As some colleges go to student union polls and someothers install their new leaders, Liffy Thomas and Vipasha Sinha discover that integrity, creative thinking and a grip on college-related issues separate the winners from the also-rans
On Wednesday morning, the drums played and the trumpets sounded at Loyola College, signaling a change in student leadership. Fifty-one students assumed office as members of the students’ union. For these students, the event brings to a close a season of campaigns and speeches. From promising to have a new menu started in the canteen to assuring that the MTC would be persuaded to ply more buses during college hours, these students must have made numerous promises. Now, it is time to keep them. While the students’ union at Loyola is beginning to figure out how to meet expectations, it is a very different challenge in most other colleges.
The students of Presidency College are only now gearing up for their union election. The campaign is nowhere near what it used to be in the past – when contestants would give away modest freebies such as biscuits and apples, and shout from the bus tops to woo ‘voters’ – but it is still intense.
The intensity comes from the ‘vote bank’. To illustrate the point, Women’s Christian College, where campaigning is strictly forbidden, the voters grill the candidates with tough questions after the latter deliver their election speeches. Talking about different approaches, MOP Vaishnav College, the person who heads the students’ union is referred to as the Prime Minister. There are two ‘Deputy Prime Ministers’ and ‘10 Ministers’ to help the head of the union.
At Loyola College of Arts and Students, campaigns for Student Union elections were poster-free. The least one could use was eco-friendly paper. But most candidates decided to go entirely paper-free. Contestants had just one day to campaign. And contestants resorted to Facebook. But the election speeches were largely the deciding factor. “I took help from a senior to prepare the speech. I approached him two weeks in advance as he is known to have written speeches for many other winning presidential candidates of our college,” says S. Shantha Kumar, who assumed office as president this year. Electronic voting was introduced for the first time in Loyola.
At Women’s Christian College for Women, it is not popularity or the course that decides the winner, but the election speech. Campaigning is not allowed, and the election speech for the 20 posts goes on for four days. Contestants speak for a few minutes on the stage and then take questions from the audience. “Some questions leave you tongue-tied,” says T. K. Smitha, student president for the year, who received nearly 15 questions. Some have even unlucky enough to receive 50 questions.
The election at Presidency College is scheduled for the third week of August, but an informal campaigning for the ‘prestigious post’ is on. Friends of K. Rajesh, who is standing for the post of general secretary, have a bunch of printed cards that they distribute to students. Some of these cards are handed out with roses or smiley badges. In the previous years, modest freebies such as biscuits and apples were distributed to secure votes. “It is not enough if you are popular, you need to shell out money to contest elections. Expenditure ranges from Rs. 50,000 to a few lakh rupees,” says a final year student.
Students of M.O.P. Vaishnav College take their elections very seriously – how else can one explain the fact that the head of the union is called ‘Prime Minister’, the next two in command, ‘Deputy Prime Ministers’ and ten next significant members, ‘Ministers’. Candidates campaign through the MOP radio and TV.
Ethiraj College for Women, student leaders are chosen on the basis of ideas. Divya, a former council member, says candidates who make legitimate promises based on original ideas succeed. The promise of a theatre club and its prompt delivery had helped Divya and her ‘party’ win the admiration of students during its term.
One of the first initiatives that V.Aishwarya, student senate president at Dr. MGR Janaki College for Women, and her team took up after being elected was to see the canteen contractor changed. She says, “It is not enough giving tall promises when we from go class to class campaigning.
Today, students want to see change. And as student leaders we have been the change they want to see.”