The move will break 75 years of tradition; students, alumni upset; officials say they have no choice

This year, Madras Christian College (MCC) may not hold its annual elections to select representatives for the student union.

One of the oldest colleges in the country, MCC has been holding student elections for over 75 years now, but the tradition may soon be done away with to “bring in more discipline”. The move, mooted by the MCC management, has drawn much ire from students, alumni as well as professors, all of whom believe the college’s constitution and election procedures serve as an inspiration to all education institutions.

Until last year, each student in a class voted to elect her department representative in phase one of the elections. Next came voting for the chairman and the general secretary of the college union society.

According to officials, this year, there will be no elections to elect the chairman and the general secretary. All 33 department representatives will select the office-bearers in a separate procedure. The decision is being considered, said officials, to bring in more discipline and manage the elections better.

Students and professors said this was a “shortcut to avert any possible instance of student violence.” According to sources, last year, there were incidents of violence among students which has made the management wary of the whole process.  

“There is a difference between 7,000 students voting and 33 elected representatives selecting somebody,” said an alumnus.

“Over the past few years, there have been instances of distribution of alcohol and a few violent incidents after the elections. The management, instead of curbing this, has cancelled elections altogether, which is regressive. This only shows the management is afraid of the students and is trying to control them,” he added.

Professors said the college’s strength was its democratic set up, and by cancelling elections the management was going against the institution’s core values. “About 90 per cent of the teachers here are MCC-ians and we are deeply hurt by this proposal,” said a senior professor.

The college, said old students, held elections that ran smoothly even during the emergency in 1975-77.

MCC alumni include political leaders such as Prakash Karat, T. T. Krishnamachari, former election commissioner T. N. Seshan and legal luminary Sir Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer, among others.

Officials say they had to introduce the move because student elections for this year, scheduled in March, were postponed because protests against Sri Lankan war crimes erupted on college campuses.

“After the college reopened, the focus was on finishing exams and then starting admissions. Since we are already short of time, we are looking for the best and fastest way to hand over responsibilities to the student body,” said an official.

With department representatives electing the chairman and secretary, the process will be simplified, said an official, explaining how arranging for student elections would mean printing over 7,000 ballot sheets and making arrangements for campaigning. “The protests were unforeseen, and now, students in the final year have graduated and we have many new students who do not know about the system. We are just looking a creating at feasible system,” he said.

Professors, however, do not agree. “The election takes just a day and it is the most important day for students. Students look forward to candidates making their speeches and asking them questions. Even after distributing freebies, many rich student leaders have lost elections because students have voted against them,” said a professor.

Principal Alexander Jesudasan said the management has been interacting with students for a while now, and the changes were being considered because students felt the older system was not working well. “We are going to discuss the matter in a meeting soon to decide on a further course of action,” he said.