Fact Checks, Follow-Ups, Free Brownies: Council Candidates’ Debate, 2023
Updated: Aug 5
By Sana Bashir (UG'24) and Prithaa More (UG'24)
The Council Candidates’ Debate for 2023 saw the presence of 15 out of 20 representatives, amongst myriad mosquitos, who are standing for the UG Council. It was moderated by Manasi Narula (UG’23) and Rivan Sengupta (UG’23) who posed questions to 9 of the Leher candidates and 6 of the independents present. On 30 April, voters will elect a House of Representatives of 15 candidates.
The debate began with all of the candidates giving their opening statements within the one-minute time span. Most of the candidates circled around the same couple of issues of streamlining communication, setting up grievance redressal mechanisms, workers' issues and better facilities on campus.
Narula then went ahead with the first question of the topical round, asking what Standing or House committees the candidates would like to introduce as members of the House of Representatives (HoR). Sankalp Dasmohapatra (UG’24), Leher’s Presidential candidate, elaborated on three committees he would like to introduce: an Employee Welfare Committee, with student as well as worker representation, a National Engagement Committee which will initiate baithaks and sessions to publicise other initiatives and further the political scene at Ashoka. and a Financial Aid Committee.
Navya Asopa (UG’24), independent Presidential candidate, also introduced the idea of a grievance redressal committee for workers to look into their salary issues and cases of sexual harassment. She further emphasized the idea of an Inclusivity and Diversity Committee to focus on caste and class diversity, financial aid concerns and more through “open forums”. Rishit Roy (UG’25) from Leher elaborated on Sankalp’s idea of the National Engagement Committee, wishing to “reimagine national engagement” through involvement with Panchayats around Haryana and volunteering for grassroots works. Trishika Singhania (UG’25) brought up a new point about the student interaction committee and clarified it was different from the already-proposed monthly report meetings since it would include helpdesks, debates and other ways to hold the SG accountable.
In light of recent administrative policy changes that the student body was not consulted about, the candidates were questioned on their plans to promote transparency with the administration. While Aditi Warrier (Leher), Rutupurna Debalina Naik (Independent) and Prachet Sinha (Independent) talked about the importance of finally having a credible SG, Samarth Jain (Leher) elaborated on the idea of introducing a public forum ticket system on the SG website. Domil Antony Johnson, Navya’s running mate, spoke about their plan to introduce a legislation called the “Transparency Act”, but did not elaborate further. While some Leher candidates had concrete ideas with definite plans of implementation, a few were simply recapitulating their bloc members’ points.
The moderators pointed out that several manifestos mentioned ideas to do with different clubs and ministries, and questioned what the candidates wished to work on outside these organisational mandates. Domil brought up external funding to improve resources and increase participation in nationwide competitions, especially sports leagues: Narula pointed out that this was the responsibility of the Sports Ministry. Passionate about working with the Environment Ministry on matters such as waste segregation and disposal, Romil Jain’s plea for mobilisation was cut short by his expected presence at the ongoing Ashoka Swimming League, to applause by the audience.
Further, Anshika Chaudhry brought up collaborative work as her mission and believes that the previously failed clubs and societies charter can be made by “having a word and knowing the problems faced”, without much elaboration on how an HoR member can do so without unnecessary interference in induction processes. Lastly, Rutupurna wishes to work on neurodivergence accommodation, furthering work done by the MAA, especially since she believes that the Office of Learning Support (OLS) “only accommodates people who are more visibly on the spectrum”. By the end of this line of questioning, most candidates seemed to lack detailed knowledge of the mandates of different ministries and offices at the University, as several ideas put forward continued to infringe upon the duties of other organisations.
For the last question in this round, Sankalp and Domil produced their stances on any changes they would want to propose to the newly ratified constitution. The former mentioned how UG students seem to hold a dominant role in not only its approval, but also in its underwhelming participation from all cohorts at Ashoka, and proposed a Constitution Review Committee to facilitate greater participation from other cohorts. The latter wished to further define the term “equality” as written in the constitution to refer to “caste, colour, religion, gender, and sexual orientation”. They wish to appoint a class representative for every course, although the moderators voiced their concern about such a system coming under the OAA and requiring the approval of the faculty.
The final round consisted of audience questions. First, with regards to the SG’s seat on the Board of Management (BoM), Sankalp wishes to bring up student concerns in consistent meetings with the BoM and proposed degrees of escalation if matters are not resolved, culminating in large-scale student mobilisation as the key to dealing with sensitive issues the BoM might want to avoid. His sentiments regarding “taking an active role” in administration meetings were echoed by fellow Leher-member Aditi. For Navya, the BoM seat serves as a symbol of the students being an “integral stakeholder”.
Navya’s campaign has highlighted the need for transparency surrounding financial aid data: one question from the audience questioned how this was possible since financial aid information is necessarily confidential. She claims that “no student name will be outed”, instead insisting that data is required on the caste and class breakup of financial aid.
At the end of the round, candidates were questioned about their plans to institute academic changes, since these would require permission from the faculty. Domil encouraged “creative engagement” with the professors, while Aditi mentioned that “there exists a mental health advisory” (she did not elaborate further) that professors could be made aware of. Trishika, perhaps in lieu of the finals week dread looming over us all, mentioned fixing dates for midterms in order to reduce pressure on students. As an ending statement, Anshika said she “believes in the power of mass mobilisation”, and that students would come together to request curricular changes.
While the final round allowed candidates to cross-question one another, only one question was put forward: Anshika asked Rutupurna if she had any experiences that made her eligible for Council apart from the oft-mentioned “nice achievement” that is membership in the CDC. Rutupurna emphasised her approachable and amiable nature and how people often come to her with problems. In the absence of further questions, Manasi and Rivan brought up the recent email exchange between Navya and Sankalp, inquiring into how they would work together if elected. Navya reminded those present that she and Sankalp had run together for the now-defunct Allied Socialist Syndicate (ASS) last year, and had no issues putting their differences aside. For Sankalp, “the SG is bigger than [their] personal issues”.
Although candidates often did not provide actionable steps and opted for general platitudes instead, they all have strong and feasible ideas they will hopefully carry out as members of the House of Representatives. The session saw an impressive turnout, with many staying throughout its two-hour run time, perhaps signalling a rejuvenated interest in student politics or the want to snag a brownie. Voting for the Student Government elections will be open from 30 April, 5 PM, to 1 May, 5 PM. The Edict highly encourages every student to vote.
The Edict also covered the 2023 Presidential Debate, found here.