By Arya Shukla (UG '23) and Soumil Agarwal (UG '23)
A Recap of the Events Leading up to the Resignation of the Election Commission:
A tumultuous yet historic year in Ashokan politics met with another change when student outrage over the SG’s actions resulted in a lasting impact on the composition of the 7th House of Representatives (HoR) and its future. The President of the 7th HoR had resigned from their party and the House on 9th June. The following day, the SG held an open meeting to discuss student grievances and structural reforms to the House. On the 11th of June another representative resigned from the House and the Election Commission’s email about an open meeting hit our inboxes. The email included a set of reforms for elections wherein they had mentioned that the House had “lost the mandate of the student body” and recommended that the House dissolve. After the open meeting with the student body on the 12th, the Ashoka University Election Commission (AUEC) sent out their two recommendations to the HoR. These recommendations also included the dissolution of the 7th HoR.
The 7th House of Representatives unanimously voted for a dissolution of the House on the 13th of June. In their dissolution email, the erstwhile 7th HoR suggested that the Ashoka University Election Commission hold elections for the next house at the earliest. The AUEC had sent out an email later that day gauging student interest in future elections and stating that the body was working towards changing the election system from Modified Swiss-PR. Both emails stated that an interim government comprising members of the erstwhile 7th House would continue conducting all essential activities. After that there was silence. That remained until the 21st of June when the Election Commission sent out an email titled ‘Updates and Resignation.’
A Brief Summary of the Email Sent out by the Election Commission on the 21st of June:
The 7th HoR dissolving soon after the AUEC recommended the same was not taken well by some members of the student body. According to critics - belonging to the student body and the HoR, the AUEC overstepped its mandate in doing so. The AUEC, in its 21st June email addressed multiple such issues. It sent out a timeline of events between 13th and 21st June, which included the resignation of one of the Election Commissioners on 14th June. A new Election Commissioner from within the AUEC was appointed consequently, without informing or opening up the post of the EC to the student body, which is the precedent set by previous Chief Election Officers (CEOs). According to the AUEC, this was necessary and within their mandate (since the process of the appointment of the EC is at the CEO's discretion) because of the urgency of the matter surrounding the SG and the soon-to-end term of the current AUEC, owing to their consequent resignation.*
This was followed by a meeting between the Vice-Chancellor and the AUEC to discuss reforms in the electoral process before conducting elections for the 8th HoR. However, according to the AUEC, the agenda of this meeting turned out to be a discussion on reforms to the constitution, which was beyond the mandate of the AUEC. According to the AUEC, the reason elections could not be conducted as early as June or July was a faulty election system (the AUEC recommended that this be changed from Modified Swiss-PR to the FPTP, which stands for First-Past-The-Post), and also a lack of interested prospective candidates. There was also an absence of data on prospective ASP ’22 students, which did not allow the AUEC to conduct elections on an urgent basis as per the recommendation of the 7th HoR before dissolution.
Post the meeting with the VC, the AUEC formulated a document of proposed reforms to the process of elections in detail along with a list of recommendations for the future HoR. On 20th June these were shared with the Interim SG who expressed their reservations with its content. In their email, the AUEC stated that this was an instance where the Interim SG thought they had overstepped the Election Commission’s mandate. The AUEC’s decision to recommend dissolving the House instead of continuing to reassign the vacated seats was met with backlash since it was believed to be “in clear violation of the Constitution and Election Code”. According to the AUEC, this decision was made to avoid assigning seats to candidates that “clearly did not receive a popular mandate”, following five people declining to take up the initial seat offered. The members of the AUEC, at the end of this email, announced their resignation, mentioning that they were working on passing amendments to the constitution regarding constituting the new AUEC, post which they would commence the process of stepping down from their posts. They offered to provide suggestions on constitutional reforms and elections in an advisory role as members of the student body.
The events of this month have highlighted several issues with Ashoka’s student politics. There have been grievances surrounding an information gap between the workings of the student representatives and the student body that are voiced annually against the respective HoR. The magnitude of these grievances and allegations have varied but very few structural reforms have been made to these representative institutions. In statements made on various online platforms of the Ashokan community, former member(s) of previous House(s) of representatives have stated their own discontent with these bodies. Presently, the Ashokan student body remains unrepresented. The electorate finds itself stateless, which offers great advantage to administrative bodies in making decisions while Ashokans do not have a unified voice. However, this does not absolve the institutions committing to represent Ashoka’s student body from making crucial, structural reforms.
*Correction: An earlier version stated "A new Election Commissioner from within the AUEC was appointed consequently, without informing or opening up the post of the EC to the student body, which is the constitutionally mandated procedure. According to the AUEC, this was necessary and within their mandate because of the urgency of the matter surrounding the SG and the soon-to-lapse term of the current AUEC." but we corrected it to "A new Election Commissioner from within the AUEC was appointed consequently, without informing or opening up the post of the EC to the student body, which is the precedent set by previous Chief Election Officers (CEOs). According to the AUEC, this was necessary and within their mandate (since the process of the appointment of the EC is at the CEO's discretion) because of the urgency of the matter surrounding the SG and the soon-to-lapse term of the current AUEC, owing to their consequent resignation."