Ashoka’s Only Party Speaks Up: An Interview with Sankalp Dasmohapatra and Tamanna Parikh
By Vishnu Prakash, UG'24
A lot can change in a year. On April 30th, 2022, the lull around student politics was palpable at Ashoka. The Constitutional Drafting Committee elections had just taken place with an all-time low turnout. Sattva, a party that failed to capture the public imagination had won 7 of the 10 Committee seats that were up for election. On that day, the eve of the first on-campus finals week in two years, out of the blue (a rare thing on a residential campus), Harsh Gupta, Rochan Mohapatra, Pankhudi Narayan, Sankalp Dasmohapatra and Yasashvi Paraakh announced the formation of Leher – Ashoka’s newest political party.
One year after that announcement Leher will contest elections for the first time, as the only political party in the first on-campus election since 2020. What seemed initially like a reformed version of the same set of people that cared about student politics has morphed into a large party with new faces being brought into the fold. Experienced Ministers like Harsh and Yasashvi have taken the backseat vis-à-vis electoral politics, and Sankalp is the only recognisable face from elections past. In this context, The Edict spoke to Sankalp, Leher’s Presidential candidate, and Tamanna Parikh, his running-mate and Vice Presidential Candidate.
On Parties and Independents
The necessity of a party is something that has repeatedly been put into question by rivals of Leher. In an email to students, former Presidential Candidate Pratham Arora said “The Ashoka SG structure is not built for parties, they just add an additional layer of bureaucracy and opacity”. Sankalp disagrees, and says that parties foster conversations and serve the purpose of ensuing political activity in the student body outside of the election cycle. An independent candidate simply cannot do that. On a personal level, Tamanna brought up the fact that she felt a distance from Ashokan politics, despite her presence in the MAA; it was the party that created a supportive space to interact with politics. This point is reiterated in the manifesto, where the party has made it a responsibility of their own to make the political space at Ashoka conducive to conversation.
The Edict asked about a party’s ability to remain transparent. If, for instance, a disagreement happens between two independent candidates, then that is in public – but can the same be said for disagreements between party members? The candidates had a different take on this, claiming that a lot of disagreements within Leher are aired because of the safe space that it provides due to its largely horizontal structure. If disagreements within the party were made public, all the time, then it may be counterintuitive.
Finally, the new electoral system, by virtue of not having the list-vote system, encourages candidates to be their own selves, and not simply members of a party. Leher is intent on being a collection of candidates’ views, and not simply a top-down imposition of policy ideas.
On delayed elections and the Administration
With elections being delayed all the way until the eve of reading week, the Leher candidates were quick to blame the administration. Quoting The Edict’s articles covering the delay, they criticized the administration for dragging their feet on “small issues”. “It screams to me that the admin is trying to push this issue aside, because the longer we don’t have a Student Government, the more power they have,” declared Sankalp. The candidates mention the fact that Ministry formation will happen online, and student participation will fall into a lull as soon as the Government is formed since the summer will begin. Sankalp and Tamanna’s manifesto mentions the word ‘administration’ 18 times in 8 pages. They continuously call for the importance of the SG to facilitate conversation with the administration, but also repeatedly mention the necessary role their SG will play in culling administrative overreach.
A new SG will go a long way vis-à-vis working with the administration, claim the candidates, since a set of new faces working with various administrative bodies will catalyze more productive sessions with the admin. A Leher-led SG will form the ministries rapidly and transparently, not only to start work immediately but also to change the perception of students that the SG is not a body that can work for the students. That is the only way, they say, student conversations regarding politics can sustain themselves over the summer.
In the Democracy Collective-led protest against administrative overreach, the debate surrounding the formation of a Student Union was reintroduced. “I think that a Union, in general, is always a good idea. There should always exist bodies of students outside the purview of the admin,” said Sankalp. At the moment though, he insists that this idea is premature. “A Union is a good idea when there is an active political culture – as far as I remember, the conversations around the Union were at their peak during the CAA-NRC protests''. Students need to participate in large enough numbers to force the hands of the administration, he says, which isn’t a feasible outcome right now. “We still need the administration’s recognition for some issues'', they said.
The candidates’ mention of the CAA-NRC protests elucidates a part of their vision for the SG at Ashoka. As much as the SG is about solving the issues of Ashokan students, it is also a body that will work to keep the Ashokan populace engaged with issues of national importance. Leher’s manifestos propose a National Engagement Standing Committee, that will not only create conversations surrounding the issues that face the nation but also mobilize students where required.
The elections have recently reached a fever pitch, with accusations being thrown at Leher for misconduct. In the midst of that, important questions surrounding Leher’s status as a party, their plans for the SG once elected, and their approach towards their administration must also be considered. In the first offline election in years, Leher will hope that it is their stance on these issues that sway the electorate.