Deepak Kumar Nanda
The foremost question in the current TISS Students’ Union 2019-20 elections in Mumbai campus should have been: what happened to the promise of ‘snatching away’ of the fee waiver of the Government of India Post-Matric Scholarship students in Hostel and Dining Hall? Especially, since the very same group—which promised to fight for the students’ causes—remained in power for the last one year (TISS-SU: 2018-19)? In the current election, once again, there is going to be a similar show of promises, speeches and fooling, misleading the students, ridiculing the opposition, so on and so forth, all for attracting new students and winning the election.
However, what is missing in the campus and in the larger student political debate, is the discussion and assessment of the previous Students Union’s achievements and failures. Surprisingly even the left radical study group’s silence on this issue, which otherwise used to publish lengthy statements of their analysis on various such occasions in the past, is questionable. Therefore, it is extremely vital in this context, when the previous year election was something unusual because, for some, it was a “historic win followed by a historical protest in the campus” followed by the hype of the union and the long celebration of victory, which went on for months, both inside and outside the campus.
In one incident, when the celebration party went wrong outside the campus, some of the union members and innocent students were severely thrashed by violent mobs. Further, the slogan of the supporters and winning group during the election was crucial. They said, “Chhinkelenge, Scholarship”—we will snatch way the scholarships. Also, the election manifestos of the union members were centered around the issue of GoI-PMS scholarship. But finally, what happened to the issue of fee waiver to the GoI-PMS students in Hostel and Dining Hall when they were in power for one year? Why could not they snatch away the fee waiver for students in their term? What happened to their promises spelled with catchy phrases like:
“Taking ahead the struggle for the restoration of fee waivers for GoI PMS (SC/ST/OBC) students”.
“Pushing for the Implementation of the recommendation of ST Commission and to take ahead the struggle for restoring the hostel and dining hall waiver for the SC/ST/OBC (NC) GoI PMS students”.
Ideally after one year of their union leadership, keeping aside the unpromised agendas, at least their own promises should have been achieved. But in reality they’ve failed miserably in delivering almost all the promises.
Moreover, if I remember the political scenario in the campus exactly one year ago, there were continuous, regular Facebook posts and publication of articles by their supporters positioning themselves as the crusaders of GoI PMS students and against the privatization education in the campus through (a) ridiculing the different stands and positions (of opposition) as back traps, cowards, etc. and (b) framing their own position, understanding,and activities as the ultimate way to resolve the issue of fee waiver for students in Hostel and Dining Hall. They did not hesitate to even ridicule and humiliate previous Dalit and Adivasi women representatives publicly and through Facebook posts.
Hence it is necessary to assess the achievements and activities of the union in last one year. In this regard we can say there were a good number of regular programmes and activities conducted under the banner of sports, literary, and cultural activities. And the credit goes to the respective secretaries for conducting such activities. But if we see the overall results and the speculation that the expenditure exceeded the union budget: the overspending might be due to the avoidable expenditure, mismanagement of funds and duplicate billing and corruption in various activities. The union could have presented the exact budget and expenditure accounts at the end of the term as per their election manifesto—“regular and frequent financial audit of students union expenditures” —but that also never happened practically.
So, it can be said that the union did everything else, except what they pretended to fight for and what they had promised to do.
Again, keeping aside the promises of the restoration of the fee waiver for GoI PMS SC/ST/OBC students for the moment, what happened in the term were the issues of compulsory attendance for Ph.D. scholars, instead of the earlier two days of attendance per week; issuance of bonafide certificate on payment basis, instead of free of cost earlier; making of hard and fast rules for hostel residence for Ph.D. scholars. Again, they had promised to remove add on hostel charges but those are still levied. Further, they also promised to withhold the notices to various students (issued by the administration), but the funny part is that instead of engaging with the administration for withdrawing the notices they generated funds from students to deposit the fine amount.
Also, the union could not do anything on the pending court case on the students. Similarly, when the Guwahati campus students raised the issue of fee waiver sometime back, then the students’ union of Mumbai merely released a statement in solidarity finding an easy way to escape from responsibility. So, the question now is, if the union that represents the student body is supposed to engage with the administration and work for students’ benefits in whatever possible ways, then why has it failed to do its job? And found the easy medium of releasing statements in solidarity and remained silent? Who were they expecting to work for students if not them? Likewise, on many occasions, the students’ union acted as more of a statement issuing body than an active student body.
Yet again, in the most significant matter related to the campus: there was always a scope for the students to engage with and report to the administration anytime on particular issues. Many students before us have largely benefited from this in the past. But now the same culture has deteriorated to its low. How and who has destroyed this culture can be perceived from one example: one day, around the month of May-June 2017 after the institute’s notification to withdraw the fee waiver for GoI PMS for SC & ST students, some of us students were having a discussion with the Registrar and Director in the office adjacent to the Registrar. In the discussion, the affected students were reporting their problem but the Director was also standing by the administration decision. But, meanwhile amidst the discussion, a student (later turned crusader), who was neither invited for the meeting nor affected by the decision because of his JRF background, told a few students to ‘hey chalo..chalo…chalo… let’s go..go’, in a loud voice, as if he is more powerful than the Director and Registrar of the institution, or as if he was providing for the fee waiver to the students. We understand the stupidity and intention of that person, who was not at all affected by the decision of withdrawal of fee waiver, to foil our engagement with the administration. But unfortunately later on, people with the same mentality became crusaders for the same cause playing with the emotions of affected students. We find this as nothing but a conspiracy against the very affected students who were otherwise eligible for fee waiver in hostel and dining hall fees.
But when they were in power for the last one year, surprisingly, all the crusaders, their supporters, and sympathisers remained silent on the achievement and performance of their coalition that formed the students’ union, particularly on the issue of fee waiver to GoI PMS students. Amazingly, some of them are standing again in the frontline of TISS students Union election, constructing some more new “arguments and promises”. Since the previous propaganda thoroughly tested them and exposed them in the last one year and gradually eroded the attraction of their for Facebook posts and articles, a few of them are happy to see the situation of today as they were trying to create exactly the same by disturbing the engagement process, as I had mentioned earlier.
Further to mention that today they have no audacity to create “Muknayak,” a Facebook page to release the scorecard of their union members while they indulged in humiliation and character assassination of Dalit and Adivasi representatives who were firm on their own position and stands. Again, a few of them have already passed out from the institute and are working in private universities/sector for handsome salaries, keeping aside their in-campus ideology and position of fighting against privatisation–but who cares? Who is to suffer for their actions in the campus, finally? Another funny thing is that one of the crusaders who happened to be a frontline leader of that campaign, soon after passing out from the institute, has been working/teaching in one of the leading universities of the country where the average course fees for their master degree programme is 15-20 lakhs.
This shows the duality in their position and stand, between their in-campus and out of campus behavior, which only served to fool and mislead the students. And I hope their blind followers are now aware of their hypocritical leaders, or I wonder if they are still sticking to their strategy of (a) ridiculing the different stands and positions as back traps, cowards, etc. and (b) framing their own position, understanding, and activities as the ultimate way to resolve the restoration of fee waiver for Dining Hall and Hostel, in which they had failed miserably in their last term?
Deepak Kumar Nanda is a Ph.D. Scholar at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai..