By Aggam Walia (UG22)
We are once again approaching that time of the year when the political scene on campus wakes up from months of relative dormancy in preparation for the subsequent HoR elections. Parties begin to mobilise by conducting inductions while several individuals deliberate over their potential run as independent candidates. This year, there has been a notable exception in these turns of events.
Moksh, a three-year old political party and once a formidable opposition to Prakrit’s hegemony, has been suspiciously quiet. Unlike other parties, Moksh did not send an email to open inductions– in fact, the last email the student body received from them was back in February. Their absence from the recent AUEC event on Ashokan politics and their inactivity on their social media could mean only two things– either the party is nearing its death, or it has in fact died. A few conversations with some Moksh members confirmed the former— after their three members finish their respective terms in the Student Government, the party would be dissolved.
According to party members, the decision to dissolve was taken due to two primary reasons– some of them have newer work commitments and will not be able to focus on party-related work whereas others don’t see the relevance of keeping the party alive.
“The initial purpose behind Moksh was to bring out new politics. For some time, it succeeded, however, it is difficult to provide an alternative to what Prakrit brings to the table. The scope of the SG as an institution makes it difficult for alternative politics,” explains Ashutosh Sharma, Moksh’s lone member in the HoR. According to him, while the SG did some commendable work the past year, it is for the large part institutionally powerless. “SG just opposes the admin and streamlines communication. It calls itself a legislative body, but it has nothing to legislate on,” he says. For these reasons, he feels that there cannot be alternative politics on campus because “what distinction can you make within a body that can at best protest?” Even though there are three traditional parties on campus, he argues that they don’t provide alternatives in their manifestos.
Ashutosh’s concerns are in part echoed by Moksh’s co-founder and ex-member Arnav Mohan Gupta. He argues that in the long run, “all the nitty gritty differences between parties merge together as long as you get the results” and that it’s generally difficult to distinguish between parties. Talking about the formation of Moksh, he says that it was a very opportunistic decision. “When we started Moksh, we knew Dhamma wouldn’t contest for elections. We saw an opportunity in competing. The decision was very opportunistic and not based on any ideological reasons,” he says.
Moksh members’ sentiments about its relevance in Ashokan politics is not the only reason for its planned dissolution. Krisha Vaishnav, Sports Minister and Moksh member, says that a few weeks ago most of the senior members of the party left rather abruptly. This created a vacuum of leadership and experience. Krisha also feels that the lockdown significantly contributed to the party’s downfall because “engagement on campus is more inspired.” While she believes that last year’s election results, where Moksh secured only one seat in the HoR, didn’t particularly impact this decision, it certainly demotivated some people. Adhiraj Singh, Technology Minister and Moksh member, says that unlike other parties, Moksh did not market or have conversations. “But, to be honest, this kind of branding does not matter; the actual work done by individuals matters,” he adds.
Reacting to this news, Deep Vakil, President of the 5th HoR, says that as an opposition party, Moksh was a “formidable check on Prakrit.” According to him, Moksh stood for pragmatism and recognized that there is a need to negotiate and compromise with the administration in student politics. “In contrast to the vehement and at times rigid position that Prakrit took in opposition to the admin, Moksh believed in a very different idea of the SG. An SG that is not unreasonably stubborn. An SG that is willing to settle for small wins, instead of holding out until they get everything they want. An SG that recognises its place in the ecosystem of Ashoka as a body that is subordinate to the administration, and therefore, cannot dictate its will by any means possible,” Deep adds.
Responding to potential criticism that the dissolution of Moksh would lead to a single party system, Ashutosh says that even with different parties, there’s not much difference in what each of them brings to the table. He hopes that with lesser parties, we see more independent candidates running for the House. When asked whether a party based on right-wing ideology would be successful at Ashoka, Ashutosh feels that it could initiate conversation which could either be healthy or toxic. But in terms of electoral politics, the only place where it could distinguish itself would be on issues related to external affairs. “External affairs are a secondary concern; there’s no alternative for on-campus issues. They will be able to distinguish themselves through large ideas but not in terms of the work they would have to do,” he says. Arnav feels that while such a party is necessary to provide perspective, it cannot be successful because of the Ashokan voter base. “It’s a worthwhile attempt to establish a voice for the right-wing at Ashoka, but they have to be real about the expectations,” he says.
Moksh’s dissolution will have serious implications on the political landscape of our campus. With just Dhamma left to challenge the success and popularity of Prakrit, there’s an urgent need to ask why Prakrit needs to be opposed, if at all, and to then build the opposition from there. Moksh’s experience makes it clear that opposition just for the sake of it cannot sustain itself in the long run. For those reasons, Dhamma would have to entirely revamp its image to present itself as a viable alternative to what Prakrit offers. Or, in Arnav’s opinion, Dhamma won’t be enough – it’ll take a new party to do that.
Featured images by : Deep Vakil (ASP21)