By Aayra Angrish (UG22)
Editor’s Note: This op-ed is part of a two-part publication on unionisation. The other op-ed, favoring unionisation, can be found here. The Edict recognizes that the campaigning period is officially over. Both the drafts were written separately — either author did not see what the other wrote — and submitted for editing before 9th February, EOD. We have decided to publish them right now because we want the students to evaluate the merits and demerits of unionisation for themselves. Neither piece is intended to solicit votes for any candidate for the 7th HoR and they are published in no particular order..
As Prakrit swept the elections last year, and the onset of a global pandemic turned them into a government-in-exile, their signature poll plan of unionization blew out of the public eye. The pre-existing ambiguity regarding unionization in their manifesto remains. In fact, it will not be far-fetched to say that the proponents of unionisation were and remain as confused as the voters this election season.
Even as the two independents running this year have indicated that they lean towards unionisation, the two challenger parties, Tarz and Dhamma, have openly and vociferously opposed it. So, as the game picks up pace, now is the best time for Ashokans to revisit all that has been said about unionisation so far and understand the idea in the current scenario.
What is unionization?
According to the videos and FAQs released by Prakrit and as per their manifesto from last election season, unionization is something that helps in the face of “unequal treatment or a clampdown on our civil liberties”. In addition, it entails a push for financial autonomy of the SG. This move shall ensure that they can easily circumvent administrative supervision when it comes to the Student Government’s spending. Given the fractured nature of student-administration relations, as well as how the administration will still be the primary source for SG’s funds, financial autonomy seems more of a distant reality. On top of that, the constitutional requirement of annual financial audits has been largely overlooked by the Student Governments in the past, and the outgoing Leader of Opposition is yet to appoint auditors – the argument for financial independence stands on flimsy grounds.
The reasons behind popularity of unionisation were quite clear last year, given the political scenario at the time. In the face of anti-CAA/NRC protests and the subsequent government crackdown, unions in most universities were as active and visible as possible. In fact, observing campus politics in universities like JNU, Jamia Millia Islamia, and Delhi University, and how the unions in these universities have been able to take strong, populist stances, is probably reason enough to believe that they would be able to find similar success in Ashoka itself. One can correlate such popular student unions to the surge in Ashokans voting for pro-unionization candidates last year. However, once this period of high sentiments is over, whether this ideal would be able to hold its ground in Ashokan politics effectively is yet to be seen.
Why can we not achieve this within the existing SG structure?
Since the current SG structure only has fifteen members who represent the entire Ashokan community, it can infuriate Ashokans that such a small number of people from their community decided to take a stance on political matters on their behalf. While their anger is justifiable, it should be noted that according to the Ashokan constitution, the SG has the authority to take a political stand on matters inside and outside of campus. This constitutional aspect coupled with an increase in student participation via frequent town halls shows that the existing SG structure can achieve the same outcomes unionization is supposed to.
Moreover, Prakrit is also pushing for a rise in the number of members of the House of Representatives from 15 to 17 or 19. If this proposed increase in the size of the House does take place, the SG will become even more representative, and so, the concept and utility of unionisation even more futile.
Will unionisation allow bodies like ABVP and AISA to come to campus?
The supporters of unionisation do not have a concrete plan for the safety of students on campus in the event of external influences gaining prominence during elections. This becomes a matter of concern, as organisations affiliated with national political parties have routine presence in DU colleges. The concern of political violence on our campus, due to the involvement of such bodies (as seen in JNU in 2020), is realistic, and imperative to consider, while discussing unionisation.
Even if it is assumed that CADI (and during elections, the AUEC) shall ensure that the campus does not turn into an unsafe place for students, there are unresolved issues. Although CADI exists to ensure discipline on campus, it can only punish Ashokans, and that too after they have committed a disciplinary infraction. CADI cannot take arbitrary action against individuals on grounds of suspicion alone. Further, considering the controversies surrounding issues of arbitrary suspensions by CADI, its image as an effective body for maintaining discipline can come under question.
How will it improve mobilisation?
Despite the promise that the proposed General Body Meetings will ensure inclusivity and equal power for all consenting members, the finer logistics of these GBMs are yet to be worked out in detail. What will the voting procedure look like in these GBMs – both online and offline? Such basic procedural questions remain unanswered. Even the problem of representation hardly gets resolved by unionisation. In the event of integration and/or collaboration with other stakeholders in the community, the simple task of gathering an adequate representative sample of these groups seems daunting. Coupled with the long withstanding apathy in the Ashokan community, the low student turnout at most open meetings held by the House goes on to show how the indifferent attitude in Ashokans is here to stay for longer than anyone thought. This will make the decision-making process and gathering sufficient representation for separate issues tougher than it seems on paper.
Prakrit claims that the GBMs conducted by the student union will inculcate political consciousness. However, consider those academic departments that declare part of students’ grade dependent on whether they attend their weekly seminars or colloquiums. Despite this, only 50-100 students attend these. This makes it really hard for one to imagine GBMs with zero incentives managing anything more than that.
It becomes clearer that while the proposed unionisation theoretically seems like the magical solution that helps overcome the hurdles faced with respect to the political environment at Ashoka, it does not effectively solve the common underlying problem of apathy at Ashoka.
How will unionisation affect the student ethos?
A major concern that stems from this is how the Student Union shall work on the majoritarian principle, taking into account only that which the majority of Ashokans believe in. This can do damage to Ashoka as an intellectual space for safe and constructive political discourse where differing views can debate and inform one another. In fact, it can distance those who have distinct and diverse views on political matters from the majority. It may sweep into the majority those who are confused about their stance, without letting them form their own independent opinion. Moreover, anyone who disagrees with the decision that is being voted on will have to resort to voicing it in a binary, even if their disagreement is towards the entire policy or just one parameter.
It is of paramount importance that Ashokans sit down and ponder these and other questions before voting for unionization. While the idea does draw the average Ashokan’s attention, is it really something that Ashoka needs? Will this be effective when the need arises or will it send us into a state of disturbance and division? Sure, it was a successful political tactic, but does that make it a successful political reality for us?
Aayra Angrish is a second year political science major. She is not, and has never been, affiliated with any political party in Ashoka.