Published: 20th September 2023
DUSU elections 2023: Former DU student presidents on democracy, campaigning, violence
After four years, the Delhi University Students Union are back and all eyes are on this central varsity now
The Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) polls are back! Touted to be the largest student body poll in the world by the DUSU office bearers, the election in 2023 arrives after a gap of four years. The last election was held in 2019, after which, it was stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, thus, the excitement is wild among students and political youth wings alike. Though the official date hasn't been announced yet, the campaigning has begun.
Why are DUSU polls significant?
Over 50 colleges are affiliated to Delhi University, which remains one of the most coveted universities for students across India. According to the DUSU office bearers, the university's location in the national capital and its status as a central university also adds to the importance of the student body polls. About 1.5 lakh students participate in the voting process each year.
"The student community at DU represents a mini India. DU being a central university in the capital houses students from every district of the country. The outcome of the DUSU polls indirectly reflects on the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections, as it shows how the youth of today are thinking and which party they prefer," explains Mohit Nagar, DUSU President of 2014. "They can be looked at as a trial election for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections," states Amit Tanwar, DUSU President in 2016.
What makes 2023 unique?
Since the polls are taking place after four years, all the undergraduate students, even those in the final year, are first-time voters. They are new to the process and will be witnessing the campaigning for the first time. Akshit Dahiya, the current DUSU President (elected in 2019), mentions that as a result, a large number of students are expected to participate. "Earlier, there was not much enthusiasm to vote, especially in the final-year students, who were used to the process. But this year, a large voter turnout is expected," he says.
On the other hand, Akshit says that the number of contestants has decreased. "When I started college-to-college campaigning, I found that only about three to four students from each college are contesting this year, taking the total number of contestants to about 25-25. Earlier, about 8-12 students contested from each college, and the total used to be a fairly large number," he notes.
According to him, the four-year gap has created hesitation among students. "Previously, first-year students got a hands-on experience with the process and if they felt like they had the qualities of a leader, they contested in their second year. But as everything is new for them this year, they do not find themselves ready," he explains.
Notably, Akshit is the youngest and longest-serving DUSU president, who holds a world record for receiving the largest number of votes (29,700) and winning the DUSU elections by the highest margin of votes (19,031). He states that during his campaign he came across a question in the students' minds, which is also unique to 2023. "Students are asking the campaigners where they were during the pandemic, when they were facing troubles," he says, clarifying later that while some parties, including his, had remained rooted in fixing students' issues, others might not have been very active.
The former DUSU presidents further highlight that digital campaigns are gaining popularity this year, as opposed to the previous polls, when social media was not used as much as it is used today. "We were not much acquainted with social media," says Satender Awana, DUSU President in 2015, while, "The campaigns are going paperless this year," tells Amit Tanwar.
"Everyone is excited to see how the polls turn out and how students respond this year," Mohit Nagar concludes.
How important are student body elections?
The leaders affirm that student body polls are the first lesson in democracy. They agree that when students enter college after schooling, it is the time they become eligible for voting, but they are new to the election process. "By participating in the student body elections, they get to understand their rights to vote and choose their own leader; they get to understand how a democracy works. Different perspectives are shared, " Akshit states.
He adds that by participating, students get to explore and hone their natural leadership skills. "These skills help them become better leaders in any field they choose. It is not limited to politics," the DUSU president says. "And if they do want to make a career in politics, student body elections provide them with the observation, experience, grooming and clarity required. They are then able to deliver as better leaders," Satender opines.
Additionally, the leaders believe that since students are the citizens of today, they should participate in the democratic process of elections. "The youth form more than 50 per cent of the Indian population. It is therefore good to discuss their issues. It is important to understand what problems they face and find solutions to them. Debates should happen. And elections make this possible," says Rocky Tuseed, DUSU president in 2017.
Ban on elections
With these arguments, student body elections seem to be an important part of college education. However, states like Rajasthan and Karnataka have banned these elections, owing to violence an unfair practices which the poll process brings up sometimes. The move has created a controversy. When asked about their opinion, the DUSU leaders are unanimous on the conduction of elections. They feel that it is a right which should not be taken away from the students.
"Student body elections are a festival of democracy," says Daiya, adding that the students' energy and enthusiasm is vibrant during the campaigning, which should not be restricted. "Activism is the soul of democracy. And student bodies are pressure groups. They do not have political power. They are meant to pressurise those in power for the right causes," Mohit says.
He admits that sometimes nuisance is created, leading to violence, but a ban is not the solution. "There should be measures in place to control certain circumstances," the former president opines.
Additionally, Satender states that elections and violence are not related. "Violence can occur between two youth groups any time due to clash of egos. Though violence does happen during elections in some colleges, it has never happened in DU. During elections there is no chance of any such incident, as police forces are employed according to the protocol," he explains.
Activism and challenges
Student unions often raise their voices against political and social issues, which are unrelated to the college or their direct problems. The leaders agree that this is important, as the youth needs to participate in such cases. Nonetheless, this sometimes results in students being arrested and carried to police stations. Does this create fear among them, and stop them from participating further? The leaders say no.
"As long as students know that they are not taking the law into their hands, or breaking it, there is nothing to fear. Religious and political debates have always been going on in India, and leaders do not get arrested for voicing their opinions. India is a free country," says Satender, adding that whenever students have to protest, they are mindful of taking due permission.
Akshit states that a few student unions who have no interest in serving the students often involve outsiders during their campaigning or activism, leading to unfair practices like use of money and muscle power, culminating in violence. "But there is nothing to be afraid of. We have to remain true to the students' cause. If any untoward incidents occur, we can always approach the Delhi police and ask the university to take strict action against the wrongdoers," he says.
The leaders further explain that the students are mindful of the rules laid down in the Lyngdoh Committee report. This committee was formed in 2005 under the Supreme Court orders to ensure free and fair elections in college campuses. Asked if students face an attendance problem if they contest in elections or participate in activism, the leaders say they have not faced any such issues yet.
They state that according to Lyngdoh Committee's guidelines, students need to maintain a minimum of 75 per cent attendance in the semester which takes place before the elections, for contesting. Leaders have to manage their attendance accordingly," Akshit says. "Some colleges are strict about attendance, while some are not. DU's Law Faculty in the North Campus is very strict. Anyone contesting from there has to have 75 per cent attendance," Satender adds.
The former president also mentions that DU's faculty has always been supportive to student unions. "They provide us with time slots for campaigning and ask us not to make noise. These are rules which faculties of all the colleges ask the contestants to follow," he says.