Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Dr.N.Narayana Pillai

In year 1990 when Dr.N.Narayana Pillai, was working as the Dean of Students in Regional Engineering College, Kurukshetra, there was a lot of violence including stabbing (between students belonging to three strong political groups) in the conduct of elections in the adjoining Kurukshetra University campus. The Principal of REC, Kurukshetra preferred formation of the students’ council in the College by nomination, but the students did not agree.
A new election procedure was evolved and placed before the students.  It was based on a preferential voting system which was agreed upon by the students before the conduct of elections.  There was no violence in the conduct of elections and there was no rancor left among the students after the elections.  Because of the preferential voting system there was no direct confrontation between the contesting parties. After the elections all the students constructively participated in all the activities in the College. The system continued successfully at REC Kurukshetra during the period 1992-1994 when Dr.N.Narayana Pillai was working as the Principal and later also the system continued..
This encouraged him to introduce this system of election at Amrita School of Engineering when he became the Principal in 1994.  The system is being followed in this Institute very successfully ever since.   Later the system was successfully used for students’ Council elections at P.A. Aziz College of Engineering and Technology in years 2011 and 2012.   

Intervention of the Supreme Court of India
Elections for Students’ councils in colleges and universities are ‘fought’ fiercely in general.   Many political parties have their students’ wings and give tactical and financial support in their ‘fight’.  It is common that before and after elections the campuses of College and Universities are surcharged with violence which sometimes affect adversely the academic programs in the Institutions.
The Supreme court of India became aware of many cases of violence and malfunctions of the educational institutions originated from the fierce contest in student elections and referred the matter to Ministry of Human Resources development (MHRD) to suggest measures to stem the menace and recommend ways of conducting campus elections for students’ body which will play a constructive role in the Institution..
As per the order of the Supreme Court dated 2nd Dec. 2005, the MHRD constituted a committee under J.M. Lyngdoh, to make recommendations on some aspects of election to students’ bodies in Colleges and Universities.  The committee ruled out nomination as method of forming the students’ body.  The body is to be formed by election either by the parliamentary type system or the direct type system of by a hybrid type of both.  The committee was against the involvement of any political parties in the election process and put limits on th expenditure that could be made by the candidates. . It stipulated the condition for eligibility, minimum attendance and age-limit for the voters.  
The Need for Elections in Colleges.

We find that a large number of political leaders and parliamentarians were the elected representatives and office bearers of student bodies when they were students.
As such, everyone understands the benefits that the students would acquire as well as the advantages that accrue to the institution as a whole.  
For various reasons, Election of Representatives and Office bearers for Student Bodies in Educational Institutions becomes essential. The system has the following benefits:
  1. Opportunity to cultivate leadership qualities among the students..
  2. Opportunity to share their thoughts and suggestions.
  3. Opportunity to recognize problems faced by the students, giving vent to the problems to the authorities of the College and to formulate solutions through dialogue with the management.
  4. Develop talents of the students in sports, games and in cultural events and make the College life rewarding and satisfying.
  5. Opportunity to imbibe sportsmanship in treating success and failure with equanimity.
  6. Understanding the realities of administration by a direct exposure
  7. Bridging the gaps among the students, authorities and teachers and thus learning to adjust with persons and to learn reconciliation on issues, whenever there is a need.
  8. To develop organizational skills through several events of social service and schemes for  nation building.
  9. To promote develop overall personality development of the students and enhance chances of their placement..
  10. In a large mass of student population the representatives act as the essential communication route.
Problems of Elections in Colleges:

In view of certain problems encountered, many heads of institutions are weary of conducting elections. Certain State Governments had chosen to impose a ban on college Elections now and then. During the past three decades, College Elections have witnessed the following problems:
  1. Political parties, in order to reach out to the student bodies, identify them as potential vote banks and vitiate the atmosphere through political affiliations of the candidates.
  2. This creates rancor among the contestants and their supporters, before, during and after elections.
  3. Aping the political elections, the contestants in campus based elections also tend to use money and muscle power leading to physical violence.
  4. There are instances when nominations for positions are received, the parties with muzzle power ‘in a friendly way persuade’ other candidates for withdrawal of nominations, which is actually forcing, with threats and physical violence.  
  5. Post election scenario finds the students divided between the ruling (the winners) and the opposition (the defeated) groups. These groups try to imitate the political system in the country from all its negative ramifications
  6. Rather than understanding their role in building up the positive aspects of the growth of the institution, the representatives tend to show off their power by organizing strikes and threats even on trivial issues.
  7. Campaigning for elections disrupt the academic activity for a considerable period of time.
  8. The disfiguring of the campus, the infrastructure, the toilets and the furniture during elections is very widely reported.
  9. The  campus as well as hostel premises are highly disturbed before and after the elections.
  10. The disturbance in the campus also spills over to the streets and premises in the neighborhood.
  11. Many times the traffic passing beside the institutional campuses also gets affected. Buses and trains catering to the students are also littered with the posters, handbills etc.
  12. The political parties, with whom the defeated candidates have affiliations, tend to interfere with the functions of the institutions.
  13. There have been instances of the elected representatives exploiting their positions monetarily also.
Some Solutions tried out:
  1. Nominations instead of elections:
Many institutions have tried to nominate the representatives from among the students. The system of nominations instead of elections has met with the following objections:
  1. Nominations tend to be subjective.  
  2. Generally, good scorers or docile students would be preferred by the teachers for nominations.
  3. Many times the nominated student may not have good leadership qualities.
  4. The majority of students do not identify the nominated candidates as their representatives.
e) During Crisis, the majority of students stand on one side while the   management and the nominated students get isolated with no room for a dialogue to resolve the crisis.
B. Stipulating conditions for elections:
Many institutions successfully impose and implement restrictions on
  1. Eligibility for contesting,
  2. Procedures of campaigning
  3. Affiliation to political parties
  4. Election Expenses
  5. Election advertisements and posters
It has been observed that all these restrictions get implemented successfully in institutions like IITs, NITs etc. where the admission process brings in fairly a homogeneous set of students.  However all these restrictions are flouted in many other institutions because a sizable part of students of such institutions have poor academic background and due to vested interests of the political parties and managements.

Studies on Voting Systems

A voting system is a way of translating the individual voter’s preferences into preferences for the whole constituency.  Kenneth Arrow, Nobel Prize winner in his famous monograph ‘Social Justice and Individual values’ has shown that it is impossible to device a social preference ordering that satisfies all formulated conditions.   Tony Crilly while discussing ‘Which voting system is best?’ has considered the various systems of voting for elections and compared them.  
He lists the three main methods:
  1. The First-Past-The Post (FPTP) method also known as Plurality-majority voting is the system mostly used in UK and the old colonies of UK like India.
  2. The Condorcet method which makes mathematical deductions from the voters’ choices
  3. Alternative vote (AV) method which has many variations of preferential voting.  Some modifications have transfer of votes and others include Borda count.. .
Tony Crilly showed by an example that the methods give different results.  As per Arrow’s impossibility theorem one cannot assert that one method is best.
We may consider the advantages and disadvantages of the methods.
The FPTP method simple, gives clear results within a short time.  It works well for a two party system.  It leads to anomaly sometimes of gross mismatch of percentage of votes and number of seats.  Many minorities get frustrated because they may not have any role to play and may get alienated.  In order to be counted, they may be forced to align with some other party.  FPTP encourages development of parties based on clan, ethnicity and region as happened in many countries and in some states in India.  It also has the problem of splitting of votes giving distortions in results. The voting percentage can sometimes be low.
The AV method involves preferential voting,  has many variations including the proportional representation voting system  which is practiced Australia, 21 out of 28 countries in Europe including Germany and Netherlands.  Apart from governments, many institutions and organizations adopt this method. It does in general promote consensus and representation of minorities and women.  A variation of the AV method is the Borda count method which is simple in application.  The Borda count method or its modifications has been used widely for Students assembly and Students’ government in many universities in US such as Michigan College of Literature , Science and Arts,  University of Missouri, University of California at Los Angeles, Harvard, South Illinois and Arizona  etc.   In addition, Borda count method is used by many organizations for electing their Board of Directors.
The Condorcet method uses mathematical logic to the preferential votes in its formulation.  But as Kenneth Arrow has pointed out, the transitive law of the mainstream mathematics is not applicable in interpreting voting preferences involving human relations and social issues. .  

The Borda Count System of Election.

    The Borda count is a single winner election method in which voters rank candidates in order of preference.  The Borda count determines the winner of an election by giving each candidate a certain number of points corresponding to the position in which he or she is ranked by each voter.  Once the votes have been polled, the candidate with the most points is the winner.  Because it mostly elects broadly acceptable candidates, rather those preferred by the majority, the Borda count is often described as a consensus-based electoral system, rather than a majoritarian system.
A modification of the Borda count method is described below:
The electorate will be divided into different constituencies and representatives are elected from among them.  In a meeting of a constituent group, nominations are invited on the spot and election is conducted.
As a very simple illustration of the method, let us assume a constituency has 45 members and they have to elect one person (no. of positions p)  as their representative.  Suppose there are four candidates who would like to contest the election ( no. of  contestants q) .  let p =1 and q = 4 Then we may have by  a working formula = 2.5, say 3 preferential votes for each member.
. Each of the voters are given a voters' ballot. He should write a three digit number indicating his preferential voting.  For example let the first member gives the number 214 in the ballot. It indicates that the member wants first preference to the second candidate,  second preference to the first candidate, third preference to be given to the fourth candidate . Points are given to the candidates,  n for the first preference, n-1 for the second preference and so on.

The following types of votes are invalid:
Vote slips in which the number of digits is not equal to the number of preferential votes.
Vote slips in which the names of candidates are written or zero is written..
Vote slips in which any number in a digit is above the highest serial number of the candidate.

The Illustration

                       Preference       Candidate’s   Points  _                                              no.                                            
        1                     2               3
        2                     1               2
        3                     4               1
It may be seen that the 3rd candidate does not get any points from the voting of the particular voter. The points given by each voter for the candidates are worked out..
The points of each candidate are tabulated and then added and one who gets the maximum points will be the winner.
The elected candidates from the constituencies form the electorate for the election of students’ council.  Nominations can be invited for the various office bearers like president, Vice president. Secretary, Secretary clubs, captain for sports etc. from all the students and they may be given time to address the students.  The electorate will elect the office bearers by preferential voting system with Borda count method.


Direct elections for the student bodies even though simple in concept results in conflicts and in many cases the winner may have less than 50% votes.  The minorities do not have much chance unless it aligns with some sections of majority.  The student population is divided as winners and the losers and the rancor is left after the elections.

The Borda count method is quite wide spread in many universities in the US is continued to be used.  The experience of the author at REC, Kurukshetra , Amrita School of Engineering and Technology and P.A. Aziz College of Engineering and Technology reinforces the idea that the election process is simple, fully democratic, and accepted by the students.  It is also seen that the winners are accepted by most of the students as their representatives and  no ill feelings are left among the students after the election process. All the students are seen to participate in all the functions of the college enthusiastically.

Note:  A typical sheet showing the election proceedings can be provided to show how to enter the points from each of the voters.

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