The recently concluded NSUI elections in Chhattisgarh herald a new beginning not only for students, but also, I hope, for the Congress party as a whole: thus far, appointments to party posts were made from ‘up above’; now, for the first time ever, those ‘down below’ have been allowed to choose who should represent & lead them. To paraphrase modern India’s architect-in-chief, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, “voices, long suppressed, have begun to find utterance.”
The elections itself were something of a revelation for Congresspersons all over Chhattisgarh: they have offered a glimpse of things to come. In less than 45 days, 78000 students from 308 colleges & university departments were enrolled. They voted to elect 4846 delegates (including members of their respective college committees), who in turn congregated at three division-level Conventions (Raipur, Bastar & Bilaspur) to elect 99 district committee members, 8 office-bearers of the state committee, and 2 national representatives. The entire process of electioneering was conducted by an independent Election Authority comprising of Observers, PRO, DROs & AROs, most of them from outside the state, & supervised by the Foundation for Advanced Management of Elections (FAME) headed by no less a personage than Mr. Lyngdoh, a former chief election commissioner (CEC) of India. FAME, I’m told, reports directly to the office of Mr. Rahul Gandhi, the AICC General Secretary in-charge of NSUI.
Secret of Success
Sanjeev Shukla, the president-elect, and Tikesh Pratap Singh, the national delegate-elect, are both sincere students, dedicated to the cause of student-welfare. I am happy to say that I know both of them personally, and in the case of Sanjeev, intimately, as we went to Law College together (or as he told the Press, “Amit bhaiya was my junior by a year”). He is, in many ways, the younger brother I never had- but always wanted.
As such, I would like to point out three things about them. First, both hail from middle-class, non-political families. Consequently, of the 20-odd contestants in the fray for state & national committees, they were in fact the only ones who didn’t- couldn’t afford to- put one single hoarding advertising their candidature at the three Conventions. During campaigning, they somewhat cheekily penned their names on the backside of other candidates’ glossy pamphlets (since they obviously didn’t have many printed of their own). To house outstation students for the night before the convention, they took recourse to Dharamshalas (while their colleagues booked high-end resorts). Secondly, even though they have been very active grassroots workers (Sanjeev, in fact, has been working tirelessly for the past 9 years), neither has held high political office in the NSUI before, and therefore, cannot be said to be ‘political’ in the orthodox sense. At Sanjeev’s first press conference at Raipur, the Media were pleasantly surprised to see that he turned up in a scooter. They did not, however, take very kindly to the fact that he had forgotten to serve them the customary tea & samosas (which had to purchased post-haste from a nearby tea stall).
Thirdly- and from the point of view of candidates, most significantly- Sanjeev & Tikesh worked as a team. Unlike others, they actually traveled to colleges, talked directly to students (instead of self-styled ‘student leaders’) to find out who among them were the most popular, & fielded college and district committee candidates in all 17 districts where elections were held (whereas their closest rivals didn’t bother to field any in most districts, preferring instead to seek votes only for themselves): needless to say, all these college & district-level candidates helped get votes for them, by word of mouth publicity (& not, mind you, by putting up hoardings in commercial areas etc.). Also- and this is very important- they didn’t merely ask people to vote for them personally: they canvassed students to vote for both of them as a team. Tikesh therefore ensured that Sanjeev got votes from his home-division, Bilaspur, while Sanjeev worked hard to see that the Raipur students voted for Tikesh. Furthermore, they were also the only two contestants who took the trouble of fielding women & students from the depressed communities representing all parts of the state, as a consequence of which the latter were elected unopposed (!).
Consequently, not only is the present elected-committee truly representative in character with 2 SC students, 1 ST & 1 OBC student, and 2 women students, but 5 out of 8 state committee office-bearers have already worked with- and for- each other during the elections (as opposed to against each other), and I’m confident that this spirit of cooperation would translate into an efficient- and effective- working of the student organization as a whole.
I believe that there are three important lessons to be learnt here, especially for those in other states where similar intra-organizational elections are being held: one, candidates must go directly to the electorate & as far as possible, dispense with the services of middlemen; two, they must work as a team, and the bigger & more representative the composition of their teams, the better; and three, the deployment of resources- TV & newspaper ads, SMSs, hoardings, glitzy pamphlets, Parker pen-sets and other miscellaneous gifts- and the outright purchasing of votes is, at least as far as student politics in Chhattisgarh is concerned, still no match for good old fashioned word-of-mouth publicity, personal relationships and most importantly, selfless team work.
Twins of Student Politics
I’ve already advocated elsewhere that students ought not to get involved in general politics; they should restrict themselves to addressing issues that directly concern them. This would, in my opinion, broadly consist of two things: Education & Employment.
Truth be told, the plight of Education- and especially, higher education- in Chhattisgarh is pathetic. For instance, in the past 5 years, the incumbent state government has opened no less than 5 universities (3 of them on the same date): not one of them is operational; for all facts and purposes, they exist only on paper. Not one person- not even a peon- has been appointed despite 1900 vacant posts for teachers; not one brick has been laid anywhere; Vice Chancellors simply lounge about their bungalows in Raipur with no work to do. Students have nowhere to go; there is no one to teach them. The Indian Medical Association (IMA) recently found the state government’s arrangement to setup a Medical College at Jagdalpur wholly unsatisfactory, and refused to accord it recognition. (Contrast this to the Hidyatullah National Law University (HNLU), which has recently been voted as the top law institute in the country by Outlook, and the State Institute for Medical Sciences (SIMS) at Bilaspur. Both were setup by my father’s government.)
The Universities Grant Commission (UGC) has long before sanctioned funds for all the above, but they remain unutilized despite numerous reminders & even one stern warning threatening to take back the funds if not utilized immediately. Likewise, although an Indian Institute of Management (IIM) at Raipur has been sanctioned by the Union Ministry of Human Resources Development (HRD) during the last Budget, the state administration is yet to provide land for the same. Not only that, a Vice Chancellor who has been found guilty of embezzling ten million rupees meant for education by no less an authority than the Principal Secretary of the Higher Education Ministry of the state government, is allowed to go scot free only because of the geriatric-gentleman’s deep connections with the RSS-outfit, Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP).
As far as private professional colleges- dental & engineering- are concerned, the excessive “donations” charged by them make it all but impossible for local students to find admissions. There ought to some kind of statutory quota for them backed, if necessary, by subsidies & grants. Computer literacy and English must be made compulsory at the school-level.
Most significantly, efforts must be made to directly link Education to Employment. After all, what good is education if post-graduate students from Chhattisgarh have to earn out a living as manual laborers in Mumbai & Delhi? It is my firm belief that the state government, given its dismal track record, should refrain from itself opening professional colleges; rather it should prevail upon other entrepreneurs- especially, those setting up major industries and power stations in the state- to not only open professional institutes but also give students jobs after they’ve graduated. This would be beneficial both for the students as well as for the companies concerned. Likewise, wherever possible, derelict government school buildings should be handed over to private parties, who would no doubt run them more efficiently.
The role of government should be restricted, therefore, to three things: one, prescribing, monitoring & strict enforcement of education standards (student to teacher ratio, attendance, curriculum, entrance tests, exams etc.), not least to attract reputed companies to do on-campus recruitments; two, subsidizing costs of education & issuing grants to students, particularly those who can’t afford an expensive education, if necessary, by making them sign a Bond wherein they would spend a minimum number of years working for the government/funding company on a contract basis; & three, enacting statutory provisions to ensure a minimum-level of intake of local students, especially in professional and vocational institutes, and also a minimum-level of intake of local graduates in companies operating in the state. As with everything else, what this state government lacks in Education is, above all else, a Vision. The NSUI, which now speaks for a majority of students of this state, must, therefore, supply it with one; and then ensure that it is enforced, first by cooperation, failing which, through mass-agitation.
The Long Road Ahead
I would suggest then that the NSUI focus on the following five areas:
(1) It ought to start by asking its 308 college committees to conduct an on-the-spot survey on the standard of education being imparted in their respective colleges, taking particular note of such factors as staff & student attendance record, teacher to student ratio, staff-student relations, teaching staff’s performance evaluation, condition of infrastructure, sanction & utilization of funds (if necessary by getting information under the UPA-enacted Right To Information (RTI) Act), number of students who have found post-education employment & where etc. All 78000 members should be encouraged to send in their inputs: they should remain connected with each other through SMSs as, in any case, most of them have already submitted their contact numbers along with their membership papers. Based on this, a “White Paper on the State of Education & Employment in Chhattisgarh” should be prepared, identifying both the problematic areas & suggesting remedies. This document should be submitted to the concerned college authorities (both state & central) for necessary & time-bound action, and should become the foundation of its future political program & student-agitation.
(2) Simultaneously, the NSUI, in compliance with its Open Membership Policy, should also look into increasing its membership database by setting for itself achievable targets, and recognizing & rewarding those members who do the most recruitments.
(3) It should also encourage its members to engage in productive social work. A student database of blood groups should also be prepared, and submitted to local hospitals, primary healthcare centers & the Red Cross; blood donation camps should be organized in colleges with the aid of the Red Cross; members should be encouraged to fill organ-donation forms; safe sex education should also be taken up by distributing contraceptives and other literature in colleges, possibly in coordination with NACO and other similar NGOs; books should be collected and donated to various libraries; audio books should be prepared for the blind; a separate workforce of student-volunteers should be prepared to regularly work with various social service organizations such as day-care centers for special children, old people’s homes etc; inter-college sports & games should be organized throughout the year to increase healthy sportsmanship among students; cultural programs, such as street plays and debating tournaments that promote inter-faith harmony and force the mind to think, should be staged regularly.
(4) Employment Assistance Centres should be setup by various district committees, which would provide useful information with respect to both employment & microfinance opportunities, as well as help students, or groups of students, to actually find suitable work of their choice. Student-entrepreneurs should also be encouraged to find gainful self-employment, if possible by facilitating them to procure loans for setting up small businesses. Other non-political student organizations like the Professional Students’ Organization (PSO) should be roped in to assist with this work.
(5) State & district committee members should be assigned specific responsibilities, and their performance regularly evaluated. Office bearers should be encouraged to tour their assigned areas regularly, and elected delegates should be sent out to help with the organization of elections in other states. This would no doubt give them ample exposure.
All in all, I believe that a great new beginning has been made, and I wish all those elected- as well as those who weren’t- all the very best. The Future belongs to them; I pray that they will make the best of it.