- The Edict
Instability, Administrative Interference, and red-tape: Challenges beleaguering Ashoka’s ministries
By Raunaq Singh Bawa, UG'24
Over the past year, Ashoka’s political climate has been characterised by rampant instability, pervasive apathy among the student body, and acute manpower shortages in the Student Government (SG). As a result of this climate, the SG’s Cabinet ministries were unable to fulfil their productive potential.
Over the course of numerous interviews with ministry representatives, the Edict pieced together some of the key challenges that the ministries faced over the past year.
The Admin-Interim SG Dynamic
The interim status of the present SG posed a major hurdle to the credibility of the ministries, thus hindering their ability to get work done. As is widely known, the fall of the Seventh House of Representatives (HoR) sparked by-elections in October 2021, from which the interim Seventh House arose. The tenure of the interim House was extended in February, following the NOTA elections.
As Manasi Narula (UG ’23), the Environment Minister, mentions, “we submitted a proposal to the OSA [Office of Student Affairs] for the inter universities project so that we could get permission to conduct an event, but then we were just politely refused consideration, because we were an interim body.”
Similarly, Bhaavya Gupta (UG ’22), the Cultural Affairs Minister, reports that “initially they [the administration] would literally come and question us on everything and say, [we’re] not supposed to be doing this, because [we’re] interim,” and that the OSA also disapproved of the ministry signing off as the “Cultural Ministry” and not as the “Interim Cultural Ministry” in its official communications.
Quite evidently, the administration did not consider an interim SG to be a legitimate enough entity to pursue several of the projects envisioned. In the absence of any serious considerations for the SG’s projects, the administration became an obstacle, rather than a facilitator, of ministry work.
Administration’s red-tapism and disdain for the SG
The administration exercised excessive bureaucracy and largely disregarded the SG. With regards to the former, Bhaavya says, “[a challenge] would be just working with offices, I think any ministry would tell you that is just a big headache. Not because they're bad people or anything, but only because there is just so much red tapism and bureaucracy and so many people that you need to get permission from [for] anything we want to do. I don't know if you know this, but we tried really hard to get a freshers…and despite four proposals sent over the course of two weeks, we got bad news and a 1.5 hour lecture from the DSA’s [Dean of Student Affairs] office. So I think just dealing with offices was a lot of hard work.”
The dismissive attitude of administration members is yet another challenge. Campus Life Minister Advaith describes the Campus Life Ministry’s attempts to work with the administration on improving the quality of mess food: “We weren't able to do much with regard to the food poisoning case, because we essentially got a lot more pushback from an admin member…they were very defensive, and it became very exhausting for us to keep going.”
Manasi adds, “Admin members have expressed to us before that they’re concerned about a lack of accountability of Ministerial bodies to the admin. New leadership brings an annual shift in priorities and they’re afraid that long term projects pitched and approved might be abandoned because a new minister might not see the value in it, or simply lack the context to continue a project”
Student apathy and the failed general elections
The extension of the SG’s tenure following the NOTA elections exacted a heavy toll on the already overworked and understaffed ministries. From the experience of Advaith Jayakumar, Deputy Campus Life Minister from September 2021 to May 2022, “technically, we were supposed to have finished in February, that never happened…we were on two ends of the spectrum where at one point time to like so much work, and then very quickly dropped almost nil because we were too exhausted..”
The political instability wreaked by the NOTA elections, coupled with the student apathy they were a symptom of, posed a hurdle for ministries seeking to induct fresh members. Given the popular disillusionment with the SG and the prolonged terms of the ministries, most were severely understaffed.
Responding to the obvious question of conducting inductions Bhaavya explains: “We had three or four people working for something that required the manpower of maybe ten-twenty…[we] planned on inducting twice but both times we put it down.” This was attributed to the uncertainty of the SG’s term, resulting from the NOTA elections and the decision not to conduct re-elections in order to redraft the constitution. Further, student apathy also deterred the ministry from conducting inductions. While the circumstances surrounding manpower shortages likely varied across ministries, it is certain that apathy and extended tenures were the driving causes.
Lack of financial autonomy for ministries
A frequent grievance cited by many ministries was a lack of constitutionally-defined mandates resulting in limited autonomy, including financial autonomy. According to Akhil Bhardwaj, Finance Minister for 2021-22, the ministries were constrained from contributing to the fundraisers for students’ and workers’ aid, by disallowing them from utilising their surplus budgeted funds after ministerial use.
He says, “we had approached the admin to allow us to allow ministries to provide [their] funds towards these fundraisers. But they did not approve of that, because they said, these funds have just been allocated to you. They aren't yours, in essence, right? That is their logic.” Essentially, the admin was empowered to limit the ministries’ use of their funds, by virtue of the fact that it was the admin itself who provided these funds.
While not an exoneration of the faults of the SG and its organs, this article hopes to bring to the fore the very real issues which were a major impediment to their functioning. An appreciation of these is integral to comprehensively understand the working and prospects of the ministries as the executive arm of the SG.