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Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar:  When colleges are described as refuge from hasty judgement by well-known American poet Robert Frost, the irony is Odisha Higher Education Department's decision to ban campus elections has apparently twisted the popular thought to made the colleges across the State, a victim of 'hasty judgement'. Now the campuses across the State are on the boil.

Significantly,  the State Higher Education Department on Friday decided to cancel Students' elections in all colleges and Universities under its administrative jurisdiction for the current academic year. And curiously, the notification proposes elections to students’ bodies via nominations.

In fact, the Lyngdoh Commission on Student Polls, vetted by Apex court, has termed the non-holding of student elections in campuses as violation of fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.  The Commission batted for cancellation of student polls, provided the atmosphere of the campus is vitiated by violence. And the Supreme Court has concurred with the recommendations.

In Odisha's case, the State Higher Education department didn't cite the reason of violence for the cancellation order. It speaks of only about the 'larger interests' of the student community. And, therefore, has proposed nomination to student bodies vis-a-vis elections.

Interestingly, the Lyngdoh Commission has very strongly advocated for gradual abolition of nomination to student bodies in campuses. It unambiguously has batted for regular conduct of elections to the student bodies every academic year, except in exceptional circumstances. The Commission has very crystal clearly stated that 'nominations' to student bodies should be a temporary measure in such exceptional cases.

However, there seems no such exceptional scenario prevailing at present in the State's campus atmosphere for the blanket cancellation.

Political observers, however, decode the 'larger interests' clause in the notification as the 'larger political interests' of the ruling BJD.

In fact, the campus gossip is post the abrogation of Article 370 by Modi Government, the atmosphere prevailing in the campus over nationalism poses a grave risk for  BJD youth wings, if elections were held in the current ambience.

Alerted, the Higher Education Minister Arun Sahoo, a former student leader himself and who very well knows the nuts & bolts of student politics, then has prodded the Department to invoke such a 'hasty judgement'.

While Lyngdoh Commission calls for no intervention by political parties in student polls, this hardly has been a reality in the country, including Odisha. Lyngdoh, however, has batted for student polls on issues (micro to macro) and, of course, on ideologies. But the waters in campuses across the country are muddied by political one-upmanship.

Sample this fact. A strange coincidence observed in Odisha is the Higher Education Minister has been one, who had been a big student leader in his heydays. From Devi Mishra (2009) to Pradeep Panigrahi (2014) and Arun Sahoo (2019), all State higher education ministers were once big student leaders of the then JD/BJD.

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