Crackdown on Student Democracy in the Name of Lyngdoh Recommendations

The Lyngdoh Committee recommendations’ purported purpose was to ensure regular students’ union elections free of money and muscle power. Students all over the country are outraged by the fact that the harshest action invoking the Lyngdoh order has been to stay the students’ union elections in JNU: which has always followed a model election process, which students themselves have kept free of all malpractices.

The Lyngdoh Committee (henceforth LC) was set up by the UPA Government in 2005, in response to a directive by the Supreme Court, ostensibly to curb lavish spending of money, and violence in Students Union polls. Coming in the wake of the horrific lynching of Prof. Sabharwal in Ujjain by an ABVP mob, the Lyngdoh recommendations were widely welcomed as a move to ‘clean up’ campuses. In campuses where SU polls had long been banned or suspended, too, the LC raised hopes of democracy being restored, because it stipulated that all institutions of higher education, both private and public, should conduct Student Union elections every year.

Even progressive and Left quarters tended to view the Lyngdoh Report with unqualified appreciation. For instance, a National President of SFI felt (People’s Democracy, December 3, 2006) that the LC Report established the “inevitability of student politics,” and therefore predicted that “Indisputably, the Lyngdoh committee recommendations will become a well-built weapon to the progressive student movement that consistently fights to ensure democratic rights of the student community. It is also absolutely a setback for all the reactionary forces that try to eliminate the progressive ideology from the campuses by promoting apolitical ideas, destroying creative potentialities and crushing democratic rights of students.” While his article did not express a single critical opinion about the LC Report, it did observe (probably with campuses like JNU in mind) that “...there are many campuses in our country where elections are held in a healthy atmosphere and paves way for a democratic discourse and debate among student community. While implementing the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations one must understand the spirit of the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations, which uphold the democratic rights of students, and hence any mechanical interpretation and implementation must be resisted vigilantly.”

The AISA, however, was the only organisation which had alerted the student community then and there about the likelihood that in the hands of the ruling class, the LC recommendations might not be effective in correcting vitiations like money and muscle power, or in ensuring campus democracy, but might rather become a tool to crack down on student movements. The stay on JNUSU elections has borne out AISA’s apprehensions, as has the fact that student union elections are yet to be restored on most campuses, and in DU where LC recommendations were implemented, money and muscle faced few hurdles, but the democratic space and participation of common students in the election process was indeed curtailed.

An overwhelming number of colleges and Universities do not hold student union elections at all – in spite of the Lyngdoh committee’s explicit recommendation that “Universities and colleges across the country must ordinarily conduct elections for the appointment of students to student representative bodies.” (Clause 6.1.1) Violence and lack of campus democracy continue to flourish in these campuses. According to data provided by the HRD Minister Arjun Singh to a question in the Rajya Sabha on October 20, 2008, only 8 out of 24 Central Universities held students’ union elections. Of the rest, BHU claims to have complied with Supreme Court orders by constituting a nominated ‘Students’ Council,’ and many other universities (like Allahabad University) too have promised to similarly constitute nominated Councils. According to Lyngdoh recommendations, “the nomination system suffers from several flaws, and must only be restored to as an INTERIM MEASURE” in exceptional situations (Clause 6.1.3). It is clear that most Central Universities (not to mention other colleges and universities all over the country) are flouting this principle by making nominated Councils the rule rather than the exception. BHU has scrapped student union elections since 1997 – surely a decade is more than enough time to allow the University to restore suitable atmosphere for students’ union elections?

Yet, no ‘suo motu’ notices have been issued by the Hon’ble Supreme Court, nor has any action been taken by the Government of India or HRD Ministry, against the above University Administrations for violating the order on implementing Lyngdoh Committee recommendations. ‘Suo motu’ notice has been issued, and student union elections stayed, ironically, in JNU – which the Lyngdoh Committee itself had unreservedly appreciated for its exemplary model of democratic and peaceful student union elections!

    • BOX:

“Unionisation in higher education personnel is a major impediment. When you talk to students unions, I am not sure that they are arguing for the kinds of things that are oriented towards educational reform. They are certainly interested in keeping fees low.”
(Planning Commission Vice Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Walk the Talk, Indian Express, December 4, 2006)

“Political activism means that students are spending a large proportion of their time on politics rather than education. There are situations… where levels of activism can rise to the point where high-quality education becomes impossible. In situations… where academic pursuits have been taken hostage, activism may need to be restricted.”

From the Report of a World Bank Task Force on Higher Education in Developing Countries, February 2000, of which the present PM Manmohan Singh was a member)

Money and muscle power are not just campus-specific ills. The cash-for-questions scam and the unseemly display of notes in the Nuke Deal session of Parliament are indicators of how cash-power corrupts our country’s democracy. In each Assembly and Parliamentary election, corruption and violence abound. Criminalised and corrupt MPs and MLAs abound. Further, our rulers worship the money and muscle of corporate profiteers: as is proved in places like Niyamgiri (Orissa) when corporates are allowed to flout the Forest Rights’ Act and grab forest land; and when private goons as well as police force beat up poor tribal protestors on behalf of mighty corporates. (Note that in that instance, even the Hon’ble Supreme Court defended the violations of Forest Rights Act by the MNCs Vedanta and POSCO and upheld the land grab). In a society where money and its muscle are built into the entire structure of ruling class politics, there is no way in which a mere code of conduct or rules and regulations can keep campuses free of the same. Those rules, flouted freely in each and every Assembly or Lok Sabha election, will be flouted inside campuses too. The only way in which campuses can be kept free of these ills, is if the student movement actively confronts and challenges the ruling class politics, with a democratic political culture of its own. This is precisely how the JNU student movement has achieved what all sorts of other codes of conduct have failed to do: an election process free of corruption and violence. This remarkable achievement, which provides a model for other campuses, must be defended, not destroyed. Replacing JNUSU Constitution with Lyngdoh model is like chopping down a thriving tree to make room for a tiny bonsai. A bonsai may seem to be a perfect model: but it cannot survive the storms of the real world outside. Only a sturdy tree of democracy, rooted in the fertile soil of the student movement, fed by the rain and sun of decades of democratic involvement and debate of thousands of students, can survive the stormy assaults of money and muscle power that dominate our society.

The fact that the JNUSU model is under assault in an indication that the ruling class concerns about ‘discipline’ on campuses is a mere mask for another purpose: to crack down on student movements which are exemplified by the JNU Students’ Union. The JNU students’ movement, which has spoken ‘truth to power’ time and again – be it by showing black flags to Manmohan Singh or by making US representative Richard Boucher go back – and which has in recent years, under AISA’s leadership, mobilised students to resist corporatisation and defend workers’ minimum wages, is under assault. The hidden agenda of ‘taming’ student activism and cracking down on unions is borne out by the sentiments of Manmohan and Montek Singh Ahluwalia (see box).

(The above write-up is based on leaflets distributed amongst students by AISA.) 


AISA’s Mass Hunger Strike of Central University Students

Hundreds of students from several Central Universities responded to AISA’s call for a 2-day mass hunger strike on 14-15 November 2008, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. Students From AMU, Allahabad University, BHU, Jamia Millia Islamia, Punjab University, DU, JNU, and Garhwal University collected at Parliament Street to protest the assault on campus democracy under the veil of Lyngdoh Committee’s recommendations.

A delegation of student hunger strikers from several Central Universities met the Human Resources Development (HRD) Minister Arjun Singh with the following demands:

    • • Student Union elections must be conducted immediately in each and every university in the most democratic manner possible, with the maximum possible student participation. Currently, elections are being held in just 8 of the 24 Central Universities.

• While it should be mandatory for every college and university to conduct student union elections without the use of money and muscle power, the specific details of the modalities and enabling mechanisms towards dissent should be designed by the individual institutions themselves based on their specific experiences. Given the tremendous diversity of universities and student bodies across the country, implementing one uniform straight jacketed list of guidelines or norms cannot address the stated purpose of the Lyngdoh Committee itself.

• The JNUSU elections must be restored. The JNUSU election process must be allowed to be carried as before as per the JNUSU constitution, which already has enough enabling mechanism s to address the basic stated concerns of the Lyngdoh Committee that student union elections should be free of money- muscle power.

• In view of the concerns elaborated above, the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations must be reviewed by taking into consideration the experiences and opinions of every section of the concerned university communities in different parts of the country.

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