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  • Sahar Agarwal and Fatema Tambawalla

Looking Back and Voting Forward: The Annual Accountability Debate 2024

On 4 April 2024, the Ashoka University Election Commission (AUEC) hosted the annual accountability debate. The accountability debate serves as a formal public forum where outgoing members of the Student Government (SG) are questioned about the SG’s activities throughout the previous academic year.  

Moderated by Manasi Narula (ASP'24) and Sana Chowdhury (UG’24) — Staff Writers at The Edict’s Politics Newsdesk — the debate began first with the House of Representatives (HoR). The HoR serves as the highest decision-making body of the Student Government. It consists of representatives of various councils along with the President and Vice President. Prior to the debate, a Google Form for questions was circulated by the AUEC. In the latter half of the debate, the floor was opened for audience questions.

Following a standard question-and-answer format, the moderators began by questioning the change in leadership of the Student Government’s Public Relations (PR) team. While the previous PR Director was Tia Garg (UG '24); the newly appointed Director is Sairaah Mehta (UG’25). However, this change was not publicly announced to the Student Body. The President of the Student Government, Sankalp Dasmohapatra (UG‘24), said, “the decision to replace our PR Team was based on feedback we received from elected and appointed representatives. After the process was discussed internally, we did not feel that a formal announcement was necessary.” Sankalp further clarified that neither the Constitution nor the Constitutional Procedure for the appointment of the Public Relations Director specifies that a change in the role must be communicated publicly. Since it is not an “inherently public facing role”, such as that of Ministers, the change in leadership was not publicly announced. 

Missing Monthly Reports, Minutes of Meetings 

The moderators then brought up the issue of missing monthly reports and minutes of SG meetings on the SG Public Drive. The Constitution of the Ashoka University Student Government mandates that the Councils and the HoR maintain transparency in their working and “keep public records of its meetings and decisions”. However, minutes of the SG meetings from September 2023 onwards were missing. Aditi Warrier (UG’24), Speaker of the House, clarified this as a logistical error on behalf of the SG. Meeting records were present but had not yet been made public for viewing by the student body.  Regarding SG reports, the first bi-semesterly report of the semester was scheduled to be released after the mid-semester break; however, “there were multiple delays with the ministries coming through with the information,” said PR Director Sairaah Mehta. When questioned further on the delay, she responded, “My responsibility is just to work for the president's office and collate that information. Any kind of delay on the part of the ministries is not my accountability.” The minutes have since been updated as has the bi-semesterly report covering work done by the SG across January, February and March. 

(Delayed) Statement on Palestine 

Next, the moderators questioned the 4 month delay by the SG in releasing a statement about the genocide currently taking place in Gaza. While violence in the region broke out on 7 October, the SG released their official statement on 29 February. An explanation was given for the same — on 11 October a discussion among SG members resulted in a consensus to share resources with the student body regarding the conflict and conduct a documentary screening before releasing a solidarity statement. On 26 February, the National Engagement Committee formally introduced a statement they had worked on to the SG. It was put through a vote on 28 February and subsequently released on 29 February. Defending the SG’s actions,  HoR member Prachet Sinha responded that the delay in releasing the statement did not take away from its pertinence.  “I personally don't think it's out of trend to send a solidarity statement while the genocide is still happening,” they said. 

(Forgotten) Grievance Redressal Committee

A question from the audience recalled the Edict article on the sexual harassment and wrongful termination of housekeeping staff on campus. The question focused on why a Grievance Redressal Committee (GRC) for the same has not yet been established; a GRC would serve as a mechanism for working staff at Ashoka to address any complaints and concerns they might have. The SG held that the GRC had been in the works for some time. The Committee has not been established yet only because the SG has not been able to conduct a meeting with the entirety of the housekeeping staff, despite approaching both housekeeping staff and senior members of the administration, such as Bhaskar Mishra. “It is impossible to form a committee of workers for workers without their consent” said Sankalp. 

After the debate with the members of the HoR was complete, the ministers were also scrutinized about their work in the past year.  Each minister presented a summary of the work undertaken by the ministry in their tenure. Jazbaa, the Cultural Ministry covered the Garba Night event organized last semester, along with their semesterly newsletter, Winter Ball and Holi event. The cultural minister was questioned on the expenditure for these events as the reimbursement sheets for the same were not updated. The Cultural Minister Vamika Dadoo UG ‘24 clarified that while exact figures were not present, the expenses for Winter Ball totalled approximately 19,000 rupees. She also confirmed that the Ministry has been reimbursed for the same by the Student Life Office. 

Other key events covered included an e-waste drive by the Environment Ministry, the new timetable and trajectory visualizer introduced by the Technology Ministry and replacement of old water coolers which falls under the purview of the Campus Life Ministry. 

Political Mood on Campus? 

The accountability debate serves as a public forum where the student body has an opportunity to evaluate the faith they placed in the Student Government over the past academic year. As a precursor to the annual election cycle, it sets the stage for the expectations students will have of their elected representatives. 

To gauge the current political attitude of the student body The Edict sent out a Political Opinions Survey. 166 responses were collected anonymously; data showed that 28.3% of respondents thought the previous Student Government was “somewhat effective” while 22.9% voted “not effective.” 

When asked which political formation best aligned with their values, the average respondent ranked Leher first, Independents second, the United Students’ Front (USF) third and Toofaan last. This data also indicated that Leher or USF partisans were unlikely to vote for Toofaan candidates. When a voter preferred either Leher or USF, the other party’s ranking increased only slightly, signaling many Leher+USF votes, but very little vote transfer to Toofaan. 

When asked about the likelihood of voting NOTA, overall 54% of respondents were found to be very likely or somewhat likely to vote NOTA. Leher partisans scored an average of 0.84 on a scale of 0-3 (0 being most likely to vote NOTA) while USF and Toofaan partisans meanwhile scored 1.5 and 2.37 respectively. Leher partisans are therefore more likely to vote NOTA than the average voter. 

What Now? 

If NOTA is the most popular vote, according to Section 4.8 of the Election Code the election is declared void and a re-election must take place according to a special timeline determined by the AUEC. Voting outcomes declared on 20 April showed that NOTA was indeed the most popular vote for Presidential Candidates. 38.30% of the electorate voted; out of 1067 valid voters for the Presidential Election, 440 voted NOTA, 366 voted for Prachet Sinha and Insha Husain and 261 voted for Domil Antony Johnson and Quanisha Saboo. 

A re-election timeline has thus been declared. Ashoka votes again to elect its President and Vice President on 29 and 30 April. 

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