SG Proposes Drafting of New Constitution in First Offline Townhall
By Raunaq Bawa UG '24
On 15th March Tuesday, the Student Government convened a meeting with the student body at Takshila—the first in-person townhall organised this semester. The meeting was called with the agenda of discussing “major change[s] [in] student politics at Ashoka.”
At 10 PM, with an attendance of fewer than forty students, the SG—represented by the Interim President, the Interim House members, the Ministers, and members of the Election Commission—announced its intention to push for the drafting of a new Constitution for Ashoka’s student politics. The main agenda of the meeting followed from this announcement, with members encouraging suggestions regarding procedure and scope from the student body, which were duly noted through the course of the evening.
The above announcement was made in the aftermath of the recent elections, whose result was unprecedented where a majority of seats were won by NOTA, thus rendering the election void. The Interim House, elected in October 2021, has continued serving beyond its term as a result of the NOTA election. The SG and Election Commission have decided to suspend the constitutionally-mandated re-elections, despite there being no legal provision for the same. The reasoning behind this was garnered from President Neha Sheikh’s statement– “Since we’re planning on scrapping this Constitution, we would like some laxity with existing procedure.”
SG members asserted that there is a need to do away with the existing Constitution because of the alleged administrative constraints it imposes on SG functioning. It was described as a “convoluted” and “contradictory” document by representative Karan Lobana, who went on to claim that “no SG or EC member likes the Constitution.” SG members argued that there were several articles in the Constitution which constrained their effective functioning, without naming any specifics.
The SG’s proposed plan entailed the formation of a Drafting Committee, mandated to draft the new Constitution. Given that this proposal is in its nascent stages, no outline or aim for the new Constitution was proposed by the SG, and it was stated that this new Constitution would be created on the basis of suggestions by the student body. The Drafting Committee, according to the SG’s current plan, is to consist of fifteen members—seven would be directly elected by the student body and eight would be appointees. Of the latter, four seats would be reserved for incumbent SG members, who would occupy seats on a rotational basis (no criteria, timelines, or restrictions for these were specified through the course of the meeting), while the remainder would be reserved for students appointed by the House of Representatives.
As per the proposed timeline for this entire process, the Drafting Committee is meant to complete its final draft by the end of August, prior to the induction of the UG ’25 batch into the University. Following the draft’s completion, a referendum is to be held among the student body for determining the acceptance of the new Constitution. Should the student body vote in favour of adopting the new Constitution, re-elections will be held around September-October under the new document.
Members of the audience raised objections to the alleged lack of popular representation in the proposed Drafting Committee, considering that less than fifty percent of members in the committee will be directly elected, with the others being direct or indirect representatives of the SG. To this, House member Rhea responded that considering the recent low voter turnouts, elections were not representative enough. Further, she (and others from the SG) argued that the appointed members would bring with them some expertise, allowing them to handle the drafting process more competently. The SG representatives also emphasised that all these proposals are subject to change and up for further discussion with the student body.
There was also much outcry from among the audience, accusing the SG of not doing enough to engage the student body in this process. From the audience, Priavi, former president of the Sixth House argued that it would be “paternalistic” to assume student participation will increase through the drafting of this Constitution in the proposed manner, while also asserting that the SG had a duty to generate student interest and to “reach out to stakeholders.” The SG had a different perspective on the matter. Karan claimed it was “evident that people don’t like this system,” while Neha defended the proposal by highlighting the central role of consultations with the student body in the drafting process. As the audience-SG discourse visibly heated up, a representative went on to claim that “this SG has seen only apathy” and that “the student body has failed the SG.” Neha further tried to defend the SG by arguing that “it was not easy” to get students to show up and engage with it.
Towards the end, there was some discussion as to suggestions and amendments to the original proposal. These suggestions included having a majority of Drafting Committee members being directly elected, identifying particular problems with the existing Constitutional system, and having a phase-wise division of the new Constitution’s draft to be put up before the student body for deliberation. During the course of this discussion, Neha stated that “we saw brilliant structural reforms proposed in the past election” as well, seemingly referencing the structural reform manifesto of the Allied Socialist Syndicate.
Towards the end, while some audience members voiced their questions with respect to the proposal, these could not be taken up due to paucity of time. However, SG members mentioned their intention to hold further discussions with the student body to discuss their grievances and work on suggestions.