The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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No campus poll bar on parties: Panel

New Delhi, July 10: If the J.M. Lyngdoh committee set up to reform students’ union elections has its way, Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury can continue to work their tongues at JNU poll meetings.

The panel, set up on a Supreme Court order voicing concern over free play of money and muscle power in such polls, has ruled out barring political parties from taking part in campus elections.

But it has recommended a “freeze campaign period” during which outsiders will not be allowed to enter the campus to catch votes for their parties.

This would mean that the CPM leaders can happily attend meetings organised by the Students’ Federation of India, the party’s student wing, at JNU, although with restrictions.

Both are former presidents of the JNU students’ union and have been regulars at poll shows.

In a report submitted to the Supreme Court and the human resource development ministry, the five-man panel, contrary to expectations, has said students’ union elections are a “desirable” part of university life.

It concedes there is a need to reform the prevailing system but does not speak against elections. It says there can be no uniform or model method of conducting elections and systems have to be tailored to the demands of specific universities.

In many institutions, for instance, elections are seen as a springboard for students who want to become “professional” politicians. Money and muscle power come into play in such contests at the behest of outside politicians.

In contrast, the JNU elections are generally marked by the absence of violence and money power.

An issue the panel has looked at is eligibility criteria for candidates, with regard to age and educational qualifications. While it has ruled out laying down academic criteria, it says putting a limit on age will be tough, too.

For instance, PhD students cannot be excluded on the ground that they are too “senior”. Nor can youngsters aspiring to be future politicians be disqualified.

Fixing a cap on monetary expenses is another issue the panel has looked at, but it failed to arrive at a uniform criterion. Although it has suggested a Rs 5,000 cap on each candidate, it says the figure should be contingent on the size of the campus.

In a sprawling campus like Delhi University, such an amount would obviously not suffice.

The committee feels the inherent academic culture of an institution is reflected in the manner the students conduct their union elections. Usually, the elections degenerate into violence in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan.

In essence, the committee suggests that various possibilities need to be explored for smooth conduct of students’ union elections depending on the specific requirements of varsities.

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