By Shashank Mattoo (UG20) Ashokan elections never fail to disappoint. As someone who spent two years
By Isa Ayidh and Nishka Mishra, UG 22
What is the most stressful part of the elections? Vague candidate statements. One Dhamma candidate said they want to work on the “problem of peer representation, taking into account the diversity in campus”. While we couldn’t decipher what ‘peer representation’ means, we assumed that they were using synonyms—that amount to nothing but confusion—to push the agenda that they share with their fellow candidates: inclusivity.
Looking at the political parties this election cycle, we noticed that some iteration of the word ‘inclusive’ was repeatedly used in the pre-recorded candidate testimonies released by the AUEC on their Instagram account. To dig deeper, we pored through all those videos, Dhamma’s manifesto, recordings of the Infocus debates, and their written affidavits released by the Election Commission.
Around six of their candidates explicitly used some form of the word ‘inclusivity’ in their video testimonies. Furthermore, more than that number hinted at standing for the same cause. Though they have consistently pushed for the inclusion of diverse political ideologies—one of the candidates identified it as one of the “most important” issues they stand for—their manifesto doesn’t exactly tell us how they plan to deliver it. Under the heading “Cultural Immersion and Inclusivity” in their manifesto, they talk about a few different things: increasing engagement with YIFs, collaborating with AUISA, and reworking the workshops in the O-week schedule.
In their manifesto, the party highlights “cross-cultural engagement” as one of the issues they want to work on. As a student, you expect an inventive policy from someone who asks for your vote, and you also expect your prospective representative to give due credit to the bodies on campus who’ve worked on similar projects. For instance, the History Society is organising a poetry event that intends to “bring together language, history and poetry” on February 13. The society had sent the first email about the same on November 21, 2020, and Dhamma released the first draft of their manifesto on February 2, 2021. Even if the particular events Dhamma envisions to conduct were to differ, their suggestion of organising “folk-lore recitation, dance or poetry” to achieve the same highlights a lack of inventiveness.
Furthermore, Dhamma’s manifesto fails to point out that their proposed “common calendar”—as stated on page seven—is already a work-in-progress project under the Cultural Ministry. The Ministry sent a Google Form to the Clubs Collective Group on January 16, 2021, prompting clubs and societies to fill the form to “increase the participation of the student body” and ensure that information on events are “readily visible”. The only difference is that Dhamma plans to make this calendar “available on the LMS” too.
Their manifesto also outlines that they will be “pushing for a reduced timeline to inform OSL of any event from 15 days to 7 days”, when the current timeline to inform the OSL is “10 working days prior, along with all necessary details of the event for approval”. This part of the manifesto is both misleading and factually incorrect.
While inclusivity is an important cause, the word appears to take the form of a buzzword, given that the party hasn’t specified how they plan to ensure that these discussions themselves don’t get polarized. This naivety is perhaps a consequence of the fact that eleven out of fifteen of Dhamma’s candidates are part of the undergraduate batch of 2023, and one of them, Rivan Sengupta, is Dhamma’s candidate for the presidential debate. Although contesting for elections in your first year isn’t wrong—first years have fresh perspectives on campus issues, given the unprecedented nature of online classes, and the issues this novel environmental entails for the batch of 2023—the problem is that the majority of the party’s opinions stem from a group that, through no fault of their own, hasn’t previously interacted with Ashokan politics. This group is noticeably left without guidance from a larger batch of seniors in the party.
In her AUEC affidavit, one of the candidates from the batch of 2023, Anushka Gupta identifies one of her issues as ensuring that the SG is “not releasing solidarity statements on behalf of the entire student body.” There’s no explicit mention of the same in their manifesto. Furthermore, all the signatory documents released by the 6th HoR say “We, the Ashoka University Student Government, and the undersigned members of the Ashoka community…” not “We, all the students of Ashoka University…”.
Nonetheless, whatever the issue, be it mental health, diversity and inclusivity, or “solving global problems” through STEM—as specified in the second page of their manifesto—Dhamma appears to have a go-to, straitjacket solution: organising a seminar or workshop. However, given the sizable number of people who sleep through the existing workshops, it remains to be seen how effective more of them can be. Equally baffling is how their plans to make some of these workshops mandatory contradict their plan “to ensure that O-week is less stressful for new students.”
It appears to us that the party believes in all the ideal situations. Their unwavering optimism and absolute faith in their capability of “improving” any situation is worrisome as they fail to acknowledge if some changes are actionable at all. Nevertheless, with hope in their heart and a blatant refusal to see the flaws in their proposals, the oldest party at Ashoka forges ahead. And if all else fails, they will ensure the “regulation of boiled egg prices”—maybe this is their saving grace.
Writers’ note: We’re grateful to Sarod S., a junior editor at the Arts & Culture department for his research and arguments. We also want to extend our gratitude to the Student Politics Newsdesk for creating a space for dialogue, to Deep Vakil for letting us borrow his expertise on everything student government, and editors-in-chief Aritro Sarkar and Trisha Nagpal for all their feedback. Finally, thank you to Rwiti Bhattacharya for her consistent presence throughout the structuring of this article.
Corrections: An earlier version erroneously stated that 12 out of the 15 Dhamma candidates for the 7th HoR are from UG23, when in fact it is 11. Additionally, it incorrectly affiliated candidate Anushka Gupta’s statement “not releasing solidarity statements on behalf of the entire student body” to her AUEC video testimony, when in fact, it’s sourced from her AUEC affidavit.