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  • Sahar Agarwal

The Candidates Debate 2024-25: National Engagement, Worker Welfare and Kanye West

Updated: Apr 20

The Candidates Debate, which was the third and final debate of the election cycle 2023-24, took place on 12 April 2024. The Candidate Debate is a part of the electoral procedure, wherein the student body gets a preliminary glimpse of its potential representatives. Though there was a notable turnout of the student body, not all candidates running for UG Council were present.

Missing candidates included the Presidential Candidate from the Toofan Collective, Domil Antony Johnson (UG’25) and other UG Council candidates, namely, Aekam Mohan Singh Gulati (UG’25), Nameer Raza Syed (UG’27) and Ritu Anand (UG’25).

Basis for Discussion

The outgoing Editor-in-Chief of The Edict, Geetanjali Roy (UG’24) and the outgoing Managing Editor, Mohan Rajagopal (UG’24) moderated the debate. At the very outset, the moderators clarified that they aligned their questions with the candidates’ affidavits and not the manifestos of their respective parties or collectives.

The affidavit is an official document, which outlines the reasons the candidate is standing for elections and the key changes they would like to achieve if elected. The Ashoka University Election Commission (AUEC) shares the affidavit with the entire student body.

Not all manifestos were released prior to the debate. The Toofaan Collective released its manifesto to the undergraduate first-year (2023) batch merely five minutes before the debate commenced. Leher, on the other hand, released their manifesto on 10 April 2024.

Individual Statements 

In their statements, the candidates spoke about the issues that they wished to address upon their election. These issues ranged from national engagement to environmental issues on campus. Candidates Ananya Makker (UG’27), Charvi Khullar (UG’27), Ayush Solapurkar (UG’27) and Paavni Kanth (UG’27) particularly emphasized the cause of national engagement and spoke extensively about the importance of political discourse on campus.

The reformation of statutory bodies such as the Committee Against Sexual Harassment (CASH) and Committee Against Disciplinary Infractions (CADI) also emerged as a popular point of debate. Many candidates said that they wanted to make these bodies more accessible and easier to navigate. Charvi, a Leher candidate, said that the current system of mailing or relying on the portal to contact the CASH representatives is not an accessible method, particularly for workers. She suggested setting up helpdesk numbers for filing complaints to increase ease of access and maintain anonymity.

Multiple candidates also brought up sensitization workshops on sexual harassment and the CASH procedure. Ahana Walanju (UG’25), a Leher candidate running for the second time, proposed to revamp the Cohort Leadership Training Program by incorporating more comprehensive guidance on the functioning of bodies such as CASH and CADI.

Establishing a working Grievance Redressal Committee, “for the workers, by the workers”, was a priority for many candidates. This committee has not currently been formed* because of the Student Government’s inability to hold a large-scale meeting with all of the workers, according to Prachet Sinha (UG’25), the independent Presidential candidate, also running for the AUSG election for a second time. 

Charvi and Ananya also raised the issue of inaccessibility of campus infrastructure such as the amphitheater and the laundry room, for disabled students. As a solution, they proposed the construction of a lift or a ramp to the laundry room in the new campus. 

Candidates brought up the soaring prices of beverages, eatables and other goods sold on campus. “Students have to spend 100 to 200 rupees for a plate of chole bhature.” said candidate Yashaswi Hegde (UG’27) collected data regarding the average price point of eatables on campus from 13 colleges, comparing their food prices to Ashoka’s, finding that Ashoka students pay 81.75% more than other colleges in the NCR region, including both private and public universities. 

Another candidate, Ajitesh Vishwanath (UG’27)**, who is also a member of the First Year Council (FYC), stated that these exorbitant prices are a result of the high rent these outlets are charged by Ashoka. Both candidates suggested mobilizing the student body to take this problem up with administration and reducing rent by 10%.

Environmental concerns too were debated– with Ananya Makar in particular talking about the dwindling bee population on campus, and Parin Arora (UG’27) pitching a workshop on waste segregation. 

Another issue that seemed important to raise was put forth by candidate Dheer Kulkarni (UG’27), who assured the student body that he would facilitate the joint partying of ‘Swifties’ and Kanye West fans. In addition to this, it was brought to light that the candidate in an open letter to the student body, had suggested surveying students’ discomfort in the proximity of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food being served in the mess. 

The candidate reasoned this to “cause certain reservations among strictly vegetarian students, thus causing harm to their cultural faith.” Moderator Mohan Rajagopal read the same aloud to serious audience booing, and declared it to be “an openly casteist statement.” In response, Dheer mentioned that he was open to engage in further conversation about the same, but “more-or-less” still held his view. 

Thematic Round

For the next round, the thematic debates, the moderators classified candidates into groups of five, based on common “themes” in their campaigns. The first debate was on potential CASH reforms and called for “thorough and systematic change” in the committee and its approach to cases of sexual assault. 

The next debate was on the topic of worker welfare. As Prachet mentioned in his statement as well during the Presidential Debate, “making sure that students were not speaking on behalf of the workers was of the utmost importance.” 

Ahan Uke (UG’27), an independent candidate, raised a point about the nature of the Grievance Redressal Committee (GRC), considering it to be “bureaucratic.” He reasoned this to say that a committee, in the conventional sense of it, would have multiple hoops to jump through to ensure a complaint reaches the administration. 

Sneha Menon (UG’25), another independent candidate, rebutted Ahan’s statement, questioning the candidate’s knowledge of what a GRC is. They further mentioned that as a committee “of the workers by the workers”, it cannot be bureaucratic. It was also public information that workers had been demanding a GRC for years. 

Uke refuted this response “rhetorically”, saying, “If you think I don't know what a GRC is, do you think the workers know what it is?” Following this interaction, points were raised regarding policy action against the “dehumanizing” treatment of workers at Ashoka.

Consequent rounds covered ministry mandates, the visibility of the Student Government, infrastructure and IT. Candidates came up with multiple proposals – hosting more open meetings, conducting informal events and mixers, and a mandatory introductory town hall with the aim of  “debriefing” the student body. 

Ajitesh Vishwanath (UG’27), a member of the FYC, stated the importance of gaining institutional backing for subscriptions that can aid a student through their academic journey. Ajitesh is, in fact, known to have started the “free” Canva Premium initiative for multiple students. 

The concluding audience round raised questions on the feasibility of a “Union” model as proposed by Vice-Presidential candidate Insha Husain (UG’25) and other candidates from the United Students Front (USF). The audience member, speaking from past experience, posited that the university administration would not consider a union to be a legitimate body. In response, Insha analogized the experience of the Student Justice Forum (SJF), who had worked to get meetings with and be heard by the Vice-Chancellor.  

Further, the candidate spoke of the strength in mobilizing the student body as shown by the SJF protests, and how a union would allow for much more bargaining power with the administration as compared to a conventional student government. 

*An earlier edition of this article stated that the GRC already exists. This mistake has since been rectified.

**In an earlier edition of this article, The Edict incorrectly attributed this quote to Ayush Solapurkar (UG'27). This mistake has since been rectified.

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