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Campus polls are here again. We should welcome it

Academic pursuit is obviously the prime reason for enrolling in college or university, but it is misplaced to believe that interest or participation in politics is an impediment to this

mumbai Updated: Nov 02, 2018 00:32 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,University of Mumbai,college
University of Mumbai. The ban on campus elections in Maharashtra has been lifted after 24 years.(HT FILE)

The ban on campus elections (by extension, politics) in Maharashtra has been lifted after 24 long years. Despite the compunctions of several people – including college principals and community thinkers – I think this is for the good.

Academic pursuit is obviously the prime reason for enrolling in college or university, but it is misplaced to believe that interest or participation in politics is an impediment to this.

Student life can’t be insulated from what’s happening in the world. In fact, it shouldn’t be, as this defeats the very purpose of higher education. Apart from facilitating specialisation in the subject of choice, college life must help in opening up the intellectual and emotional horizons of the youth, in several spheres.

This has been the glaring lacuna in India’s education system where students were straitjacketed into streams that were thought to enhance prospects of vocation and livelihood, rather than producing well-rounded young men and women equipped for the challenges of life.

In my college days — and I am going back more than four decades here — we were hamstrung for choice of subjects. If you opted for the sciences, there was no way you of getting introduced to the humanities, and vice versa.

Happily, a lot of that has changed now with the job market itself demanding versatility rather than one-dimensional skills from the workforce. Modern curriculums now provide a fairly impressive mix-and-match of subjects to pursue. But I’ve digressed enough, and back to politics on campus. In a sense, given human nature, this is impossible to prevent. Moreover, the young are restless, constantly raising questions, and seeking answers.

This leads to activism – a less provocative word than politics I suppose – of various kinds. And while parents, guardians, principals and deans tend to look askance at such activity, its uses actually far outweigh the problems.

Chief among these is that it gives students – arguably the biggest stakeholders on campus – a voice and firmer locus standi. Student issues, which could easily be stomped and trampled over by authority, get attention and scope for redress.

Mumbai University for instance, as this newspaper reported on Thursday, has been beset by flawed curriculums, appalling hostel facilities, fee structures that make no sense, and what have you.

This affects quality of education, student life, and financial health of those on campus. College and university councils made up of students can go a long way in resolving these matters, and there is no better way of forming these councils than by elections.

However, this is where problems can admittedly arise. Elections can get out of hand and even turn violent, as happened in 1989 when Owen D’Souza, a student of Mithibai College, was killed, subsequently leading to the ban on campus elections in the state.

This was a reprehensible event and the trepidations of some principals and parents even now are understandable. But I think a distinction needs to be made between isolated acts of violence, which should be contained by effective administration, and criminalisation of campus politics by political parties.

Therein lies the real danger, as we have seen in recent years, namely in the Rohit Vemula case in Hyderabad University, the almost daily fracas in JNU, and unrest in several other university campuses across the country.

The solution to this is not in banning parties from having student wings that participate in campus elections. Being exposed to and confronting various ideologies is part of growing up and student life.

In any case, in this information age, and especially with the massive network of social media where political messaging can be spread through WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter unhindered and faster than the speed of light, such controls are totally ineffective.

The issue is not so much the dissemination of ideology as to the methods used and the end objectives of campus politics. Is this really for the benefit of students, and by extension, for society and country in the future is the question to be asked of political parties: Left, Right and Centre.

First Published: Nov 02, 2018 00:32 IST