CDC defends Constitution in final meeting before student voting
Updated: Nov 5, 2022
By Aneesh Sriram, UG25
After a long-drawn process of drafting a new constitution for the SG, the CDC1 rolled out the document on the 29th of October and later convened a meeting to address the thoughts, concerns and suggestions the student body had. A discussion ensued at Takshila, populated by a sparse 25 individuals (only limited to members of the CDC, Leher, Sattva and the Edict). Ashokan politics has been infamous for the general apathy and absence of dialogue. The provisions of the new constitution are believed to encourage political participation, particularly among the incoming UG25 batch. Members of the CDC and the interim house of representatives provided a brief overview of the new structure, summed up in the diagram below.
A critical difference between the former and the latter organization of government boils down to the concentration, definition and distribution of power between the house and the cabinets. As quoted by the CDC, ‘this system of councils under the president was brought about to prevent the crossing of lines between the various bodies in the SG and make sure roles of the cabinet and council are demarcated’. Primarily, this system of presidential elections is believed to bring about the division of power among the various bodies. The cohort councils are to deal with their specific issues and if required bring them up for discussion in the HoR1. A ratio of 1:150 has been prescribed for the number of council members in the HoR to the number of students in the cohort (due to speculations of future changes in the cohort population). This has been done to adequately represent all batches. Rough calculations estimate the new HoR will consist of 35 representatives as opposed to the previous 15. This time, the president will not bear the role of heading the HoR and power will be devolved to the speaker of the house, who is elected among the members. The President and vice-president now have the sole responsibility of nominating the cabinet ministers and coordinating the program of ministries with the cohort councils, acting as the executive.
According to the attendees of the meeting, though the CDC has good intentions in drafting the clauses, some of the pressing issues which were observed in the previous constitution have not been addressed. This was evidenced by the repetition of certain questions time and again due to the unsatisfactory answers of the CDC. A major bone of contention revolved around the members of the cabinet not being popularly elected and the fact that the president, who has been elected directly, wields control over them. A reply to this ultimately focuses on the infeasibility of directly electing 7 cabinet members, the logistical difficulties and the limited tenure of an SG.
An apprehension that was brought up was whether the PhD, YIF and Masters students have been consulted about the new system and if there was consensus among them to elect councils to represent them. Similarly, problems were taken up about why there was a body which consists of all cohorts, which may have different concerns to take up with the administration. The reply to this was 2-fold. Firstly it was divulged that a few members of the non-UG cohorts have been consulted informally and unofficially to which there notes of trepidation among the audience. Secondly, the CDC justified a larger cohesive body as means to raise a single voice while representing the student body to individuals such as the Vice-chancellor.
A serious long-winded debate lasted on the enormous power vested upon the president, who can appoint the Treasurer, the Outreach Officer, the Cabinet and the interim election commission. This indeed is true, especially the fact that the election commission must be an independent body and there exists a jarring conflict of interest where the president could appoint members of the election commission if the existing one is removed. Who holds the president accountable? Why is there a speaker? These were the kind of questions raised to which a singular answer was the division of power and the prevention of overstepping of mandates. There is a possibility for the president to be impeached. At the same time, there are other checks and balances in place to hold each member of the SG accountable. These measures however discount a crucial individual for student politics- the Leader of the Opposition.
As one can notice, there is no leader of opposition in this setup. What is the mechanism for questioning the lapses of judgment of the president or the cabinet? An acrimonious debate broke out between an individual in the audience and a member of the CDC, ultimately leading the question to be dismissed. The reasoning provided by the CDC involved that the HoR will hold the president responsible. “What if the house consists of a majority of the party the president is from?” was the kind of hypothetical raised. According to the drafting committee, the case of impeachment of the president is very rare and hope that the proof of guilt of the president or the vice-president will automatically produce a resignation.
Other doubts were about the rationale of having a Vice President. The CDC justified the position by saying that the Vice-president would assist the president with the workload and at the same time serve as a line of succession if the president is dismissed.
A clarification was also made by the committee that the councils will serve as independent bodies to address the problems of the larger student body. They will hold the power to mobilize students and bring it up to the larger body only if required. This reinforces the spirit of federalism and will serve as a channel of communication. Finally, some points of the infeasibility of a judicial body were highlighted.
To conclude, uncharacteristic of Ashokan politics, the Constitution Draft Meeting was full of questions and debate. One can only hope with the new constitution coupled with a larger electorate, and a new system of government will incentivize students to engage in political participation both inside and outside the campus.