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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 51, December 5, 2009

HCUSU Elections: Status of Democracy and Lyngdoh Committee’s Recommendations

Tuesday 8 December 2009, by K. Rama Krishna Reddy

Lyngdoh Committee’s Recommendations and Students’ Union Elections

The Lyngdoh Committee was appointed by Government of India in 2005 under the chairmanship of the former Chief Election Commissioner of India, James Michael Lyngdoh, to frame the guidelines on Students’ Union elections in Colleges/Universities as per the directions issued by the Supreme Court of India. Its report was submitted by the Committee on May 23, 2006. The Supreme Court in October 2006 ordered that the Lyngdoh Committee report be implemented in the Students’ Union elections to establish accountability, transparency and discipline.

Highlights of Recommendations

a) Time Duration: The Committee’s recommendations have clearly mentioned about the time duration for holding the Union elections. It has recommended that elections be held on a yearly basis and between six-to-eight weeks from the date of commencement of the academic session.

b) Age: The eligibility criteria have been strictly laid down in order to prioritise educational activities. Undergraduate students between the ages of 17 and 22 may contest elections. This age range may be appropriately relaxed in the case of professional Colleges, where courses often range from four to five years. For Postgraduate Students the maximum age limit to legitimately contest an election would be 24 to 25 years. For research students the maximum age limit to legitimately contest an election would be 28 years. Marks are also a criterion because the student’s priority must be given to his/her studies. The candidate should in no event have any academic arrears in the year of contesting the election. The candidate shall have one opportunity to contest for the post of an office-bearer, and two opportunities to contest for the post of an executive member.

c) Attendance: The candidate should have attained the minimum percentage of attendance as prescribed by the University or 75 per cent attendance, whichever is higher.

d) Previous Criminal Record: The candidate shall not have a previous criminal record, that is to say, he should not have been tried and/or convicted of any criminal offence or misdemeanour. The candidate shall also not have been subject to any disciplinary action by the University authorities.

e) Expenditure: The maximum permitted expenditure per candidate shall be Rs 5000.

All the recommendations were aimed at giving the first priority to academic activities as the Committee was clear that the academic institutions are meant for educational activities, not for politics. From the day the Lyngdoh Committee’s recommendations came into force there has ensued a wideranging debate on what has to be followed—the respective Students’ Union’s constitution or the Lyngdoh Committee’s recommendations? The differences between various Students’ Union’s constitutions of the respective Universities and the Lyngdoh Committee report has allegedly led to the curtailment of the democratic processes in different Universities.

University of Hyderabad Students’ Union Elections (HCUSU) 2008-09

Based on the Students’ Union’s constitution in the HCU, the University General Body Meeting (UGBM) was as usual called in the month of October 2008 to discuss various financial matters related to the previous Students’ Union and to dissolve the existing Students’ Union and form an Election Commission duly elected by the students to conduct free and fair elections for the academic year 2008-09. An Election Commission was set up and the election schedule was announced. The Election Commission issued its first notification for the election. The Hyderabad Central University Students’ Constitution (HCUSC) was given priority and the rules and regulations of the HCUSU were declared to be followed. The HCUSU Constitution is neither fully nor partially informative. It has failed to define the role of the Dean of Students’ Welfare during times of emergency. Further, there are many lacunae which have acted as hurdles to the democratic process on campus.

The task of filing nominations was completed and campaigning of the candidates had started when the students’ world across the country heard about a great challenge posed to the democratic spirit in the JNUSU elections. The Supreme Court’s stay of the JNUSU elections was a major setback for the Lyngdoh Committee report, in which the JNU was projected as the best model in the country that should be followed by other universities.

This news immediately reached the entire student community of the country as it reached the HCU students. It was also a matter of concern for the University and the conduct of the HCUSU elections because unfortunately the HCU stood next to the JNU in violating the rules of the Lyngdoh Committee. One of the candidates, who had been given permission to stand as the President, had already crossed 28 years (research scholar) of age, and one more candidate (Integrated Studies) who had backlogs in the previous semester was allowed to contest the election. These apart, 75 per cent attendance was not taken into account as also the expenditure made by the candidates.

The University authorities immediately held a meeting with the student members of all groups and organisations in which both the Pro-Vice Chancellors, Election Commission members, Dean, Students’ Welfare, Deputy Chief Warden attended. At the meeting it was agreed that the University Vice-Chancellor and Registrar are responsible to the judiciary for any kind of alteration of any law. Hence, the meeting decided that the first notification for the HCUSU election be considered as null and void. To proceed with the democratic spirit, it was decided in the meeting that a second notification should be issued, and this should be fully in accordance with the Lyngdoh Committee’s recommendations.

The Election Commission then issued the second notification by declaring the first one as null and void. In the second notification the Lyngdoh Committee’s recommendations were given utmost priority and each directive was followed scrupulously. Elections were held in a peaceful manner on November 4, 2008 almost at the end of the first semester. As a whole, the election expenditure had doubled as they had undergone two notifications. The candidates’ expenditure also doubled as they were twice in the campaign. The issuance of two notifications resulted in the violation of one of the prime recommendations of the Lyngdoh Committee, that is, minimising the election expenditure.

In general, political parties have interfered in University politics. The primary function of any educational institution is to provide education. Hence, the Lyngdoh Committee recommended that the need for any political propagation in the educational institutions is not necessary. This instruction by the Lyngdoh Committee was the worst casualty. In the posters, pamphlets and during the open presidential debates the political affiliation is not at all mentioned as these are all directly related to the Election Commission. But during the open dais and presidential debates, without specifying their political affiliation particular groups belonging to the political organisations tried to denigrate their opponents. Everybody knows who is from which political affiliation. And even during the campaign and secret lobbying, political affiliation is the biggest asset of the candidates.

The results declared showed that four posts (President, Vice-President, General Secretary and Joint Secretary) were bagged by the Akhila Bharatiya Vidhyardhi Parishad (ABVP), the Cultural Secretary’s post was won by the Students’ Federation of India, and the Sports Secretary’s post was won by the North-East Students’ Association-Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA)-National Students’ Union of India (NSUI). In the post-election scenario the students and administration were blissful for only a period of nine days following the elections.

The President of the Students’ Union 2008-09 received an appointment letter from the C-DAC, Pune. In this regard it must be pointed out that the ABVP group was motivated to cheat the voters of democracy, their faith in the candidate and the laws as well as the Lyngdoh Committee’s recommendations.

In the event of the office of any major post of office-bearer falling vacant within two months of the election, re-election should be conducted; otherwise the Vice-President may be promoted to the post of President and Joint Secretary to the post of Secretary, as the case may be. (6.10.4: Lyngdoh Committee). It is clear from the Lyngdoh Committee’s recommendations that within two months of any post falling vacant, a re-election must be conducted. If the vacancy happens after two months the respective other office-bearers may be promoted to those posts.

Here the elected President decided to accept the offer of the outside job; as per the democratic norms, he was supposed to resign from the President’s post. If he resigned from the post, as per the Lyngdoh Committee’s recommendations mentioned above, a re-election had to be conducted. The particular politically affiliated student group to which the President belongs was not sure about its winning chances if a re-election occurred. That is because they just won the President’s post in the general election with a small margin of 29.

Finally, they behaved undemocratically and decided not to reveal the information to the student community about the President having accepted the job. After nine days of the President’s victory he took temporary no-dues in the name of attending an interview from the University, collected all the original certificates and took the job. And further after joining he sent a fax message to the Dean, Students’ Welfare to say that he was not feeling well so his powers may be transferred to the Vice-President, who again belongs to the same politically affiliated organisation. Fortunately the DSW did not do what the President had suggested as he was already informed about the President’s activities by some democratic elements. So at that moment the President had neither resigned nor did he continue in his position as the President.

Some students on campus recognised the whole lacuna and began urging for a re-election for the post of the President. The administration failed to respond to this democratic demand saying that “we don’t have any evidence about the President’s job†. The University from its side wanted to be clear whether a re-election was indeed necessary and did not want to waste the time and money of the students. The group of individuals who decided to restore democracy at any cost also decided to search for evidence regarding the President’s whereabouts. The group visited C-DAC, Pune and obtained a letter from the Head, HRD, C-DAC, Pune which clearly stated about the President’s employment contract.

This evidence changed the whole discourse of the administration and finally with the help of this letter, the admission of the President was cancelled (as per the university policy, no candidate can work outside during his/her full-time course). And then the administration proposed another election. The Election Commission which was established for conducting the HCUSU election-2008 was asked to take charge of the re-election-2009. It took two precious months to convince the administration about the value of democracy and the importance of the post of the President for the student community. The group of individuals who have initiated the whole task of restoring democracy now claims this as a victory for democracy. On March 6, 2009 the re-election was held and on March 7 the result was declared.

While the student community was not that keenly interested in the election as the by-elections are scheduled at the end of the academic year, the group of individuals who strove to ensure the election believes that this by-election must be a lesson for the people who want to play a fraud on democracy while besmirching its values.

The results clearly showed that democracy and its values should be given high priority in any circumstance. Though the voting percentage was low (62 per cent) compared to any other election in the University, the winning margin was high. The students who voted took the re-election with considerable seriousness and cast their vote to uphold democracy in the campus. The SFI-NSUI-DSU led panel won the post with a 207-vote margin against the ABVP. The group of individuals who strove to ensure this election believes that this result will help strengthen the pillar of democracy in the world’s largest democratic nation.

Violation of the Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations

Many of the Lyngdoh Committee’s recommendations have been violated by the HCU in both the notifications issued for the HCUSU election-2008 and HCUSU re-election-2009.

a) According to the Lyngdoh Committee, elections should be conducted from six to
eight weeks from the date of commencement
of the academic session. But in the HCU the election was held on November 4, that is,
13 weeks since the commencement of the academic year.

b) The maximum permitted expenditure
per candidate is Rs 5000. But it exceeded that because of two notifications in the general election, 2008-09.

c) The re-election in the absence of the President, which was to have been conducted within 60 days from the date of the general election was conducted after 110 days.

d) The Committee’s recommendations failed to address the democratic spirit that the students are supposed to have.

When both the JNU and HCU are treated as ideal institutions by the Lyngdoh Committee’s recommendations in conducting the students’ union elections and both the institutions failed to follow the Committee’s recommendations, what rationality does the recommendations of the Lyngdoh Committee hold in the other universities? In some aspects, like priority to academics rather than politics, the Committee never compromised but in some other aspects, like age relaxation for the deprived sections, who enter higher education a bit late because of the many constraints, the Committee failed to project a democratic approach. Regarding the reviews of the Committee’s recommendations, the first review after two years of implementation of the recommendations and the second review after the third or fourth year of implementation of the recommendations would hopefully help bring down the recommendations to the practical level and elections to a student-friendly mode. Simultaneously, the democratic sprit among the student community should prevail and not be killed by any selfish individual or group of individuals as that may have a negative effect on the voters’ faith in a candidate and democracy in large measure.

The author is a Doctoral Fellow, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, University of Hyderabad.

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