On March 28, 2017 four people including a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) and three journalists were injured when protesters hurled a petrol bomb near Ratna Rajya Laxmi Campus (RR) to disrupt the election for the Free Student Union (FSU). The area had been tense from the morning as students affiliated to the All Nepal National Free Student Union-Revolutionary (ANNFSU-R) staged protests against the election that had been scheduled after months of disputes and several postponements.
Student Unions are an important part of the educational mission in colleges of Nepal. The representative body elected by students through FSU election are mainly responsible to keep a watch on administrative actions, corruption among authorities, arbitrary appointments and question irregularities in the campus. While meant to enhance the academic experience of students through cultural, social, educational and recreational programs, student bodies in Nepal have clearly held significance beyond that. Introduced during the party-less Panchayat regime, student politics quickly developed into an arena for the then banned political parties to mobilize and carry out activities in the semi-open. Students also played a vital role in the various democracy movements in the country and a number of senior political party leaders rose to prominence as student leaders.
However, the partisan nature of student politics, the play of vested interests, and the ambition of candidates far beyond academic and administrative pursuits has also frequently been blamed for impeding improvements of the academic environment in campuses across Nepal. In addition, FSU election at Tribhuvan University (TU) affiliated campuses could not be held for 8 years. Since 2009, they had been put on hold owing to political differences among student unions affiliated to different parties. There have also been accusations of hooliganism, violence, clashes and criminal activities amongst student unions.
With the announcement of the election to the student bodies, the Rector as well as coordinator of the election committee Sudha Tripathi said that the academic activities will be delayed to facilitate the election. Several student unions have also protested the introduction of an age limit, the electoral system chosen, and alleged irregularities in the process.
COCAP | NepalMonitor.org through its Peace Monitoring Project records incidents of violence and public contestation in Nepal and provides periodic updates and trends analyses on its blog. The following update looks at recent events surrounding the elections to student bodies.
Incidents in detail
There are about 350,000 students from 60 constituent and 1084 affiliated campuses under 350,000 students from 60 constituent and 1084 affiliated campuses under TU who are eligible to vote in the FSU election. On January 4, 2017, the 42nd senate of the TU decided to set an age limit of 28 years for the candidates of FSU election. On January 28, 2017, TU published the schedule of the FSU election to be held on February 25. Two days later, on January 30, Nepal Student Union (NSU) (affiliated to Nepali Congress) went to various campuses such as Tri Chandra, Patan campus, Shankar Dev, Nepal Commerce to padlock offices of campus chiefs in the Kathmandu valley protesting TU’s decisions of setting an age limit.
Since the announcement of the election date, agitating student unions padlocked various campuses outside Kathmandu valley such as Muraraka Multiple Campus in Siraha, Gorkha Campus in Gorkha, Amardip Campus in Surkhet and Jumla Multiple Campus too.
On February 13, two unidentified persons torched a vehicle belonging to TU’s Rector Sudha Tripathi at Kupondole, Kathmandu. According to the Chairperson of All Nepal National Free Student Union (ANNFSU), the attack was a conspiracy to disturb the plan to hold FSU election.
The same day, seven student unions padlocked Ramananda Bisheshwor Mahendra Campus in Jaleshwor, Mahottari protesting the admission of new students before the Free Students’ Union election. The student unions demanded the names of newly admitted students to be removed from the student’s list.
On February 15, students affiliated to the Netra Bikram Chand- led All Nepal National Independent Students Union-Revolutionary (ANNISU-R) abducted the chief and assistant chief of the Lamki Multiple Campus in Lamki Kailai. The abduction was done to pressure the campus administration to suspend the FSU election.
On February 23, student unions affiliated to the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) set fire to the office of assistant chief of Thakur Ram Multiple College in Birgunj. The agitating student unions were against mixed electoral system proposed by the TU and wanted the election to be held based on proportionality.
On February 25, 2017 FSU elections were held at Pulchowk Engineering College, Sano Thimi Campus, Thapathali Engineering, Teaching Hospital and its nursing campus and Bhaktapur Multiple College. However, they could not be held that day at TU Central Campus, Tri-Chandra, Ratna Rajya (RR), Nepal Commerce and Shanker Dev due to padlocking and political issues. At RR Campus, Nepali Congress affiliated NSU and CPN-UML’s sister organization ANNFSU clashed over FSU candidate’s nomination by throwing stones at each other on election day. This led to injuries of students from both sides. In addition, on the same day NSU, Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum and Netra Bikram Chand’s (Biplab Chand) CPN Maoist’s student organizations padlocked the election office of RR campus to interrupt the registration of candidates. Subsequently, the FSU election was postponed to March 1 because of padlocking in various TU affiliated colleges and upon the request of student union aligned to CPN Maoist.
On February 27, a clash between students affiliated to NSU and ANNFSU at the Lamjung Campus Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science which left four NSU students and a police officer with injuries.
On March 1, a clash between ANNISU(revolutionary), Nepal Student’s Association and ANNFSU affiliated to CPN-UML in Benighat VDC-1 of Dhading injured four people. On the same day, students of ANNFSU set fire to campus chief’s room of Birendra Multiple Campus at Bharatpur for not conducting the election.
About 170 TU affiliated colleges conducted the FSU election on March 1. FSU elections were not held at RR college at exhibition road on that date because of clashes among various student unions. The Campus authority later announced March 6, 2017 as the new date for FSU election but it was canceled due to the Election Commission’s directive not to carry out elections to student bodies as it might impact the electoral environment for the upcoming civic polls. This directive was quashed by the Supreme court which issued an interim order on March 15 directing the university administration to carry out the election at RR Campus at the earliest.
On March 28, elections were finally conducted at RR campus. The students affiliated to ANNFSU-R staged protests on the election day from early morning. About 400 security personnel were deployed around the college premises to prevent violent incidents. The protesters attacked security personnel and some voters by throwing stones at them, They hurled a petrol bomb which injured four people including the DSP and three journalist.
As a result of the protests and violence in the run-up and during the election only 24 out of 60 TU constitute campuses were able to conduct FSU elections by the end of March. For the remaining campuses the elections to student bodies have been postponed until after the local elections.
Overview of type and forms of incidents
In total, NepalMonitor.org recorded 44 incidents between January and March 2017 related to the FSU election, 19 of them involved some form of violence. The most common form of protests used by student unions were padlocking with 18 incidents followed by demonstrations in 6 instances. In some cases these incidents led to violence in the form of clashes in 8, arson in 8 and vandalism in 3 incidents (see graph 2).
Actors identified as involved in the events were student unions affiliated with CPN, UML, and Nepali Congress in 6 cases each. ANNISU(Revolutionary) affiliated with Maoist Center was identified in 4 incidents. In 9 cases multiple student unions were involved and in 14 cases the identity of protesters was simply recorded as students (see graph 3).
Graph 4 displays the timeline of incidents with the red line indicating the injuries incurred. For a list of incidents related to the election to a student body between January and March 2017 click here.
List of abbreviation:
ANNFSU All Nepal National Independent Students Union
ANNISU-R All Nepal National Independent Students Union- Revolutionary
COCAP Collective Campaign for Peace
CPN-UML Communist Party of Nepal- Unified Marxist- Leninist
DSP Deputy Superintendent of Police
FSU Free Student Union
NSU Nepal Student Union (affiliated to Nepali Congress)
RR Ratna Rajya Laxmi Campus
TU Tribhuvan University
UDMF United Democratic Madhesi Front
VDC Village Development Committee