The Promise of Satire: LIBERandU and Why It Worked
By Devika Goswami, Undergraduate Batch of 2022
Illustration Credits- Tanisha Singh (UG 2022)
The mic is picked up at the far-end of the table, and everyone knows this will take a while. The same passionate oration strewn in with incomprehensibly abstract plans. Wait, the mic is being passed down. Hushed murmurs are quickly subsiding. Some are already chuckling in anticipation. Phones are rushed away mid-text. And–
An uproar of laughter. Some clapping and cheering. The dull room that can be Takshila at 10 pm lights up. We momentarily forget that we’re engaging even as most of us are just there for a few quips from LIBERandU.
It really isn’t that dramatic. However, there is a sense of dramatic irony. We might not have known that in showing up to a debate or infocus session somewhat or entirely incentivised by LIBERandU, we were listening in spite of ourselves. But it’s fair to say that LIBERandU knew.
Act 1: Exposition
A Party is Born
With the elections done and dusted, the results stand clear as day. LIBERandU stood, they won and then immediately resigned. But let’s go back to where it all started, and why it did. What about Ashoka makes a joke party work so well? What are the conditions that foster one, or even encourage it?
Their Chief Music Director and now ex-HOR member: Aashlesh Pai recalls how it officially began (as all good things do) at 3 am, at the dhaba. Apart from the obvious fun of it, Pai attributed some of their reasons for starting the party to disillusionment with the system, all the unnecessary red-tape and the self-congratulatory nature of the HOR. However, he was careful to say “that it is not a flawed system – there are just some flaws in the system”.
It is all too possible to take ourselves seriously in an unwitting push-back at our distance (both literal and figurative) from Delhi or wherever things ‘actually’ seem to be happening. There should be no need for bureaucracy to arise here, given the niche role the SG fulfills. And yet, counterintuitively there is red-tape build-up and incomprehensibly complicated procedures. There are people who vehemently care, those who know enough not to care and those who don’t know and don’t care. All of this makes for a uniquely inconsistent setting that, if you zoom out enough looks kind of ridiculous.
With its satire, a joke party can put things into perspective, and humble us a bit along the way. It’s great practice for the SG and the student body to laugh a bit at itself. It’s clearly far better than to forcefully be made to feel guilty about our mistakes. It instills self-awareness without much of the invariable sting.
The party was resolute that it did not want to increase apathy but just transform it into useful engagement with student politics. Some of the aforementioned inconsistencies needed to be made fun of, and there needed to be someone who understood them well enough to do it skillfully. The ‘audience’ also needed to be able to understand those nuances to join in, and be able to take a joke. At this stage, all these necessary ingredients were ready.
Act 2: Rising Action
Angry Emails, Campaigning and Debates
After the quick set up of an introductory email and a complimentary incredibly-well photoshopped poster to boot, came showtime. The one-liners were ready, and so were the costumes. But that wasn’t it.
When asked where the party drew inspiration from, Pai pointed to the recently re-emerged Lord Buckethead in the UK generals, and to an episode of Black Mirror: ‘The Waldo Moment’. The former for the humour, and the latter for the momentary but necessary lapses in humour or what Pai called “controlled explosions” or more accurately “truth-bombs”.
For instance, the party went out of its way to make political remarks during the candidate’s debate surrounding caste (if you were there and you know how, clap your hands). This effectively kept the party from diluting their campaign with only jokes. It also shifted the dialogue from neatly manicured, somewhat rehearsed manifestoes to simple statements most of us could at least resonate with.
Obviously, there was one public accusation about the party diluting student politics and making a complete mockery of it. If anything, this email only gave fuel to the fire LIBERandU was already making fun of: how seriously we take ourselves. Even then, it was somewhat a valid concern – it may have been tempting to come out on top as a funny, holier than thou, satire-filled party with nothing to actually add to the already atrophying elections.
On the contrary, the turn out to their infocus session was far better than the usual room filled with party members and their friends. With a show of hands, it was clear how many people came to the candidate’s debate for LIBERandU. It would’ve been all too easy for LIBERandU to caricature these events, and for the audience to get carried away. Except they literally only spoke when spoken to, as promised. The controlled ‘explosions’, the limited self-indulgence and the perfectectly paired fedora were then, all part of a very fine balance.
All of this effort was not for nothing, and as a stand in for our ‘climax’: LIBERandU won 3 seats in the HOR by a huge margin (more votes than two other parties respectively, unnamed but you can guess).
Act 3: Falling Action (and Closing Thoughts)
So Long, and Thanks for All the Jokes
So what is in store for the now resigned HOR members? Pai says they plan to chill with all their pension money, maybe at a nice vacation home in Miami. In the long term though, Pai does want to see more joke parties taking up the mantle. I, for one, am certain LIBERandU withdrawal symptoms will settle in this time next year. Ashoka has had joke parties before, and more will most likely crop up. However, what worked and what didn’t this time?
For one, this was the best voter turnout we’ve had so far. More people showed up to the debates than they would’ve without LIBERandU as incentive. With glaring modesty, Pai referred to LIBERandU as only a “cog in the wheel” for this – crediting the efforts of the other parties and independents, the Femcol and the AUEC. According to Pai, the HOR is more diverse especially now after the resignations, and also with its first woman president. He went on to add “It’s more action-oriented than before, and the party members take criticism more seriously with less self-congratulatory behaviour”.
Even so, it is worth questioning just how sustainable this engagement really is. Those who came only for the jokes and saw nothing else of value will just as well return to the good old apathy bubble. It is possible that both the beauty of LIBERandU and it’s only flaw was in the quickness of it all. To derive deeper engagement from its campaigning would’ve been difficult, but it may be possible with more time. It may be too much of a reach but a joke party running year-round could take care of these spikes and downturns in student engagement.
It’s been said that LIBERandU was the new NOTA. It is one thing to laugh at their manifesto, but it is entirely another thing to be cognisant of all the other candidates and still vote LIBERandU. The sheer numbers that turned up in support of the party illuminates a disillusioned group that may be too tired or un-bothered to even try to hide it. And that’s an important group to shed light upon, because here are people that understand the nuances of the issues at Ashoka but do not believe workable solutions exist. It shows that students expect more.
LIBERandU was one of the driving forces behind this election to have been an overall net-positive. However, it also set us up with the right tools to not necessarily need it again next elections. The responsibility now lies with us: to look at our stupidity, laugh and be better.