We want to run an active, liberal, progressive students’ union

01 05
We want to run an active, liberal, progressive students’ union

AICC joint secretary and national in-charge of the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) Ruchi Gupta speaks to The Hindu about NSUI’s success in Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU) elections, and its future plans towards being an organisation that runs active, liberal and progressive students’ unions. Excerpts from an interview.

The NSUI won the post of president and vice-president in DUSU elections after a gap of four years. What do you feel went right this time?

This year, we launched our manifesto a month in advance as we wanted to run an issue-based campaign and set a clear agenda about what we wanted to do if we came to power in DUSU. We went from college to college distributing our manifesto — a very important cultural shift in the way we were doing our politics.

Earlier, the manifesto launch would happen along with the launch of ballot numbers as we wanted the students to remember the ballot numbers before going in to vote. The issues that we raised were issues that are not common currency. We found that issues like metro concession, university special buses and hostels were in the manifestos of every party every year. The issues we raised this year were things like equal opportunities for all college in DU as we have seen that “elite” colleges corner all benefits.

I feel the issues that resonated with the students were transparency in DUSU and making a participatory budget. Several students were unaware that contribution to the DUSU budget was part of their college fee and were shocked to find that ₹22 lakh of ₹26 lakh allotted to DUSU was spent on miscellaneous expenditure like photocopying and tea.

What will the NSUI do to stop students from feeling a sense of alienation from DUSU politics and increase participation?

There is a sense of alienation. We realised that if we talked about the role of students in governance of a university, we could reclaim the credibility of DUSU and say that students’ unions do matter. We also made efforts to increase voter turnout and told students that the university will become a place where violence plays a role in settling arguments if they do not vote. We also spoke about what happens when a student does not come to vote. We educated students that the ABVP is RSS and that when the RSS comes into student space it takes over the space and there is imposition on people’s personal freedoms.

The NSUI has been criticised for its cadre not being seen on campus and emerging only during election time. What are you doing to change this in DU and across the country?

Now that we have DUSU and Punjab University, and representatives in leadership roles in several universities, the challenge is to convert these wins into a credible model that we can showcase going forward. A model of an active, liberal and progressive students’ union. Also, this election was not about an individual candidate who came out victorious based on caste but it was team NSUI. Similarly, we want to strengthen our voice in the policy space and take a stand on various issues with regard to education. We have a stand on issues but we need to articulate it better so that we develop a strong independent voice. This needs to happen not only where there is electoral politics but campuses where there is no union as well.

You had spoken about trying to change the culture of DUSU elections in the run-up to the polls. Do you think the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations need to be reviewed in the case of DUSU elections?

I feel the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations are impractical and a little apolitical. The recommendations say that a candidate cannot participate in an election if there has been any “disciplinary action” against him/her, without caring to define it. If a student leader shows dissent against authority, disciplinary action will be taken to silence him/her. But does that mean that the leader cannot stand for elections? By that definition, [former Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union president] Kanhaiya Kumar, who is seen as the biggest student leader today, will not be allowed to stand for elections. Any student leader will come into conflict with the administration and the easiest way to kill someone’s career is to take some form of disciplinary action so that they cannot contest. If we see students as future politicians, then the same standards that are applied to politicians need to apply to student leaders as well.

What about the use of money and muscle in DUSU elections? How does the NSUI plan to change that?

DU needs to step in to create an atmosphere in which this is possible. The university gives us three days to fight the election. How is a candidate supposed to reach out to over 1.20 lakh voters in three days without putting up posters? Also, another rule is that a candidate cannot contest an election for the second time. So the candidate does not have the time to mature as a leader.