It has been more than 3 years since i came to Stockholm and have been working at KTH. It was a bit surprising to see such an ordered way of managing student affairs and student union taking constructive ways to improve student experience, as this is not what i use to experience back in India. Student unions in Indians are connected very closely to political parties and their affiliations oblige them to obey directives from party high-commands, directly or indirectly. In view of the coming student elections, i would like to share some experiences which i had in India around the same issue.
As i mentioned above, almost all major political party put their weight behind a particular student political party in elections. Hence the scenery around student elections change to very much what we see in national elections. Prospective student leaders roam around the campus asking to vote for themselves. They are allowed few minutes of time in each faculty where they come to classrooms and put up their agenda. Posters spring up on walls of university and university gates usually are hoarded by their volunteers trying to woo students by all possible means. The main motivation of student leaders behind running for the student office are power, money and future.
Student office can exert major pressure in the decisions taken by university administration and this gives student leaders tremendous power to put up their political agendas in university policies. So if national opposition parties decide to protest against a government policy, you can see the universities “controlled” by their student leaders organizing these marches on their behalf and at the same time student party affiliated to government tries to do the opposite and this puppet game mostly affect the studies too. Almost all Indian universities provide hostel facilities to students and hence hostels become a major power hub for student leaders where they accumulate their representatives who control the resident students and manipulate their opinions (sometimes by brute physical force too!). Some student hostels became infamous for harboring criminal elements too as these criminals were used by politicians for their own needs and safely placed under the “protection” of their pet student leader. The taste of power which a student leader feels, when (s)he can exert his opinion on thousands of people, makes him/her addicted to this game and hence almost all of them end up becoming local or national politicians. Also, their interaction with criminal elements (who help them secure votes by illegal means like kidnapping, threats and likewise activities ) stays much longer than their student office tenure which introduces criminals into political systems.
Money is one of the major factor in this case. Student union controls the budget for various campus activities and corruption is a way of life. Budgets of major universities runs in millions and significant portion of this money is directly controlled by student union. Since the money runs in millions, so its not surprising when student leaders invest few hundred thousands during elections and one wonders how can this guy/gal afford this kind of money when (s)he doesn't come from rich family background. They know that they can “earn” more than what they are going to invest.
Present student politicians end up future politicians as the party high commands evaluate their performance during their tenure at universities, especially their obedience to their “orders”. This makes them mere puppets and they end up doing the same when they end up a politician. This vicious circle promotes only those kind of people “who can be controlled” and have low self-esteem for their individuality. Hence its not surprising to see dynastic tendencies in political parties in India.
One of the most disturbing face of this above mentioned system came to light prominently during the anti-reservation protests in 2006 when a non-political student organization “youth for equality” spearheaded massive nationwide student protests and local students offices were kept mum by major political parties, who made that issue at first hand (to gain major portion of the vote-bank). It was particularly shamefully to find that in one of the major student protests against government, students offices had little to do for the fear of their own future, even if they understood the rational argument involved.
The most disturbing aspect of the whole issue of this article is that the so called educated people in universities are electing these kind of people and this makes me doubt if we can claim that education improves the rational powers to decide for individual or society. Those students who have complains against the system, choose not to get involved in controversies since student leaders can actually exert their “powers” to disturb their studies and their performance in their degrees. This hidden blackmail, in a society where education is valued as one of the few liberating ideas from poverty and uplifting societal status, fuels the system to continue in its ugly form.
But not everything is lost. We do encounter some leaders who go the “other” way even at the cost of resistance and pay the price for the same. I hope that the present popular opinion in India saying, “when you try to change the system, system eventually changes you”, will change to something more constructive. India is now emerging from its sleepy and dark past of ugly politics to more open and establishment-resistive systems and student politics cannot remain isolated from this phenomenon. Their constructive role in student life is still pending in a big way. We have learnt lessons from the past and present students are becoming more aware of the issues through media and are beginning to question student leaders who enjoyed going un-questioned in past.
(This article was also blogged at "the international party" @ stockholm university, Sweden http://vote4tip.blogspot.com/2011/03/great-indian-tamasha-circus.html )