While political parties have been investing more and more in the Delhi University Students’ Union elections in the hope that by reaching out to the student community they will be able to strengthen their core support base, the gains by way of developing a talent pool of future leaders appear to be dwindling. If past records are anything to go by, a few student leaders have made it big in the past 30 years — and those in the know blame it on declining emphasis on education among the new breed of student leaders.

Senior leaders of the past blame it on the decline in the selection process and the way academic performance is no longer treated as the cornerstone of success.

Delhi BJP vice-president, former legislator and party overseas cell convener Vijay Jolly, who is also an alumnus of SRCC, said be it Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley, BJP leader Sudhanshu Mittal or BJP Delhi unit president and former Union Minister Vijay Goel, they were all from the North Campus.

“For all the students then too getting into SRCC was a matter of pride. I had secured 85.5 per cent and went on to do my M.Com and then L.LB. Politics was incidental, but came almost naturally to me as I was a good orator from my school days.”

Mr. Jolly, who became DUSU president in 1980-81 as a Janata Vidyarthi Morcha candidate, recalled days when he would go to college with barely a few rupees in his pocket. “But look at the student leaders now. They are flush with money.”

Having burnt the midnight oil to complete his L.LB. and then do a diploma in export management, he insisted the focus on education helped the entire generation of politicians then. “It instilled confidence in us, and helped us connect well with the people, understand their problems and find plausible solutions.”

It was after students from colleges outside the North Campus, such as Dyal Singh and Shyamlal, began getting the party tickets that issues other than academics began occupying a prominent place. “People with 50 per cent marks began getting tickets and academics took backstage. Till then, issues like caste, region or glamour never mattered. But then these became the key.”

Former Union Minister Ajay Maken of the Congress, who was the only B.Sc. Chemistry (Hons.) student to have gotten elected DUSU president in 1985, was among the last to make it big in the national arena.

After that there was a marked change in students’ union politics.

First, the politics of region came and Madan Singh Bisht, who later moved to Uttarakhand, became the president. Then women power took the centre stage and through the 1990s many women took the top honours by winning the president’s post. Be it Monika Kakkar, Shalu Malik, Alka Lamba, Rekha Jindal or Ritu Verma, they all shone brightly for a while. While some even contested the Assembly polls, none could win. While more women like Ritu Verma, Neetu Verma, Ragini Nayak, Amrita Dhawan and Amrita Bahri bagged the post in the new millennium, they too like the numerous other incumbents, have not been able to make it big so far. Only a few youth leaders like Anil Kumar of the Congress and Anil Jha of the BJP managed to become legislators.

Wazirpur MLA Hari Shanker Gupta, who was DUSU president in 1978 and went on to become Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee general-secretary, All-India Congress Committee member and consultant with the Ministry of Railways and Urban Development, said: “For us, politics was by chance. We had come to the university to study and went on to pursue our academic goals.”

Mr. Gupta, who, too, was an alumnus of SRCC and did his M.Com., said: “The basic difference is that our main job was not to fight elections, but now the main job of most candidates is to just fight elections. So you find so many of them just joining courses like Buddhist Studies and the like.’’

The ilk of student leaders earlier was into serious studies. While Mr. Jaitley and Mr. Goel went on to study law, Mr. Maken did his B.Sc. in Chemistry from Kirori Mal College. Former Delhi Speaker and former DPCC president Subhash Chopra did his diploma in criminal law after graduating from Hans Raj College.

“There is no replacement for education. Our education has helped us stand before the people and raise issues which concern them. It has made us more confident. When I contested for the post of MLA, people had my details before them and it really helped,’’ said Mr. Gupta, who had distinction in two to three subjects and was the highest scorer in mathematics in the zone in his time.

He also appeared for the UPSC after becoming DUSU president, but insists he could not make it as “the focus got disturbed”. However, three of his friends made it to the civil services and later came to help him win the election.

Mr. Gupta also noted that the decline in polity had a lot to do with the way less meritorious students began coming into the centre stage. “It is not that colleges outside the North Campus did not have bright students. Many student leaders went on to become legislators or hold party positions, but overall, the standard of politics declined.’’

Mr. Jolly said he did not see a return to the old ways as most of the good students are not keen on entering politics now. “I don’t see a reverse happening anytime soon. Meritorious students first of all go for professional courses and even if they do come to DU, most of them do not opt for politics. So, it gives others an opportunity to try their luck in the political arena.”

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