure college campuses don’t become battlegrounds that vitiate the academic environment.
Harshad Bhosale, an associate professor at Kirti College, Dadar, has studied student movements and politics in Maharashtra as part of his PhD research. “Students elections were always considered a medium for future political recruitment by political parties, but on the ground level, student movement has also helped resolve several problems faced by the student community,” said Bhosale. “The move is a positive one and it is in the hands of colleges and universities to not let this opportunity turn into ugly brawls amidst student parties and avoid single party domination,” he said.
Until 1994, campus politics in the city was characterised by violence and intimidation. The decisive moment came on October 5, 1989, Owen D’souza, a student at Mithibai College in Vile Parle and a district president of National Students Union of India (NSUI), the student wing of Congress party, was brutally murdered outside the college. Five years later, student elections were banned across Maharashtra.
The Maharashtra Universities Act 1994 replaced elections with nominations for student representative bodies in colleges and universities. Students were hand-picked by college and university authorities, based on their academic track record.
“Student elections are welcome as long as political parties don’t take over day-to-day college activities, or arm-twist college managements to nod in agreement with them. Universities as well as the state government should ensure that student council representatives fight for the right causes,” said the principal of a city college.
As per the new Act, students in colleges and university departments can now directly elect office bearers of their respective councils as opposed to indirect elections provided under the Bombay University Act 1974, which continued till 1993. Under this election process, students will elect their class representatives, who in turn will elect the chairman and the general secretaries of student bodies.