THE process of elections for the Senate, Academic Council and Boards of Studies in the University of Mumbai has been underway since January 2018. The elections have acquired much greater significance than earlier ones as they are being conducted under the provisions of the Maharashtra Public Universities Act (MPUA) 2016, enforced since March 2017. A new education policy has already been released by the state government under the Act. This policy will be implemented by bringing in a structural change through a new institutional arrangement. This requires new two-tier instrument; a uniform universities Act for the state-level operation and uniform statutes for university-level application. The MPUA 2016 is the legal framework to implement these reforms.
As per the new Act and Statutes, all bodies of the university (Senate, Management Council, Academic Council, Faculties and Boards of Studies) are to be reconstituted by elections which were due from 2015. The elections were not held as the state government wanted to bring the new Act. In fact, during the last two years, the university governance depended on ad hoc bodies. This long gap has resulted in absence of democratic functioning in the university and arbitrary decision-making has become the norm in the university governance.
It is at this critical juncture that the University of Mumbai held elections to 10 seats of Senate (five reserved and five open) and eight seats of Academic Council (four reserved and four open) on 16 March 2018. The Bombay University and College Teachers’ Union (BUCTU) contested all 10 seats for the Senate and three open seats for Academic Council. The results were declared on March 18 by midnight. BUCTU won nine out of 10 Senate seats and three out of four Academic Council seats for the period 2018-2023. Four reserved seats in Academic Council have remained vacant because of lack of eligible candidates.
During January 2017–February 2018, an intense campaign was carried out to create awareness among teachers about the negative features of the new education policy and the MPUA. The Act would pave the way for greater control of government on universities through nominated members and reduced elected component, attack on service conditions through common statutes and closure of subjects and courses which are not market oriented. Zonal workshops were conducted in Mumbai, Palghar, Raigad and Ratnagiri districts. Nearly 10 mass meetings were held in Thane, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg. Besides, more than 50 colleges were visited from Mumbai to Dodamarg (Sindhudurg).
Selection of Candidates
The BUCTU Executive Committee appointed a selection committee with Tapati Mukhopadhyay as the convener. Other members were Madhu Paranjape, B R Salve (Vice President), Shailendra Singh (Joint Secretary) and K Y Rajput (Former Senate member from Technology). Applications were invited from teacher-activists for 10 seats in Senate and eight seats in Academic Council. In all 54 applications were received. Forty-six of them appeared for interaction with the committee while others were absent or not eligible. For Senate 10 candidates were selected and three were selected for Academic Council. No application was received for four reserved seats and Commerce (Open) seat in Academic Council. Additionally, nine applicants were selected as stand-by (dummy) candidates who had, in advance, given their withdrawal letters to the selection committee. Thereafter, the process of filing nominations was smoothly handled. With the announcement of the panel of BUCTU candidates, the selection committee converted itself into campaign committee. A detailed plan of district-wise visits to colleges, in urban and rural areas, was chalked out. An intensive fortnight-long campaign was carried out.
It is worth mentioning that voting in these elections is by preferential system. The core committee prepared the voting pattern to facilitate voters in 216 colleges to cast their preferential vote in favour of BUCTU candidates. Maintaining confidentiality, total discipline and central control, the patterns were reached out by our core activists to every college on March 15 – a day prior to the election.
An alliance between MUPTA (Mumbai Underprivileged Teachers’ Association) and RSS-BJP sponsored MUCTA (Mumbai University and College Teachers’ Association) stood as opponent to BUCTU in this election. Some of their candidates received direct patronage from the government and college principals. This alliance carried out a slanderous and communal campaign against the BUCTU, trying to divert the attention of the teachers from the core issues affecting higher education.
This negative publicity did not sustain as many of our activists countered it by a politically mature and meticulous campaign, especially in the Konkan belt. A special mention should be made of the excellent use of social media by Vinod Patil from Sindhudurg, who spread the summary of history of BUCTU and several movements conducted since 2009 through his posts on WhatsApp.
The elections took place on March 16 when 3,019 votes were polled. Nearly 300 voters from self-financing engineering colleges, under strict supervision of their managements, were forced to cast their vote for the management-sponsored candidate. Of the 2,766 valid votes, the combined tally of BUCTU votes was 1,750 (63 per cent).
Among the special features of the election was that BUCTU’s campaign was directed towards creating awareness and uniting the teachers against the anti-education policy of the government. There was also consolidation of the union in Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg and some inroads made into self-financing engineering colleges.