[ Amar Sangno ]
As the music’s blaring crescendo fell, it was overlapped by colourful roadshow dances presented by the supporters and cheerleaders, donning their respective candidates’ pictures from head to toe, in the weeklong All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) election.
It gave the impression of ‘positive change’, which we all have long been waiting for, finally prevailing. Otherwise, student union elections in Arunachal are often infamously synonymous with violence, corruption and total breakdown of law and order.
Even before our sigh of contentment had reached our bellies, skirmishes and group clashes broke out along the alley leading to the Siddhartha Hall gate, reportedly over delegate voting rights. The clashes took place right in front of the massive security personnel deployed to maintain law and order.
Within a friction of a second, a pall of gloom or paranoia descended upon the Siddhartha Hall area, casting away what had appeared to be a peaceful atmosphere. Indeed, it was deceptive merriment and a false atmosphere of peaceful, free and fair election.
AAPSU election is arguably the biggest youth festival in Arunachal. The involvement of people from all walks of life can be classified in different categories. Teenagers to youths, including voters and delegates, and clan and community members are overtly participating. From the political class to the technocrats, bureaucrats and businessmen, everyone is covertly involving in funding these elections.
Month-long hotel reservation, free distribution of petrol and diesel coupons, sumptuous lunches and dinners, luxurious cars to ferry the delegates around, and splurging crores of rupees are a mandatory ritual for each candidate, or at least for those contesting for the top post.
Each presidential candidate is believed to be spending nearly Rs 7-8 crores. It is alleged that an average amount of Rs 1 lakh is being earned by the postgraduate students. This means that nearly Rs 20 crores have been spent on 2,000 students.
The students who have sold themselves while choosing their leaders are equally responsible for making the AAPSU’s leaders caged parrots and toothless tigers who have been historically mandated to speak out against misgovernance, corruption, wrong and irrelevant policies, and legislative incompetence of the elected leaders.
The legacy and the glorious past of the state’s apex student body in terms of safeguarding the common interests of the indigenous people are immeasurable and unparalleled. Its preamble, per se, resolves and promotes social, moral and cultural values of the tribes, securing fraternity and cooperation among them.
Former AAPSU president Takam Sanjoy in his presidential speech during the 17th general conference of the AAPSU on 19 December, 1994 had said, “AAPSU should not be mistaken as a mere students’ union whose role is confined to counting textbooks in the campus.”
In a multiethnic state like Arunachal, the AAPSU has commanded a pan-Arunachal image ever since its inception. Historically, the union has never confined itself to issues of the students’ interests, but has taken up issues affecting the state, such as the Chakma-Hajong refugee issue, the Assam-Arunachal boundary issue, the statehood amendment bill, Article 371 (H), etc, that occupied the core of its charter of demands.
“Leading AAPSU is not about leading the students, but it is about formidably leading the issues that generate a common narrative for the people to stand on common ground,” said Tage Lapung, former AAPSU president.
“It is hard and painful to see the teetering and dwindling aura of this organisation in the hands of a few whom the masses of students fittingly elected in the recent times,” Lapung added.
However, the current election trend, marked by violence, ‘kidnapping’, intimidation and a paranoid atmosphere built around the electioneering process, and the flow of unaccounted amounts of money into the election is not only eroding the union’s credibility but also weakening the AAPSU as a pan-Arunachal entity.
Tactics to win the election by inducing a paranoid atmosphere to intimidate the weaker candidates are not only throttling a fundamental and democratic process but also causing the union to lose its pan-Arunachal sheen.
Over the last three decades, the AAPSU president’s post is being contested for by candidates from the Nyishi community, though it’s open for every community in the state. Whether other communities’ candidates lack leadership quality or they do not have the guts to splurge money like the candidates from the Nyishi community does remain a debatable topic in every AAPSU constitutional review, as some sections are demanding that the president and the general secretary’s posts should be rotated zone-wise.
Some argue that, in order to restore the AAPSUs’ past glory, electoral reformation is key, including curbing the flow of money during election. “Each federal unit should be allowed to vote in their district headquarters. It would create safe and free atmosphere for the voters to choose right leader,” a delegate said on condition of anonymity.
“Democratisation of electoral process is the only way out to reduce unnecessary money flow and violence. More importantly, it would give free and fair space to the respective federal units in voting,” he added.
As the AAPSU is poised to elect its new office bearers in the coming week, it is to be hoped that the newly elected president and executive members would take the call to make the AAPSU more democratised and a more popularly represented organisation, rather than a platform for a few communities’ dominant show.