Sunday, September 10, 2006


Ever since the murder of a Professor in Ujjain, the country has been largely against student union elections and campus politics in general. But if you ask me - college elections are brilliant fun. From an outsider's point of view, of course.

In my college, there are two different elections held simultaneously - one for the Delhi University Students' Union and one for the officebearers of the students' union of the college itself. Obviously, the campaigning for the college elections is more visible in each college, because the University people have a lot more ground to cover.

This year, the election for the college President post was very hotly contested - three candidates in the fray, as opposed to one last year. It went without saying that each of the candidates had to be a hosteller, because no one could even think of winning without the support of at least one of the different hosteller groups. I believe these groups form on the basis of caste more than anything else.

They used every one of the old tricks this time - plus new ones. First they gave us questionnaires, asking us what we wanted. And on the basis of the answers they got, they printed their manifestos. Saved them a lot of thinking, I suppose. Other than this new method, there were all the usual things - pamphlets with the name and ballot number of the candidate in bold letters, posters, barging into classes with their coteries and giving long speeches. But, to grow with the times, they also sent emails and SMS's. They also printed t-shirts with VOTE FOR [CANDIDATE'S NAME] in bold letters. So much money wasted, especially if you lose.

I loved the campaigning bit, honestly. Each of the candidates had a huge gang of hostellers and other sundry people supporting them (probably bribed with the promise of good food later) and they took out processions through the college corridors, shouting the name of the candidate. Whew, the energy. The chants, of course, were exactly the same as they've been for the past several decades:

Hamara president kaisa ho?
Kaisa ho? kaisa ho?
[Candidate's name] jaisa ho!
Jaisa ho! Jaisa ho!

It gave one goosebumps to watch the processions go by. Wearing their mass-printed t-shirts and yelling at the top of their collective voice, singlemindedly supporting one person. Watching them, one could suddenly understand how people become monsters when in mobs. But there was a certain beauty about it too. Especially when one thought of the generations of people who must have done exactly the same thing in the years past. Who must have come from the same villages in Bihar or UP or wherever, dreaming of studying in the big city. We're the same people as our predecessors, no matter what we like to think.

But despite this, there was no violence. I was sitting with my friends in the canteen the other day, having pao-bhaji, and two different processions marched in through two different doors. My first thought was, "Oh, no." There was no way to escape, because both the doors were blocked. But despite my fears, it was all very civilized and non-violent. Well, perhaps not civilized, exactly, unless one calls climbing on top of tables and chanting someone's name in a frenzy civilized. The two gangs saw each other, stopped, and decided to have a chanting session right there in the canteen. They each formed a multi-layered circle, and started chanting away. They both had almost the same number of people, so it was hard to make out who was saying what. They started out with the Kaisa ho chant, but soon degenerated into just shouting their respective candidate's name over and over again. But the decibel level was so high, I could actually feel my chair vibrate. Whew. You had to be in that tiny dark crowded canteen to feel the energy. Though I think I would have enjoyed it more had I not been afraid for my life and plotting escape routes. But the campaigners were all grinning, enjoying themselves thoroughly.

Perhaps the lack of violence had something to do with the candidates. They were very mild-mannered, and there was only one who could actually speak for himself. The others relied on their 'assistants' to put across their election promises to us, and only said at the end, "I'm So-and-so, ballot number such-and-such. Please vote-support-elect." Everyone used that phrase, I've no idea why.

My class is one of the largest in college, with fifty-sixty people, so every single candidate made a point of barging into class and asking us for votes. Never mind that mathsies are famous for sitting at home on election days. Anyway, this was good for us, because our professors soon got tired of trying to teach in a constantly disturbed class, especially with the sloganeering going on outside, and ended classes early.

In the beginning, we all made aeroplanes out of the pamphlets they gave us, so that the front portion of the room was carpeted with the crushed corpses of single-flight planes. But there were so many pamphlets that we soon got tired of making aeroplanes. Some diverged into the creation of paper boats, but you can't launch boats into the air with a whoop, so that was short-lived.

They should ban pamphlets in college elections. Posters are okay, but pamphlets are so messy. For the past two weeks, you couldn't go anywhere in college without stepping on the hundreds of pamphlets littering the floor, never mind all those times your mother advised you not to step on paper because it represents Saraswathy Devi, the Goddess of Learning. Campaigners would just throw whole stacks of pamphlets into the air, and they would flutter down pathetically, the candidates' faces staring at us glumly from the floor. I don't know what purpose it served, because it certainly irritated me to have to check my clothes constantly for stray bits of paper.

I didn't vote the last two years, but I was determined to vote this time, this being my last year in college and everything. Plus I'd promised several people in my class (hostellers who were campaigning for one candidate or the other) that I would vote. One of them even called me up the night before the election and said, "Jasmine, tu aa rahi hai na?" And he called just for that. WTF.

On election day, North Campus was filled with police people. Still, I heard somewhere that some girl had been molested near Patel Chest by some campaigners. Anyway, they were very strict about ID cards at the college gate. As soon as I walked in through the gate there was a whole crowd of people I had to wade through. They pressed pamphlets towards me and intoned "Vote for ballot no.2." or "Vote for So-and-so." Now that is what I call last-minute campaigning.

Electronic Voting Machines were being used for the first time in DU elections, and every one was very excited. And slightly apprehensive too, because they weren't sure how to use them. But the more confident ones cracked, "Arre! Tune Reliance ka ad nahi dekha! Bas button dabao!" Heh.

The voting happened very slowly this time, more seasoned voters told me. There were huge queues outside the booths and some people even left without voting, fed up with people who displayed that typical Delhi habit of jumping queues. I swear to God - there's nothing that irritates me more. Fortunately, I didn't have to deal with it this time, because I went early. But still, it's a fact of Delhi life - wherever there's a queue, there will be people who're too superior to join it where it ends.

It only took me ten seconds to vote, compared to the thirty minutes I had to wait in a queue. Just pressed a lot of buttons. I voted for the SFI in the DUSU elections. Neither the NSUI nor the ABVP appealed to me, and I was sure that the SFI would lose anyhow. So it was sort of a no-vote, I suppose.

I only got to know later that that guy from the anti-reservation campaign - Aditya Dar - was standing for the DUSU president post. I would have voted for him had I known before that he was a candidate. But apparently, he didn't do any campaigning - not even in his own college, wierd person. I know a lot of people who didn't care about any of the political parties and who would have voted for him purely based on the work he's done in the anti-reservation campaign. I suppose he was proving some point or the other.

The newspapers claimed yesterday that it was the novelty factor of the EVM's that caused the high turnout. Pure bunkum - let me tell you. It was Lage Raho Munnabhai that was the reason. Practically everyone I know had plans to watch the movie on Friday. They only voted because they had to meet up somewhere first, and college seemed like a good place, and they thought, "Okay, I'm here anyways. I should vote." My college had one of the highest turnouts, and I attribute that to the brilliant campaigning strategy of the candidates. I mean, who can refuse when someone calls you up at night and says, "Please kal aa jana. Yeh mera request hai."

All in all, it was FUN. I'm glad I voted. I guess Delhi University showed the country that campus politics doesn't automatically have to mean violence and murder.
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ak said...

"I guess Delhi University showed the country that campus politics doesn't automatically have to mean violence and murder."
Tell that to the family of the professor who was killed.
It is funny how usually when people break the queue, and no one behind them tells them to go to the end of the line or fuck off. People need to build up some kind of character.

ardent fan said...

wow! nice fun...but only from a spectator's point of view..

-ardent fan