The Panjab University Election Bazaar
The Punjab University is the only university in the State where partial elections are conducted every four years for the membership of the Senate which has therefore become the hot bed of university politics. Last time these elections were held in September, 1988. There are in all 85 members of the Senate out of which about 30 are elected from eight constituencies consisting of the registered graduates ; university professors ; university readers and lecturers ; principals of the technical and professional colleges; principals of affiliated colleges, senior lecturers and lecturers of affiliated arts colleges ; and members of various faculties. The Senate is the central body of the university and its members play a key role in taking decisions concerning the high level appointments, conferring of degrees and diplomas, affiliation and disaffiliation of colleges, regulation of finances, appointment of other committees and especially the Syndicate- the most powerful single committee of the university.
Quick to recognize this fact, the vested interests have already made inroads ot manipulate the elections of the Senate. Whereas ordinarily these elections ought to have been non-partisan in nature and to a great extent based on the individual merit and academic caliber of the candidates, the increasing populisms and par5ty politics over the increasing populisms and party politics over the years have reduced these to mass-scale canvassing and politicking.
There are three main groups which have come to govern the affairs of the university in the past two decades or so. Predominantly, the group alignment is based on power-yielding and individual gain rather than any commitment to the cause of education or some wider ideological principles. The groups can be broadly classified as 'Congress + RSS +Arya Samaj' group, the 'Leftist' group, an the 'Mixed' group which is comprised of both moderate and extremist forces. So far the 'Congress, RSS, Arya Samaj' group has dominated primarily because of the nominations made by Vice-President of India, the Chancellor of the university, which are mainly on political grounds. These nominations for the present term include 7 sitting Congress MP, and almost the same number of party activists from the state. There was severe criticism of these nominations in the press as none of the senior professors of the university was nominated. A majority of the candidates elected to the Senate are fielded by this group and the bosses then use them to their advantage through out the term.
The elected representatives have thus very little say in any important matter, though usually the nominated members only turn up when the elections to the various bodies of the university are to be held. Even otherwise, the decisions can be made by a majority vote out of the specified quorum of 15, which means that merely the consent of 8 members is needed to make a decision, which may in the ultimate analysis effect the fate of thousands of teachers and students. Since for the last two decades or so very few new members have been allowed to enter into the holy precincts of the Senate, the decision makers have remained the same year after year. In essence it means that the university has been run by a handful of persons during all these years whose names can be counted on finger tips. Thus if some one wants promotion, a scholarship, or some other help, he must be in the good books of these persons otherwise he is bound to be doomed. So much so that at times selections made by the duly constituted committees are annulled under the pressure of the ruling group.
Naturally, this unhealthy system of administration has already had an adverse effect on the scholarship in the university and its general efficiency. For instance, there have been increasing number of cases of the use of unfair means and mass-copying on which the authorities had to shift their stand so frequently. Interestingly, last year the counsel of the students charged with using unfair means by the Punjab University was a Syndic who knew all the proceedings of the University in this case. Further, there has be3en a clear-cut lack of direction in first introducing the +2 classes in the colleges and now attempts at their withdrawal. The courses of study are mostly manufactured to serve the vested interests. There are many more instances one could cite here, but it may not be necessary to do so at this stage for our purpose.
It is a know fact that the worst constituency is that of the registered graduates from where 15 members are elected. The candidates in this constituency have been known to have spent lakes of rupees to secure votes. Year after year, the candidates go to the newer graduates to seek their votes and get them enrolled as voters so that they may vote for them. Like previous years, this year too, some candidates are known to have made 5000 votes each by paying the enrolment fees from their own pockets. It is reported that one candidate posted more than 50,000 campaign letters to the voters. The various political parties too actively work for their candidates in this constituency. It is widely believed that unfair means like polling bogus votes are often used to capture power which is easy for political parties who take advantage of polling booths being scattered over almost the entire country. There are a large number of life voters and individual verification hardly ever possible before elections. It is also alleged that some prominent private educational managements pressurize their staff to campaign for their candidates which is very much resented because later these managements use their positions to victimize the very staff which had initially helped them to win. It would be better to limit this constituency to voters who hold Master's degrees or above. Hopefully, they will be in a better position to judge the merits of the candidates.
The same politics applies to the Principals' constituency. Here too the various groups operating in the Senate try to get their own candidates elected. The principals thus elected are the instruments in the hands of their bosses who have no political philosophy except the politics of convenience. It is very interesting to watch these leaders play their political games to achieve their ends. There are many an accord among them regarding the division of seats in the Syndicate and other bodies of the university like the Faculties and so on Many a time when every thing else fails, the most narrow communal politics is preached. While on an other occasion the same leaders are seen shifting their professed loyalties for furthering their individual gains according to the local polarities. Thus, at times, a self-professed Akali may be seen negotiating with an RSS man.
The second largest constituency is that of the college teachers. It is here that the teachers trade unions endeavourer to compete most vehemently with the other groups. The unions, largely influenced by the Leftist ideology, field their support from their members by persuasion. Now-a-days no mandates are issues that the members must vote for the union candidates only. There are some 2400 voters in this constituency but there are only 4 seats. Whereas for the same number of seats there are only 70 voters in the Principals' constituency. Most of the candidate are quite sour about this discrimination. In fact, originally, the college lecturers had 6 seats out of which 2 were freeze when Haryana colleges were disaffiliated by the state government from the Punjab University.
Another problem is that out of the 4 seats one is reserved for the lecturers serving inthe colleges of Chandigarh. Since they are much more in number than their counter-parts in Punjab, the winning candidate from Chandigarh needs more votes than the winning candidates in Punjab. Very often thelosing candidate from Chandigarh has more votes than the winning candidate from Punjab. Many teachers suggest that each district having colleges affiliated to the Punjab University should be given a separate seat so that all the districts get representation on the Senate. Further they demand that the voters too should be restricted district wise.
There is need to raise the number of seats from the college lecturers' constituency because they form the mainstay of the university academics and are most effected by the decisions of the Senate or other such bodies.
One more anomaly in this constituency is the clubbing of the Directorate of Correspondence Courses with the colleges. The directorate has been fighting for long to be made a department of the university and for this reason it has been boycotting the elections for the past few years. Even this time there was a move to boycott the elections on similar grounds. The case of the P.U. Evening College is no different which for all other purposes happens to be like any other department of the university.
The professional constituencies are still not much involved in the partisan politics and the elections here are largely dependent on the individual merits of the candidates. Undoubtedly, there are some individual candidates in other constituencies too, but they are generally the gall-outs from the bigger groups because of one reason or another. They do have some individual standing but very few of them come out successful.
The voting pattern in the university constituencies, too, governed by the big bosses. though the teachers here are more conscious of their right to vote for a suitable candidate. Generally speaking, the candidates of the dominant group in the Punjab University Teachers' Association win from this constituency. However, this trend is not seen in the college teachers' constituency where the majority of the candidates face stiff competition and have to depend upon the transfer of votes from the losing candidates. Hardly any candidate has ever won from this constituency on the basis of the first preference votes only.
All said and done, it must be pointed out that the representation of teachers in the Senate is very poor. It works out to be a mere 15% of the total strength. The teachers and teacher-bodies in the state must come forward and ask the authorities in no uncertain terms to give them their due. ◙