THIS year, the Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) marks its fiftieth year as the most vibrant and combative union of college and university teachers. Its glorious history of struggles features significant victories against the Hospital and Other Institutions Bill (1982), the attempted UGC Model Act based on the recommendations of the Birla-Ambani Report (2001), the Four-Year Undergraduate Programme (2014) and the Third Amendment of the UGC Regulations, 2010 affecting 30 per cent workload and teaching posts (2016) – all policy moves designed to commercialise and privatise higher education and promote inequity, vulnerability, professional insecurity and intellectual conformism in the academic community. All these struggles have commonly featured the leadership of the Democratic Teachers' Front (DTF) in the DUTA.
The DTF has led the DUTA continuously for the last six years. These years have seen severe hardships inflicted on teachers by governments and hostile university administrations that have been unwilling to engage with the union. The unwillingness to fill up permanent vacancies, sanction teaching posts to meet increased student-intake, imposition of mechanical API scores for promotions, subversion of the reservation policy through deliberate faulty implementation of the reservation roster and denial of pensions to majority of retired teachers has resulted in demoralisation and chaos. Academic restructuring like the introduction of the semester system and choice-based modules with transferable credits, borrowed wholesale from American universities and having far-reaching negative implications on teaching-learning and teachers' workloads, were brought in without honest consultations with teachers and students. Right-wing groups like the NDTF (affiliated to the BJP), the AAD (close to the Congress), INTEC (Congress-affiliated) and smaller identity-based groups have sought to take advantage of the overall despondency and crisis to divide teachers and establish a politics based on sectarianism, communal polarisation, neoliberal choices, identity politics and rank opportunism. Time and again, they have sided with authoritarian vice-chancellors and broken the union ranks to bargain with authorities and ministry officials, thus betraying the teachers' movement. The DTF has countered these challenges by building a larger unity with other Left and democratic organisations of teachers and students and by building joint student-teacher movements against divisive agendas. Its unwavering commitment and steely determination to take on the governments' multi-pronged attack on public-funded higher education has stamped the DTF's dominance in the DUTA through these difficult years.
The recently-concluded DUTA Elections (August 31, 2017) was fought against the backdrop of an aggressive intensification of the policy onslaught and growing belligerence of the RSS-backed NDTF. New measures like graded financial autonomy, self-financing courses, SWAYAM-enabled MOOCs (massive online courses) designed to increase virtual enrolment and reduce the requirement of physical infrastructure and faculty, and skill-based modules are being pushed through as per the Niti Aayog's blueprint on privatisation. The finance ministry is insisting on a 70:30 formula wherein 30 per cent of the running costs have to be met by the colleges and universities themselves through exponential hikes in student-fees, commercialisation of courses, generation of patents and corporate consultancy. The MHRD has, in tandem, announced a shift from grant-funding of institutions to loan-funding through HEFA. The 7th Pay Revision of teachers has been held-up at the ministry-level due to the unwillingness on the part of the government to discuss the UGC Pay Review Committee's recommendations and meet the DUTA-FEDCUTA and AIFUCTO demands on pay, pay-related anomalies, withdrawal of API for promotions and parity of university and college teachers with Group A Services.
The run-up to the elections was marked by a vicious campaign against the DTF. While the MHRD has deliberately been shunning dialogue with the DUTA leadership, the NDTF tried to present a binary alternative between fruitless struggle and the possibility of opening negotiations with the government, owing to its “proximity to power”. It attacked the incumbent DUTA president Nandita Narain personally and tried to mobilise opinion against her support for the resistance of JNU teachers and students, her invitation to former JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar and her public interventions against State and judicial violations of human rights. This was done to divert attention from the concrete issues and polarise the teaching community on majoritarian-supremacist lines with a fabricated narrative of a clash between national and anti-national forces. Senior members of the UGC, officials of the DU administration and even college principals aided the NDTF's negative campaign actively. Calls were also made from the MHRD to solicit support for the NDTF presidential candidate. Union minister of MHRD, Prakash Javadekar visited Deen Dayal Upadhyay College to campaign for the NDTF and offer sermons to teachers. An interaction was organised between the state BJP president, Manoj Tiwari, and 1500 teachers. The agenda was to ensure, through an NDTF victory, a seamless continuity between the government's neoliberal agenda of privatisation and the union's perspective on the policies that aid this process. Additionally, with the start to a High Court-ordered process of permanent recruitments on a massive scale across the colleges and departments of the University, the RSS saw the opportunity of influencing appointments if the DUTA leadership could be wrested away from the control of the Left. However, all these ploys failed to match up to the spirited campaign of the DTF and the message of teachers' unity, spread by its presidential candidate Rajib Ray, as the necessary condition for successful struggles against the government and an insensitive DU administration.
The election day saw huge polling of 7386 votes accounting for 76 per cent voter turnout. In the closely-matched contest, Rajib Ray emerged as the winner with 2636 votes and a decisive margin of 261 votes ahead of the NDTF's Virender S Negi. The NDTF polled 2375 votes while the joint AAD-UTF candidate polled 1930 votes. Three DUTA executive panel candidates of the DTF, Mithuraaj Dhusiya, Biswajit Mohanty and Najma Rehmani also got elected with handsome tallies of 7559, 6310 and 5871 voting points respectively while one, Anil Kumar, lost narrowly. The numbers reflect the overall appeal of DTF's politics in Delhi University and the teaching community's collective determination to ensure that by continuing to elect the DTF to the DUTA leadership for a fourth consecutive term, it saves the DUTA from passing on to the hands of an organisation that can turn the DUTA into a pocket union of the government. By electing the DTF, Delhi University teachers have rejected the politics of the NDTF, helped retain the independent voice of the teachers' movement and sent a strong signal to the Modi government to withdraw its policy of privatisation.
The DTF's fourth consecutive victory in the DUTA Elections is an unprecedented feat. But it places a very tall responsibility on the organisation at a time when all sections of teachers and students are affected by academic restructuring, withdrawal of public-funding, corporate takeover of public educational resources and the imminent threat of short-term contractual appointments in teaching posts. Under Nandita Narain's leadership, the DUTA succeeded in reviving the FEDCUTA and its fraternal links with the AIFUCTO, two of the biggest national-level teachers' unions. The FEDCUTA and AIFUCTO are in the process of jointly mobilising teachers across the nation to build up an effective resistance against the government's anti-education policies and its attempts to turn higher education into a tradable service as per the WTO-GATT provisions. With Rajib Ray's victory, the DTF has also managed to retain the FEDCUTA leadership. This provides a vital continuity in the work required to build the resistance and infuses fresh energy into the coordination efforts. Apart from ensuring a time-bound completion of the process of permanent appointments in Delhi University, removal of API for promotions and payment of pensions for all categories of retired teachers, the active coordination with FEDCUTA and AIFUCTO and all-India students organisations remains the most urgent task. The DTF's activism is directed towards the responsibility of taking the campaign against the Modi government's anti-education policies to the public at large and thereby, building up an informed opinion against its neoliberal politics and the communal-supremacist rhetoric of the RSS. The solidarity and active cooperation of all fraternal mass and class organisations will be crucially required to collectively accomplish this political end and orient public consciousness towards alternatives in the sphere of policy and ideology