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Presi presents model polls

- Election scorecard shines with a series of firsts

Presidency University’s first student union elections have scored many firsts, judging by violence-marred campus polls in the state.

Missing were the rancour and the fisticuffs — a standard feature of any campus poll — in the campaign preceding Friday’s elections. Instead, the campus saw a debate that helped students make an informed choice.

The CPM-backed Students’ Federation of India, which had ruled the last Presidency union, lost its last prestigious post in the state, with the Independents’ Consolidation winning all five office-bearers’ posts — girls’ common room secretary, assistant general secretary, general secretary, vice-president and president.

The polls were held after three years. Elections could not be held in 2011 and 2012 in the absence of poll-related rules after Presidency became a university.

In 2013, the government had imposed a stay on student union elections following a series of campus violence across the state.

Metro tries to figure out what made the elections at Bengal’s youngest university a model for others.

Nomination

The most common cause of poll-related violence is intimidation during the filing of nomination. Presidency could minimise chances of violence during this stage by introducing online nomination, a first in the state.

All candidates had to download nomination forms. For submission, however, both options were open — online and offline.

The higher education department in its poll advisory issued in September had advocated online submission of nomination forms in an attempt to curb violence.

Campaign

The candidates and their supporters refrained from shouting slogans while classes were on. Sloganeering was only allowed after 5pm. There were no complaints of students being threatened or manhandled.

Soumyadeep Saha, a Bengali honours (second year) student, said the Presidency polls stood out at a time campus polls have became synonymous with violence.

“While we were electing our candidates peacefully, there were reports of large-scale violence during college polls in Raniganj. Even at Presidency, union polls used to be violent. But today it was different,” said Saha.

A sub-inspector of the local Jorasanko police station said there was no complaint of unlawful activity on the College Street campus in the run-up to the polls.

“Till 2010, each Presidency poll used to be accompanied by a host of complaints filed by the SFI and the Independents’ Consolidation against each other,” the officer said.

Issues academic

The dominant issues in the elections were restructuring of the syllabus, efficient review of answer scripts, flexibility in selecting interdisciplinary courses — unheard of in any other campus poll. The manifestos also contained demands like installation of Wi-Fi and proper upkeep of Eden Hindu Hostel.

“I won’t say political issues should not be highlighted, but campus polls should primarily be about campus-related issues which are of immediate concern to students. It was good that these issues were given priority,” said a physics honours student.

Debate

Presidency tried a model that was yet untested in Bengal. Following the Jawaharlal Nehru University model, leaders of the Independents’ Consolidation and the SFI took on one another across the debating platform in their attempt to win over voters.

“This showed the maturity expected of a centre of excellence. At a time there is so much violence elsewhere, Presidency has showed how to hold peaceful polls,” said Somak Raychaudhury, the dean of science and head of the physics department.

At JNU, the contenders for the post of the union president share their thoughts with their constituents to win their support. “The best thing about this method is that the contenders are assessed on the basis of what they lay bare before the voters. Other things, like the might of the political party backing a candidate, become immaterial,” said a JNU old-timer.

Several prominent politicians in the country, like Sitaram Yechury, had cut their teeth on politics as student leaders at JNU and sharpened their oratorial skills in the campaign debates on the campus.

Online voting

The university authorities have said they would further cut chances of violence by opting for online polls next year. The move would also help curb disruption of classes.

“We would try the online method while electing the teacher representative who would be member of the governing board, which would be the university’s lone decision-making body. Once we get the hang of the system, we will formalise the decision to introduce it in next year’s student union polls,” said registrar Prabir Dasgupta.