by Divya Ravindranath and Aakangsha Dutta
Student politics forms the fabric of all educational establishments. It gives the students a voice, and acts as a servitude of change. It makes for a well-oiled machine. Elections are one of the many parts of this machine that allow it to function efficiently. The latest by-elections to the Interim House Of Representatives saw the contention of six independent candidates, all whom got elected. One grey spot in the elections, however, expressed itself through the magnitude of the NOTA votes obtained. Standing at 1380, NOTA forms a significant portion of the total votes tallied.
When questioned about the institutionality and validity of the elections being impacted by the quorum of these NOTA votes, the AUEC mentioned that while unfortunate, the high presence of NOTA does not take away from the election’s institutionality. On the contrary, they said, it represents the general discontent of the student body with respect to the candidates and is indicative of a fair election that allows the people the right to exercise their vote. They also maintained that under immense pressure owing to ceaseless student government resignations, the AUEC’S responsibility extends to ensuring the absence of unethical practices, safeguarding the candidates’ and voters’ rights, and implementing fair elections – a trademark of which happens to be the NOTA option.
Under such circumstances of high NOTA votes, protocol mandates that a committee consisting of the president, leader of the opposition, and the chief election officer be formed. This committee’s job would be to send across an anonymous google form that investigates the reasons behind people voting NOTA, to compile the responses into a single document and then make it available for all students to view. When the Edict asked about the establishment of such a committee, the AUEC reported that the HOR was overburdened and that the current student government was focused on the reform agenda – on which there has been no headway either. Concerned primarily with stabilizing the crumbling foundation of the government, the AUEC held that the formation of the NOTA committee does not currently hold priority and thus, does not stand possible.
The Edict, however, did conduct an anonymous survey that aimed to understand the behavioral pattern of NOTA voters of the latest by-elections. From the survey responses, 56.6% were found to have voted NOTA. Responders felt that the option of NOTA proves to be useful and important because it signifies the dissonance between the urge to engage meaningfully in politics, and the lack of such suitable candidates. According to them, its presence allows the democratic nature of an election to be sustained as even discontent with respect to candidates finds its medium of expression through NOTA. It serves as a subtle form of dissent, and indirectly calls for larger, grassroot-level reforms that can transform the situation and reinstate the people’s trust. Many of the responders voted NOTA because they found the candidates to be unsatisfactory, unimpressive and non-representative of the student body’s true needs. They felt that the candidates were unclear and ambiguous in their agendas, further prompting the students’ discontent and frustration. 86.7% of the respondents reported that if given the opportunity to vote again, they would not change their mind and would still go on to exercise the option of NOTA.
This highlights a bigger question– has the Ashokan student body lost faith in the current structure of the Student Government? Have they lost faith in the election system? Or did it not have faith in the nominated candidates? While the answer may be a combination of all, it all points towards one direction – the loss of faith in the running of the student government. Perhaps the percentage of NOTA votes is the start of a new beginning. A beginning where this distrust in the Student Government hints towards a change that has been long awaiting. A push of change that will reinstate the students’ faith in student politics, elections, and what it all stands for. After all, even well-oiled machines run into the occasional trouble and require some changes to be made. Now who does the burden of this change lie on? The current house? AUEC? These past few months have shown us how the structural bodies of AUEC, house and ministries cannot bring about any change on their own. The number of NOTA votes suggests that now the burden equally rests on the group of people who want to be represented- the Ashokan student body.