Mumbai: The University of Mumbai (MU) put a sudden halt on its senate elections, which have been due for a long time, following allegations of discrepancies in by Vidyapeeth Vikas Manch (VVM), a front of BJP-allied Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) as well as the BJP leader Ashish Shelar.
On Thursday, the state directed MU to look into the claims of discrepancies and postpone the election process until the issue is resolved. On the same day, the varsity's management council put a break on the polls, which were at the nominations filing stage. The decision has drawn sharp reactions from various student groups and opposition political parties, which accused the state's Shive Sena (Shinde faction)-BJP-NCP (Ajit Pawar faction) government of interfering in the varsity's affairs and undermining the democratic process.
In its complaint submitted to MU and Governor Ramesh Bais earlier this month, VVM had claimed to found around 200 duplicate names in the voter rolls for the registered graduate constituency of the senate, the university's top decision-making body. Shelar also sent a letter to the Higher and Technical Education Minister Chandrakant Patil, alleging more than 755 instances of duplication or even triplication. He also claimed that many names were suspiciously added and removed from the final list of 94,631 voters.
While the government had sought a probe report from MU on Thursday itself, the varsity has sought more time to inquire into the matter, said an official from the higher and technical education department.
The university has been functioning without a full-fledged senate for around the last one year after the term of previous senate body came to an end in September 2022. While the polls for various other constituencies of senate such as teachers, principals and management representatives have already been conducted, the voting for 10 seats allocated to registered graduates, which form the largest and the most intensely contested constituency, was scheduled to be held on September 10, and the result announcement slated for September 13.
Opposition Up in Arms
The decision has caused among various student and political groups that were planning to contest the elections. "Mindhe sarkar has stopped the elections as it's afraid of losing the mandate of people across 12 Lok Sabha constituencies and having its image dented. We condemn this decision," said Pradeep Sawant and Rajan Kolambekar, former senate members from Yuva Sena, the youth wing of Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), referring to the Chief Minister and Sena rebel Eknath Shinde.
NCP (Sharad Pawar faction) youth wing Nationalist Youth Congress wrote a letter to the governor, who also serves as the university chancellor, to lift the suspension. They threatened to gherao the vice chancellor Ravindra Kulkarni if the process isn't resumed.
Sachin Bansode, Organiser of Chhatra Bhartia, a student organisation, said, "When the rulers are faced with loss, such a decision is taken. In the last two years, many elections for the bodies whose term is over haven't been conducted. In a democracy, such behaviour is condemnable."
On the other hand, in a press conference held in the city on Friday, VVM welcomed the suspension of elections but questioned the delay in taking the decision by varsity authorities. "We demand that the electoral rolls must be thoroughly checked and a fresh list must be published. It should be ensured that there isn't a single duplicate name in the list. Modern technology should be used to verify Aadhar cards and other documents submitted by the voters,' read a statement from the organisation.