The Candidates’ Debate: Making Ashoka Great (Again?) and Other Claims
Updated: Feb 9, 2022
by Prithaa More and Anoushka Singh (UG '24)
On February 1st, the first candidates’ debate was held. It was moderated by Rohan Manoj (UG ’22), and the participants were Arundati Menon, Advithiya Jain, Navya Asopa, Sankalp Dasmohapatra, Siddhanth Kasisomayajula, Vikram Tapadia (representing the ASS, and belonging to UG ’24), Rhea (UG ’23), Hazim Bin Fayaz (UG ’24), and Susan Philip (UG ’24) (from the Independent Bloc), and Karan Chawla (UG ’24, from the Progressive Alliance).
The debate started off with the opening statements. The ASS said that they were a young party, and emphasized on building democratic and transparent processes to ensure Ashoka is a more lively and safe place. The Progressive Alliance said they had started the party a mere 11-10 days ago, but had received over 10 responses in the first hour of releasing a form for student concerns, which meant that students wanted solutions. Susan from the Independent Bloc said that they were incredibly optimistic but couldn’t promise the big policy changes which some parties could. Hazim said that they too could not promise concrete issues as an independent, but mentioned working on representing students on financial aid, and looking into the current, fixed cost, meal system. Rhea said that they were there to represent the senior batches and to keep the house from imploding. They mentioned the low turnout at the debate, and want to ensure that the cabinet is not affected by the low turnout within the electorate.
In the next round, the moderator asked the candidates and parties questions. The first question was to ASS, they were asked how they would foster student engagement as they proposed extending house seats to 21 given that the by-elections didn’t even have enough candidates, and additionally on the senate they proposed. They said that this year is a particularly low turnout-year as last year had seen 45 candidates, and at the end of the day, people won’t participate in an activity if it makes them miserable. Thus, they wish to set a better precedent with the 8th house.
The Progressive Alliance candidate and Advithiya from the ASS were asked about the points in their affidavit and why they had not joined a ministry since those points could be taken up there too. The ASS candidate said that this was something they were passionate about and that they would work with ministries, but they decided to run after seeing the lack of student engagement Karan said that they too wanted to stand after seeing what happened with the last house. Next, Rhea (currently the longest-serving member of the house), was asked about their proposal to separate the House and Cabinet. They proposed making a constitutional amendment to make sure that the house doesn’t get to vote on cabinet and ministry matters, which might not be necessary if house members are reminded to not overreach and infringe. The ASS was then questioned on their proposal to remove the limit which exists regarding someone being both a house member and a minister, they said that since the Cabinet and HoR need to work together it is important to increase the level of trust. This amendment fosters hostility where such a thing is not needed, as the very assumption that a house member would want to be a minister needs to be changed. After being told that the cap was created after several instances of manipulation, ASS said that a cap which is not working seems redundant.
This discussion was followed by the third round of the debate, ‘The Audience Round’. A member of the student body asked the candidates the one thing they’d like to bring up in the HoR which is independent of cabinet matters. Susan replied that they would like to make Ashoka more linguistically accessible for all students as well as workers. Karan said that they’d like to increase the number of seats in the HoR for proportionality, reduce leaves from 4 to 2 to increase accountability. Another ASS member, Siddhant said that they’d like to increase the representation of Ashoka bridge programme candidates within the HoR as well as the whole Ashoka community. The next question raised for the candidates challenged their collective claim of increasing accountability while themselves not showing up for Question hour time. The turnout had mostly been around just 20. An ASS candidate deflected the question by replying that this isn't an individual or party problem, it's the larger culture of Ashokans around student politics.
Ruhaan then asked a series of questions to the ASS, about implementing the findings of the CASH report, about the worker’s issue, why they would want to lower the threshold of the vetting process through which a minister can be appointed, and about their want for more lenient attendance policies, as this is solely up to the professors. ASS replied saying that all candidates had been asked to refrain from speaking about the worker’s issue during campaigning, but that they hoped to be of help if elected. About the policy on absences, they said that they had asked for notifications from professors who had stricter grading policy to increase student awareness, as it currently solely depended on the information provided by the course catalogue (they were fact-checked later as their manifesto states that they wish to push for a more lenient attendance policy, and to request the faculty to do so, in addition to having professors disclose particularly strict policies).
A question for ASS was raised by a student - “The senate will be formed from the list votes, so the EQ prior to the list votes would be in the house, and after that list votes would be on those in the senate?”. Vikram replied saying that the ASS are proposing that list votes be removed and everyone should depend on their own EQ. A follow-up question was asked that from modified Swiss PR in the house elections they will go to regular Swiss-PR, what kind will then the senate elections be. Vikram answered that an unmodified Swiss-PR favours parties more which is why a modified system was put in place. The rationale behind Modified Swiss-PR was the hope that with enough list votes independent EQ would go down proportionally, however that has not yet happened, given that Ashokan voters tend to vote across party lines for varying candidates.
The debate saw multiple claims and promises from all candidates, what is left to be seen is the extent to which these promises will be fulfilled as Ashoka braces itself for another election season.
*Link to the MPA Survey: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfJu-qI6Vz4UXhWW0Z26HVvO1_RaewQATVXOXFtH5J8X9ontw/viewform