Our colleges need democracy

In Wall Street Journal – India Journal, Yavnika Khanna and I penned a piece in support of more, not less, democracy in campuses across the country. Here are a few extracts:

In the 2014 general election, there will be around 100 million new eligible voters. That is almost the equivalent of throwing the entire population of Mexico into India’s electorate. Almost all of these new voters will have been born after the three major milestones that have defined the nation’s politics for the last two decades: the 1991 economic reforms; the Babri Masjid riots; and the first Mandal reservations’ drama. What does this new, “post-liberalization” generation value? What are its ambitions, its political impulses, and its socio-economic outlook?…

About half the nation is below the age of twenty-five, but many of our “tallest” political leaders are above the retirement age in most private firms. This is because those who genuinely want to be honest politicians face roadblocks such as lack of campus democracy as springboards, and lack of internal democracy in our parties even if they somehow get a foot in the door.

We at the Liberal Youth Forum conducted our own research study in collaboration with a think tank, Civitas Consultancy, on student participation in campus democracy and governance in India. The study takes into regard various aspects of campus democracy by dissecting and analyzing the opinions of students, student leaders, student organizations, faculty, management and other stakeholders. The study covered 77 institutions (both government and private) across various disciplines, including arts, science, commerce, management, law, medical and engineering.

Most of the institutions in the study (especially government colleges) have statutory provisions for the formation of student councils through an election or nomination. In reality, we found that arbitrary nomination systems are often implemented by college authorities as a measure to curb political activity around campus elections.

Nearly half of the colleges surveyed used nomination systems as opposed to elections. Contrast that with another finding: That 69% of students and 52% of faculty surveyed said they preferred elections and democratically-elected student representations.

There is an urgent need to provide young leaders platforms for voicing the youth’s concerns. Campus democracy empowers them as stakeholders rather than as anti-establishment agitators…

Leave a Reply