When Tigmanshu Dhulia was directing his critically acclaimed drama Haasil on student politics, little did he realise that his vision would resonate with the happenings in the Allahabad University even 12 years later. Dhulia was bang on in depicting the cutthroat competition for power and the ‘might is right’ reality during the university elections in his potboiler, which left many spellbound and most squirming.
This year’s elections at the over-a-century-old university had every ingredient to make any director worth his salt call for a scriptwriter, but then too much truth can be a little awkward. Be that as it may, little has changed in the modus operandi of the elections, let alone the dramatis personae, who have only gone on to become a little more ruthless and subtle in their dealings.
Like all elections, the run-up to the polling this year got spicier by the day, and by the time people were ready to cast ballots, the action had become too hot to handle. Many bahubali (strongman) contestants lost their candidature when the poll panel found them to be performing in violation of one recommendation or the other of the JM Lyngdoh committee. The bad blood created by this resulted in a pure abuse of power, with even the Vice-Chancellor and election observers not escaping the onslaught. Country-made pistols were used to force officials into submission and even bombs were hurled to make the powers that be hear the anguish of students.
It was in this backdrop that the candidature of Samajwadi Chatra Morcha (SCM), the student wing of the ruling Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh, representative was trashed. The usual drama unfolded, with SCM supporters trying to disrupt the electoral process by assaulting the authorities and bombing the University campus with crude explosives. When all the time-tested tactics failed to yield the desired result, the SCM made a tactical retreat.
The SCM decided to throw its weight behind an independent candidate, Richa Singh. Ms Singh, a Women’s Studies research scholar, is quite a popular face among the girl students. In the run-up to the polls, she had become the face of change. Those waiting desperately for a change and eager to do their bit began identifying themselves with her; and started campaigning for a person they believed was untouched by the vices of politics. When the rumours of Ms Singh accepting the SCM support trickled down to her supporters, there was widespread outrage.
The feeling was described aptly by a supporter, who chose to keep his identity close,
Politics has entered Ms Singh even before she could enter politics
Probably sensing the public mood, Ms Singh, later, came out with a statement denying any rumours of a possible tie-up between the SCM and she. Though some pundits had predicted a drubbing for Ms Singh, she defied all odds by bagging the AUSU presidential post. More than her supporters, it was the cadre of SCM that celebrated her victory. So much for denial and survival.
Being a former student of the prestigious institution, albeit away from the campus and confined to the comforts of my home a few hundred kilometers away, I kept a watchful eye on the tickers and headlines of all news channels, allegedly risking their necks to out the truth. Boy, was I disappointed. While all the major media outlets were going hammer and tongs about the Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University elections, none had much occasion to reveal the contours of political landscape of Allahabad University, where a battle royale was playing itself out. My initial skepticism about a proper story coming out of any of the channels soon gave way to outrage when the outlets failed to shed light on the polls at Allahabad University, an institution that has earned its rightful place in history by giving to the nation a couple of prime ministers; at least a dozen chief ministers spread across the country; scores of legislators; and innumerable civil servants of such mettle that reams of sheets could be spent to enumerate their achievements.
My understanding about the diminishing coverage and importance accorded to Allahabad University is based on two facts. First, journalists have made Lutyen’s Delhi their comfort zone, unwilling to move a muscle and eager to articulate their limited knowledge of things they don’t understand through lengthy editorial gibberish or prime time slots on national TV, where everybody shouts at everybody and sense is buried in the din. In their Eden surrounding Delhi NCR, and some parts of South Bombay for good measure, the truth diggers are happy. They perceive the winds of change seated on their perch in either the political or financial capital.
The second, I believe, is the proximity these regions afford the journalists to their political or corporate masters. Had the scribes been as hungry for a good story as they claimed, they would have swooped down on the Allahabad University in droves to cover the historical happenings at the institution, where a strong woman contender, backed by scores of students eager to see the wave of change on campus, confronted the established cordons of power and came out victorious.
I studied at the Allahabd University when the students union election was a banned commodity. Having lived in an epoch without politics permeating the ranks and corrupting the atmosphere of camaraderie, I can safely say those six years of my student life were the most peaceful and fulfilling. This was the fourth students’ union election I was witnessing after passing out of the institution. The happenings have left my mind with more questions than it can possibly figure answers to.
Being the opening to the political world, it is understandable that established names take greenhorns under their wings. However, when such acts go beyond the realm of mentoring and enter the shady world of corruption, wherein money and muscle power along with arms and ammunition are poured into the campus generously, the question remains where we draw the line. Why do candidates for nominal positions in universities shell out lakhs and employ retinues of supporters when their work is entirely dependent on the administration? There are many such questions that cast shadow of doubt on this humble and innocent exercise.
But for now, its up to Ms Singh to determine the course of action, in case no one is charting it out for her. The prestige and honour of the institution now rests on shoulders, but only time will tell whether what she has been chosen for is really her calling. I sign off my ruminations with a quote that is dear to my heart and from which, I hope, Ms Singh would take cue:
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely