What attracts aspiring student leaders to the department of Buddhist studies?
A ‘strange’ phenomenon that looms over DUSU elections year after year is that of an overwhelming participation coming from students pursuing their MA in Buddhist Studies, a course run by the Department of Buddhist Studies, Faculty of Arts, University of Delhi.
The two-year course, divided into an extensive study of Buddhist literature in Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese languages, as well as its history and philosophy, does not really reveal the reason for producing so many political candidates for the DUSU.
The final list of candidates contesting for the Delhi University Student Union (DUSU) election this year reveals that two candidates—out of the total five—for the post of President, are from the Department of Buddhist Studies, Delhi University.
Out of the four nominated candidates for the posts of President, Vice President, Secretary and Joint Secretary of the ABVP, three are students pursuing their MA in Buddhist Studies.
While the NSUI only has only one candidate from the same department, the AISA-CYSS coalition has none.
The course’s vision of producing ‘Buddhologists’ who excel in practising Buddhist principles of “peace” and “non-violence” might even, at times, stand in stark contrast with the posthumous violence that follows the election process.
Galdan Sangai, a professor who has been teaching Tibetan Language and Literature in the Buddhist Studies Department, explained: “Most students come in only with the intention of contesting elections because they never come for class. Although we try to not play any role in the functioning of politics in the university, it’s hard not to notice when some students never come to class and so many admission withdrawals that come immediately after the declaration of results. Students who aren’t elected don’t pursue the course further simply because it was never their primary objective.”
He further added: “It’s a sort of circle because these political groups in the department help candidates secure admission in this course year after year.”
Manoj Chaudhary, an independent candidate backed by ABVP, ABVP’s Jitender Chaudhary and Aman Awana—all from the department of Buddhist studies—had won the post of President in the years 2009, 2010, and 2013 respectively.
In 2014, ABVP candidates Mohit Nagar and Pravesh Malik won the election for the post of Vice President and President respectively.
In an interview by Newslaundry with ABVP DUSU 2018 presidential candidate Anikv Baisoya, although he commits to being quite ‘serious’ about completing this course, he also acknowledged that ABVP candidate Priyanka Chabri, who was elected as the Vice-president in 2016, dropped out owing to a sudden change in ‘preference’ before completing her MA.
In 2015, out of the eight nominated candidates for the post of Joint Secretary, two of them—Ankur Dhama and Chattarpal Yadav—were from Buddhist Studies, and Satender Awana, who secured the post of President, was also from the same. The NSUI, AISA, CYSS and SFI didn’t have any students from the department whereas two out of the four nominated candidates from ABVP were from M.A. Buddhist Studies—both of whom won.
Neeraj Mishra, a member of NSUI said: “We have only had two presidents from M.A. Buddhist Studies, but ABVP has candidates from the department every year. This shows that the faculty is predominantly inclined to the Right Wing.”
Upon asking, Bharat Khatana, Delhi State Secretary of ABVP said that the party has a stronghold in the department, which is why so many candidates are produced from it.
In 2016, 34% of nominated candidates— from which Priyanka Chawri and Ankit Sangwan won the posts of Vice-President and Secretary respectively—came from the Buddhist Studies department.
Last year, NSUI candidate Rocky Tuseed, who won the post of President also comes from the same department.
Upendra Kumar, a second-year student of MA Buddhist Studies said: “The admission procedure is one of the main reasons for this to happen—it is extremely easy. Out of all the students we have, only some are sincere; it’s not like all of them come in with the same motive. Some even go ahead to do their PhD’s and get into academics.”
The admission procedure is an entrance test with basic questions such as the birthplace of Buddha and Buddha’s father’s name. It is quite simple owing to the fact that Buddhist Studies isn’t taught at the undergraduate level, and therefore the competition any other department might have is also eliminated here.
Devanshu Singh, currently pursuing his PhD from the department, said: “I have spent five years in this department, out of which two was during my M.A. Now I’m in the third year of my PhD. What I have understood so far is that the primary reason so many people want to contest elections after taking admission in this department is that of the big vote bank we have here, owing to the large number of seats we have.”
The Department of Buddhist Studies has about 230 seats whereas other departments such as the Faculty of Law, has only about 110. He further added: “…and even though I cannot vote, I can still influence a lot of people to do so.”
When looked at from a distance, the role that Buddhist Studies Department plays in DUSU might look like an astonishing and strange phenomenon, but when decoded, things fall into place and make complete sense. Easy admission procedure and a large vote bank…it’s an open and shut case.