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  • Tejas Nageshwaran

Presidential Debate, 2024: Only Noise; Little Substance

Tejas Nageshwaran UG'25


On April 9th, candidates for the President of Student Government (SG) – Prachet Sinha (UG’25) and Domil Antony Johnson (UG’25) along with their respective running mates – Insha Hussain (UG’25) and Quanisha Saboo (UG’25) faced each other off in the Presidential Debate for the 2024-25 election cycle.


While Prachet and Insha are contesting as independents, Domil and Quanisha are representing the newly formed collective, Toofan. Notably, this year, the incumbent party Leher has not fielded candidates for the top posts. 


The debate was moderated by the outgoing editors of The Edict’s Politics Newsdesk, Aneesh Sriram (UG’25) and Jyotsna Sidharth (UG’25).


Opening Statements 


In his opening remarks, Prachet affirmed his commitment to addressing “student interest issues” in the short term and structural changes that would empower the SG in the long term. He believes the SG should be able to drive change “independently and unflinchingly”, as opposed to serving as a “bureaucratic body”. This line was echoed by Vice Presidential candidate Insha, who pushed for the SG to function as a “Student Union” that worked “beyond the scope outlined by the administration”.


Toofan’s Domil began by highlighting the importance of contesting the election as a collective. This, in his view, bolsters accountability both within the collective and to the larger student body. Toofan, he emphasised, was composed of students from the Undergraduate (UG), Masters and PhD Cohorts. Its founding principles are the ideals of “diversity, democracy and secularism”. Domil believes in pushing for the creation of a positive “Ashokan Identity” on the national stage. Quanisha said her focus was the goals and aspirations of the student body for a “life beyond Ashoka”.


Manifestos?


Neither party had put out a manifesto at the time of the debate. Prachet conceded that manifestos should have “ideally” been out before the debate and attributed the delay to taking inputs from previous SG members. Domil too highlighted that internal party discussions took time. Prachet committed to putting out his manifesto by Wednesday latest while Domil said Toofan would take till later that week. 


As of noon on Friday 12th April, however, neither party had put out their manifesto. Both manifestos came out later in the evening on Friday, which was well past the deadline Prachet had promised. The debate played out in volleys of “buzzwords”, as a member of the student body would later point out, as opposed to concrete programmes and policy proposals. Manifestos being put out a month after campaigning started (13th March) considerably squeezes the space for meaningful discussion and consultation with the larger student body. 


Diversity and Inclusion


Diversity and inclusion became one of the major talking points in the debate. This assumed political relevance in the context of the Social Justice Forum’s (SJF) protest demanding a caste census on campus. 


Insha, a member of the SJF herself, described Ashoka as a “microcosm” of national politics, and said that it “actively suppresses and excludes the demands of the student body and staff, especially those belonging to marginalized communities”. She proposed working with the existing Diversity and Inclusion Committee (DIC) to ensure the promised demands of the SJF were met. She also suggested instituting an “Affirmative Action Overview Committee'', which would “oversee and confirm the implementation of affirmative action policies”, as outlined in the SJF’s proposals. However, the composition, mandate of this new committee, and the agency different stakeholders would exercise in it remain unclear. 


Domil also pushed for greater diversity in the admissions process. He said he would work with the outreach office to expand its scope to reach more marginalised communities, tier-two cities and villages.


The Toofan Collective came under scrutiny when a member of the student body asked for details of how its inductions had been conducted, and whether they had been opened to the larger student body. Domil, among Toofan’s founding members himself, responded that inductions were an “internal party matter” which he was not at liberty to disclose without consulting with the party’s Executive. 


The Edict found that Toofan did not circulate an email inviting applications for membership from the entire student body. The mechanism through which was remains unknown.


Employee Welfare


Insha expressed her intent to create a Grievances Redressal Committee under the existing Employee Welfare Committee for worker welfare. Workers would represent themselves in the committee through an election process. Its mandate, she said, would be up to the workers. 


Domil pushed for students to forge a “relationship” with workers as a prerequisite to better understand their issues, something he claimed he had done consistently. Insha rebutted this idea, given the “power imbalance” between students and workers. 

Previous Experience with SG


Both presidential candidates have served on the outgoing SG in different capacities. Prachet was an Independent on the UG Council, and later, the House of Representatives. Domil, too, served as a member of the UG Council. Neither candidate, however, seemed to have contributed substantially during their terms.


Throughout the debate, Prachet expressed interest in seeing through the “incomplete” work of the current SG’s committees and maintaining the “momentum” that the SG has built in recent weeks. When asked about his own time with the SG, however, he claimed that being a later entrant, he could not constitute a committee himself. Prachet’s claim was later disputed by a fact-check The Edict conducted, which revealed that all committees were set up only after his joining.


Later in the semester, Prachet said, he was “put into” a leadership position on the National Engagement Committee. “I don’t personally think I that did enough,” he said, “as a leader should have. I think that’s a lack in the work I have done.” 


Domil’s participation in the SG too is not very encouraging. Data released by the SG shows his attendance in Council meetings had been the third lowest, only above members who had resigned or been recalled. Further, he had not attended a single SG open meeting. 


In response, Domil alleged that the SG had “not at all” been inclusive in its functioning. He claimed that his attendance had not been recorded in the sheet, and he was ready to issue a “written statement” about the work he had done. Earlier in the debate, he had read out a list of his achievements as a member of the Council, including having travelled by a Haryana State bus as a “one man protest” against the Uber Shuttle System. 


Aspirational Ashoka and the Average Ashokan


Much of Domil and Quanisha’s pitch focused on the aspirations of the Ashokan student body. Quanisha touched upon her work with the Internship Office, and the perspective it had given her on the student body’s goals. She highlighted her intent to better facilitate these, and make the academic support system more robust. The changes she would introduce to achieve this remain unclear.


Taking these aspirations beyond the University, Domil called for an “Ashokan identity” on the “national stage”. Ashoka, he argued, should create headlines for achievements in fields like sports, not only for “creating controversies”. This would ensure the “Ashokan interest prevails'', he said. 


Questions were raised as to how the candidates would negotiate a situation where different student groups took divergent stances on a political issue. In his answer, Prachet cited the precedent of the Ram Mandir consecration events as an example of such a situation. He said that the SG “does not necessarily need to preside over” every such issue. If there was a disagreement on University policy, however, he said the SG would take into account both the “popular belief” and how that “popular belief affects the minority” before making any recommendations to the administration. 


One student was also concerned about how diverse voices would be made to feel welcome in the contentious political space. In response, Insha said that in spite of hosting numerous reading circles and open meetings, it seemed the “average Ashokan does not want to engage with us [the SJF]”. Quanisha, in her reply, said that she would endeavour to make the political space less intimidating, so everyone could make the best of it. 


Ashoka votes on the 18th and 19th of April. This article is a part of the Political Newsdesk’s coverage of the AY 2024-25 AUSG Elections. The Edict encourages everyone to cast their vote. 



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댓글 4개


게스트
4월 15일

Another failed attempt at value neutral journalism by The Edict! Bravo. Idiots

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게스트
4월 15일

Take this down ASAP - you have written an article in which you outed two people. This is unacceptable. Asking people if you can quote them is basic journalistic procedure. Take this down and apologise irrespective of the recent revisions if you have any backbone and morals.

좋아요

게스트
4월 15일

Take this down ASAP - you have written an article in which you outed two people. This is unacceptable. Asking people if you can quote them is basic journalistic procedure. Take this down and apologise irrespective of the recent revisions if you have any backbone and morals.

좋아요

게스트
4월 15일

Take this down ASAP - you have written an article in which you outed two people. This is unacceptable. Asking people if you can quote them is basic journalistic procedure. Take this down and apologise irrespective of the recent revisions if you have any backbone and morals.

좋아요
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