Following a meeting of Maharashtra’s higher and technical education department last week, wherein details for the elections were discussed, student elections will return to colleges across the state in September 2019, for the first time in 25 years.
Yesterday, a meeting of pro-vice chancellors from 11 universities was held at Mumbai University. N.S. Umrani, pro-vice chancellor at the Savitribai Pule Pune University, commented, “In today’s meeting, we will discuss holding elections of all the 11 universities in the state at the same time. Right from nomination to results, everything should be completed within 10 days, but the final schedule and decision will be discussed.”
Elections are to be conducted before September 30, likely in the second or third week of the month.
The long gap has been attributed to the gruesome reason oft-cited for the initial 1994 ban, which was imposed after Owen D’Souza, a first-year law student, was brutally murdered on October 5, 1989, suffering 64 stab wounds and having all his fingers chopped off.
D’Souza was a student leader affiliated with the Congress-backed National Students Union of India (NSUI), and reportedly associated with gang activity in Mumbai. While his murderer remains unidentified, the initial FIR named Parag Alavani, then state secretary of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) – the student wing of the BJP and the rival of the NSUI – as D’Souza’s murderer. Alavani, now a BJP MLA, was acquitted in 2002.
While the buzz around the soon-to-be reinstated elections began in June, 2019, the groundwork for resuming campus polls was laid out in 2016, when the Maharashtra Public Universities Act listed conducting student elections as one of its functions. Once elected, students are to have a say in a variety of issues related to campus life, including fees and syllabus.
Copies of a circular by the state government have already been distributed to the colleges by most universities in Maharashtra. A step eagerly awaited by both students and educators, principals have been instructed to remain vigilant on the protocols as the reform is implemented.
To prevent the political factionalism rumoured to be behind D’Souza’s death, state officials have taken great care to set out a code of conduct that will ensure fair, nonviolent and student-centric elections. The rules include a ban on the usage of political/religious symbols, a ban on allowing students who have failed an exam or been disciplined for academic dishonesty to contest seats along with a ban on candidates above the age of 25. Additionally, rallies are to be prohibited on campus during campaigning, and expenditure limits have been capped at Rs 1,000 for class representatives, and Rs 5,000 for other posts.
Students across the state have expressed gratitude for and approval of the reform. ABVP’s Vaibhav Bawankar stated, “We thank the government for fulfilling our long pending demand. Many of our present leaders joined politics after successfully contesting and winning students council polls.”
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