By Anushree Pratap (UG‘23)
Note: TW: SH | In February 2021, Cefil Joseph Soans resigned from the House of Representatives and Tarz following allegations of sexual harassment. The Edict is not aware of any institutional investigation into these allegations.
Update: As of 27th September, Starzz informed The Edict that it does not plan on registering as a party. They will continue to be active in an informal capacity.
In an Edict interview conducted on 14th September, 2021, Cefil Joseph Soans and Jai Desai from the undergraduate batch of 2022 recount their efforts to rejoin and revamp Ashokan politics with their new political party, Starzz. Intended to be a coalition for independent candidates, Starzz was created with the dual aim of making it easier for them to contest elections and to bring humour to Ashokan politics. Referring to the party’s activities on its Instagram account, Cefil and Jai hope to increase student engagement through the several memes they have posted on social media. As of 26th September, Starzz has yet to register itself as a party with the Election Commission. Nevertheless, Jai is officially running as an independent candidate for the upcoming by-elections.
Cefil – who is a former member of Tarz– and Jai, readily tell us that Starzz is a “joke party.” Both mention Liberandu, an erstwhile Ashokan joke party created on similar grounds, as an inspiration. Cefil says, “When I was in Tarz, all of us would make so many memes but we couldn’t post them because, you know, that was a ‘real party’, and it had to have some sort of a moral standard or whatever. That is when I really wanted to do a joke party and this seemed like the perfect opportunity…”
Starzz currently has an Instagram following of 465, much to Cefil’s delight, and often posts memes and interactive stories on its page. The party does not shy away from posting controversial views, like the post on why Ashokans “don’t actually care about the environment.” The post chides the student body for flying in airplanes and consuming meat. It pokes fun at those who bring a “Starbucks cup to the mess thinking [they] are helping the environment.” The party declares that it won’t be talking about environmental issues during elections because using metal straws “only makes a negligible difference.”
While the primary motive of Starzz is to increase student engagement through humour tactics, their future goals seem uncertain. Cefil and Jai explain that the party’s manifesto will be formed by putting together the individual manifestos of all its candidates. The two party leaders are unclear on how they would proceed in a potential case of conflict created by clashing manifesto points. “Most likely, the candidates once elected will not associate with the party in the government. The party might essentially be dissolved after a point, but the candidates will stay in the House. It’s a complex set up but we have not decided exactly what to go ahead with, it depends on what candidates we get and what their opinions are, what to do with the party, everyone as a unit,” Jai explains. He adds that the dissolution will be carried out in a way that does not jeopardize their time in the house, if elected. Later in the interview, however, Jai says that nothing is hardbound and that the possibility of disbanding will be considered in case candidates disagree with each other’s manifestos.
When asked about the issues the party is planning to address, Cefil says that his philosophy of a joke party is that it is in touch with reality. As an example, he shares his views on environmentalism on campus which inspired the Instagram post discussed earlier. Jai, on the other hand, answers that the two primary agendas of the party were to remove the stigma surrounding student politics at Ashoka and to reduce the formal set-up of the SG to prevent issues from going in loops with the administration. He further clarifies that these are the issues he is interested in as a candidate and is not sure whether they were priorities for the party. According to him, the “things that people want from Ashoka are basic; it’s not a lot of things they want.” He thinks that the processes on campus need to be smoothened and that the SG should play the role of a facilitator. A lot of his views are based on the conversations he has had with 50-100 students from the 800-something undergraduate batch of 2024, many of whom have joined the party.
After Cefil ideated the party, he handed over the reins to Jai. He explains that initially they had a “50-50 equity” but Jai is now leading it alone. Cefil explained the reason behind this as– “it happens as a spectrum, first it becomes just a fun party, then they become aware about the issues, then they slowly start to care about the issues. We started as a fun party and now we are moving to a fun party that actually wants to work on the issues.” Jai has been given the leadership position in order to facilitate this transition as Cefil admits he does not know much about the issues he speaks of.
Speaking of parties that have been active on campus, Cefil calls Moksh the “rich kids party,” Dhamma the party that “somehow doesn’t die,” and Prakrit the “party that hegemonized Ashoka but couldn’t scale up.” On the Ashokan Socialist Syndicate, a newly registered political party, Cefil says, “I honestly admire that party too so it’s not like we are locking horns with each other. We are here to make stuff fun, they’re here to make some structural changes and all that other stuff. I think both these things have space in the Ashokan political sphere.”
Jai and Cefil conclude the interview by comparing student politics at Ashoka to a salad and a pizza. Jai says, “If I place a salad and a pizza in front of you, most likely you will go for the pizza, you will not even see the salad. So yeah, we are trying to be a pizza, we have a whole-wheat base, we have some healthy snacks on there and we have some good cheese on it, we are trying to go that way. I hope it yields us something.” Cefil agrees and elaborates by saying, “Right now, there is no one selling a good salad. Right now, the only choice is to have a bad pizza or to not have a pizza at all… Our goal is to maybe get an okay-salad by the time the actual elections come.”
After the interview, the party went on to post on their Instagram a quote Cefil used in the interview– “It will be a joke party until it isn’t.” The post contains several hashtags such as #assgivesshit and #WaitingforScandalousArticle.
Note (1): This updated version contains a note at the start which was earlier a footnote.
Note (2): The phrase “now-defunct political party (Tarz)” has been removed as Tarz continues to be on the party registry.