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‘Just keep at it’: NLIU elects 1st-ever student council (online) after years of protests, negotiations, constitutional drafts

NLIU students talk about their journey, some pitfalls and advice for other NLUs who would benefit from an SBA

We The Students: NLIU gets first constitutional representative democracy
We The Students: NLIU gets first constitutional representative democracy

NLIU Bhopal has completed its very first Student Bar Association (SBA) elections - in the midst of a pandemic no less - appointing its first office bearers after finalising the long-fought-for student body’s constitution for several years.

The elections were held from 24 to 27 October 2020 with a 60% turnout amongst around 500 undergraduate students.

According to a statement by the students:

The first NLIU-SBA was formed after a two-and-a-half-year long demand for a representative student body. The Drafting Committee of the NLIU-SBA Constitution needs to be applauded for their endless efforts to ensure that the University got its SBA. The SBA is a truly democratic body and as the Constitution of the SBA declares, derives all its powers from the student community of NLIU. The NLIU-SBA strives to develop harmonious relationships amongst the students, faculty and administration of the University, ensuring that the entire NLIU Community benefits from the same.

Anoushka Ishwar was a member of the five-member election commission (also consisting of Rayana Mukherji, Ritwik P Srivastava, Sahil Sonkusale and Utsav Garg). She said: “We might be one of the few student bodies that pulled off their first election in a pandemic in online means. Not only the administration but also our lovely student body that showed up on time, and voted in numbers for their first election for the first time.”

The vote resulted in the elections of Nipunj Niket as president, Rakshit Ranjan as vice-president and Kartikey Bansal as secretary, in addition to two batch representatives from each year voted for by their respective batches.

Bansal explained that it was a “very tough competition”: “A lot of candidates were in the fray, not just senior-most but also the junior most batches had people vying for the position of even president.

“Each presented a very strong manifesto and the conduct of the candidates was really professional: none tried to outdo or personally attack the other, and it was conducted in a mutually respectful manner.”

He also expressed the students’ appreciation for NLIU’s VC, Prof V Vijayakumar, who had joined the university in 2018 and had supported the students in their SBA elections.

However, getting here has been a long, long road for NLIU students for more than one generation.

Multi-year project

“The formal demand [for an SBA] was held three years ago,” said Bansal, “but it has been in the works for seven to eight years.”

Ishwar explained that the the process had kicked off in 2017, after a month-long protest by students.

As we had reported at the time, that protest also led to the departure of Prof SS Singh as VC. By July 2018, we had reported that the NLIU students were close to forming their very first SBA and get sign-off on the constitution.

However, since then the process ended up taking two more years.

“Around 2018-19, the final draft [constitution] was put to the VC, faculty and executive council of NLIU,” said Ishwar. “It took around a year for their amendments to be included, and we had the final approved SBA for NLIU around the start of 2020.”

Several of the changes suggested by the administration and eventually incorporated into the constitution had been useful, she noted. “A few important concerns that the administration had, was - maybe legitimately so - that the campaigning might take a political colour, especially in a college situation.”

While the earlier draft constitution had suggested for a month-long campaigning period, this has now been cut short to four days. Also, the powers of election commissioners were beefed up a little.

Overall though, the administration had agreed about most of the powers effectively delegated to students, though “maybe a few financial powers were taken down a notch”, she added.

Advice to others: Keep at it

The national law universities (NLUs) that have an SBA are generally the better for it, most students, many academics and even some VCs would agree.

Many are still without, of course, even amongst the older NLUs: GNLU Gandhinagar has never had an SBA and NLU Jodhpur still doesn’t (although VC Prof Poonam Saxena had said in 2019 that an SBA would come soon).

“I would say to other NLUs, just keep at,” noted Bansal when asked for potential advice about how other student bodies could bloom. “Every law college entirely needs [an SBA], irrespective of the uphill task they might face.”

He noted that a constitution was important for law students in particular, to ensure student voices were heard by an administration and so that decisions were not taken in a “non-consultative manner”.

“It is very important for students to have a channelled voice, otherwise a few scattered students sending in their petitions might be keeping their interests in mind and not the colleges [general student body],” Bansal said. An SBA, by contrast, provided an “effective channel of communication and [of students’] concerns”.

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