JNU’s Student Union has a fascinating legacy. Some of the top political leaders in the country today were once active participants in the student politics in JNU and understanding how their system works has long been a topic of fascination for me. Hence, when Nishant, one of the student members of the delegation offered to arrange for a meeting with Mohit, the current JNUSU President, I jumped at the offer. I had wanted to make a personal visit to JNU anyway to look at the campus and this opportunity seemed too good to be true. Hence, directly after the meeting with Dr. Tharoor, a bunch of us moved on to JNU.
Our first impression of JNU was that it seemed very much like insti in terms of the greenery and deer – in fact, entering the campus was associated with a drop in temperature, just like with our institute. The campus was also humongous – Delhi Transport Corporation buses plied within the campus to transport students. What, however, really caught our attention was the food and the graffitti. The food was dirt cheap and really really good (CMGFS would have had a heart-attack checking their hygiene though) and the food stalls were in reality small dhabas (I had a meal with two rotis – the north-Indian kind, they were really big, more like a naan – rice, dal and sabji for just Rs 30). The walls of building were sprayed with graffiti – beautiful works of arts carrying social messages against bribery, dowry etc. Meandering through the campus (and sort of getting lost in the process), we finally reached the main administrative building where our meeting was scheduled. Reaching there, we were surprised to see a young man addressing a small bunch of students before what seemed like a movie screening.
Mohit, the JNUSU president, held the crowd transfixed with his oratory skills and was highlighting the response of the JNU administration to the case of Najeeb, a student who had gone missing from the campus and about whom there was no word despite it being more than two months since his disappearance. The speech derided the government and the Vice-Chancellor for inaction and failure to get bring the perpetrators responsible for the same (allegedly, some students belonging to ABVP) to book. The speech was powerful and was followed by the screening of the movie Fidel, but Mohit turned to interact with us once the movie began.
Hardly had we started speaking when Ms. Shehla Rashid, the former JNUSU Vice-President joined us. What followed was two and half hours of intense discussion, and while many of us disagreed on most of the things she said, one thing I personally understood from the discussion was that there is a world of difference between the way our administration treats us to how their administration treated them. The way that students in IIT Madras posit our demands certainly helps, but the amount of support that our administration gives us, the amount of care and concern for student welfare that our administration displays was something that I felt was missing in JNU. I am sure that I haven’t heard the JNU administration’s side of the story, but what I heard made me cringe and be thankful for having such a supportive administration.
In Conversation with Mr. Venkaiah Naidu
It was 12:30 in the night by the time we left the JNU campus, and the next day, we had a meeting with Mr. Venkaiah Naidu at 8:00 am – a meeting that had been arranged by Sai Kiran, the EML Core who had come with us. It was a tight schedule we had to stick to – at 9:00 am we had to rendezvous with Mr. Kundan Nath so that we could clear the security checks at the Parliament and be seated to meet the Minister at 10. Our being able to watch the Question Hour at 11, the only time when Parliament was actually functioning during this Winter Session, was dependent on our meeting with the Minister getting wrapped up within an hour. Unfortunately, things did not proceed as per plan – Mr. Venkaiah Naidu’s interaction with students was delayed by nearly 50 minutes. This Union Minister for Urban Development, Housing, Urban Poverty Alleviation and Information and Broadcasting has been at the forefront of the government’s demonetization campaign and had been delayed due to interaction with media outlets. A Rajya Sabha MP from Rajasthan, Mr. Naidu has had a highly distinguished political career right from his student days when he championed the cause of farmers and development of backward areas of the then undivided Andhra Pradesh.
The interaction that day, however, was largely focussed on demonetization from what others told me (I had to meet Mr. Kundan Nath at 9:00 am), and students got a first hand perspective of what the government hoped to achieve through the move. By the time Mr. Naidu finished, it was 9:20 am and students started to trickle in to the Parliament at 9:30 am. Just when I was hoping that we could meet the Minister on time, I realized that some of the students were not present and in the end, Mr. Kundan, Phani and I had to wait till 10:30 am before the last batch of students came in. I was expecting the interaction to be going on in fullsteam by the time we arrived, but to our surprise, Mr. Kundan Nath had requested the Minister to wait till all of us made it to the venue. Till then, one of the senior IAS officers from MHRD had been interacting with students and it was only when all of us arrived did Mr. Kundan Nath request the minister to come. That was a really kind gesture on his part.
Post by Mr. Naidu can be found here.
Interacting with Mr. Prakash Javadekar at the Parliament!
The interaction with Mr. Prakash Javadekar had the greatest practical utility in my opinion. The first thing that the Minister was interested to know was our academic/research backgrounds. Taking a keen interest in what we had to say, Mr. Javadekar encouraged students by relating what they were studying to what the government wanted to do to develop our country. He patiently heard out students and asked for suggestions to make IITs better – even going so far as to ask students to write directly to him at firstname.lastname@example.org in case they had any suggestions. The emphasis that the minister placed on rising above ideological and party lines to do what is better for the country is worth mentioning here. The minister also asked all students to do our bit to society and teach people to do digital transactions (Just to put it out here – students who are interested in volunteering to teach other about how to carry out digital transactions can register themselves at DoSt office). The meeting ended on that positive note, and we then rushed to the Rajya Sabha.
Post by Mr. Javadekar can be found here.
An Appointment with Mr. Shumsher Sheriff
Due to the delay in our meeting with Mr. Prakash Javadekar, we missed out on the question hour. By the time we entered the sacred precincts of the public gallery of the Rajya Sabha, the house had been adjourned to 2:30 pm and we could only watch some MPs chatting with each other. We were given an introduction about how the seating arrangement in the Rajya Sabha works though and after that, we moved to meet Mr. Shumsher Sheriff, the Secretary General of the Rajya Sabha. His was easily one of the most informative meetings that we had. Explaining the different processes and procedures that the Rajya Sabha followed, Mr. Shumsher Sheriff surprised us by showing us the amount of effort that goes into running the Upper House. I was surprised to know that a 3000+ staff supports the Indian Parliament in its functioning!
Topics that Mr. Sheriff covered included the Legislative process, scrutiny of bills and the way Parliament ensured legislative accountability. At the end of the meeting, upon learning that we had missed watching the Rajya Sabha session, the Secretary General arranged for new passes for all of us, and we got an opportunity to be seated and watch the house start at 2:30 pm! The session, however, was a disappointment. The moment the Deputy Chairperson took his seat, MPs who had been jovial till then – even wishing one of the members a happy birthday – rushed into the well and started shouting slogans. Headphones in the public gallery helped us listen to what was transpiring and I think the best way to describe what happened that day would be to call the session a joke. We were all happy though – we had got to enter the Parliament and we had managed to catch a total 5 minutes of the House proceedings. That made our day.
An Illuminating Discussion with Justice Chelameshwar
The final meeting that had been scheduled for our Delhi trip was with a sitting Supreme Court Justice – Justice J Chelameshwar. Nikhil Namburi used his personal contacts to arrange for this meeting, and boy was it excellent! Chelameshwar sir patiently heard out our ideas about institute’s Students’ Constitution – especially the need for a Student Judicial Commission – and suggested changes that could be incorporated into the constitution. The discussion then veered towards judicial reforms and perceptions about judiciary and to every one of our questions (which even included questions like why do judges only work for 180 days a year), the Justice answered confidently, and it was not difficult to see why it was only him who presented a dissenting opinion on the NJAC judgement. In him, I saw a person who truly respected the rule of law and the sanctity of the Constitution and we all unanimously agreed that his interaction was the best that we had in Delhi.
To conclude, those three days that we spent in Delhi were really fruitful. Everybody seemed to have enjoyed the trip and were of the unanimous opinion that they did learn something from it. Interest in student governance in our institute seems to have increased too – two students came up to me and said they wanted to be legislators! Overall, the Student Legislative Council gained immensely in terms of publicity – every MP that we visited shared a post on social media saying how they interacted with students from IIT Madras and I think after nearly 8 months in office, I can safely conclude that the Student Legislative Council is gaining more popularity and interest amongst students that ever before.
There is a lot that needs to be done though. Next time (and I really really hope there is a next time – it will be a shame if my successors do not take this forward and make this bigger), attention needs to be paid to ensure that intimation to the GSB is sent well in advance. Visiting the Parliament in the last two weeks of the winter session was also an advice given by Mr. Prakash Javadekar – apparently, productivity is the maximum then. Transportation in Delhi should also be an aspect that needs looking into – while metro travel was quick and efficient, many students did came late/got lost and we didn’t travel together as a team. Having a bigger and better line-up of MPs, Ministers and Judges is also something that one can work at. Net, net, the Parliament Visit can be the flagship event of SLC, IIT Madras!
Who knows, fifty years down the line, we shall have a neta from our campus who shall say that it was the Parliament trip that inspired him/her!