by Navya Asopa and Hanish Srinivasan
TW: Mention of SH
Entering college online with a dwindling political space and an ongoing movement to demand for workers’ rights, the UG24 batch truly had a lot to grapple with. In this context, it is important to take cognizance of the batch’s interest in Ashokan politics to contemplate the direction in which the Student Government is headed. The question at stake here is whether there is a lack of interest or if a sense of ambiguity hovers over the new batch in the realm of student politics.
Early on in the semester, the proposal for the Freshman Advisory Council (FAC) was already a compromise. The FAC, which was proposed to give the UG24 batch some representation, is meant to function as an advisory committee, one that would work alongside the House of Representatives, did not lend the freshers any voting rights in the HoR despite them being the largest batch of Ashoka. Moreover, an entire semester has passed and the FAC is yet to be constituted. A guaranteed promise has not been fulfilled, providing no space for even minimal representation – both of which could have played a major role in fracturing UG24’s interest in the student politics.
Apart from this, the recent underwhelming by-elections features as a contributing factor in shaping UG24’s interest, or lack thereof, as they witnessed Ashokan politics without being able to participate in it. SH allegations and cases with consequent resignations and dissolvement of the 7th HoR led to the by-elections. The candidates contesting seemed unsatisfactory as the highest number of votes were for NOTA. All six candidates contesting were anyway guaranteed a seat due to an acute shortage of candidates running for office. The Candidates’ Debate was a lackluster affair for the student body due to the uninspiring answers from the candidates and the genericity of all the campaigns showed Ashokan politics at its worst.
For a better understanding of their position with respect to student politics, we sent out a form to UG24 which received a meager number of 57 responses out of a batch that has about 750 students. This pointed towards a potential ambiguous sense of interest. While the results of the survey cannot be treated as absolute, they helped explore the interests and, maybe even anxieties of the UG24. According to the survey, 57.9% of the participants had no interest in Ashokan politics, with 63.2% stating they would never participate in anything related to it. It is important to note that 56.1% of the participants filled the Freshman Advisory Council form and about 43.9% of them also said that the Student Government was just a nominal body. This could imply that even though the new lot expects accountability and basic representation of the batch, their trust in the power of the Student Government and politics in general, is skim.
Lately, the Workers’ Issues have been at the forefront with regular active protests, meetings and decisions being made in its regard. But individual students, the Workers’ Welfare Committee, and the Democracy Collective seem to be the main conveyors instead of the Student Government, per say. This is expected as the SG is still not functioning with a full House and is already dealing with the previous baggage of a broken system. For UG24, this translates into strengthening their probable belief of SG being a nominal head and change only being brought by motivated Collectives that directly question the administration. However, this could also present an opportunity for the current system to depart from its present structure to include fresh and new perspectives within the ambit of the Student Government. In the recent meeting for the workers’ demands with the Vice Chancellor on the 20th of November, around 25 UG24 students were present. Engagement on the workers’ issue is reflective of the larger problems surrounding the nature of the online semester. Being a full-fledged online batch with no campus interaction and increasing uncertainty of their arrival on campus, the students find it difficult to engage proficiently. With more happening on campus everyday, they are only left feeling increasingly disconnected and overwhelmed.
Despite an overburdened and a slightly laid back SG at present, we cannot negate the fact that policies like the standard P/NR have been adopted at the urgence of the SG and that cross-access has been reinstated. Pressure on major issues like students returning to campus and faculty resignations has been built through their involvement. Hence, it becomes imperative for the UG24 to be involved and active in its affairs. But little information resides with the new batch about the past and the present of this political landscape, the gap of which is furthered by a hybrid system and weakened institutions.
Within all of this, we also got to see the rise of a joke party, Starzz, which perhaps conveyed the sentiment that Ashokan politics seemed beyond repair to UG24 and the rise of a registered party, Ashokan Socialist Syndicate. The party has tried to engage with campus issues over the course of this semester. However, being an organization that has only functioned online and with party members that majorly belong to the UG24 batch with more or less similar socio-economic backgrounds and minimal exposure, what does it say about the ambiguous interest of the new batch in student politics? While an offline semester might reform the indifference, the possibility of both a campus return and regaining of trust appear slim given the lack of time left with the overburdened HoR.