UG22’s Detachment from Student Politics : A Recurring Trend?
Divya Ravindranath UG '24
The aftermath of the recent HoR elections has been marked with introspection and tough questions about the future of the SG. In an election cycle heavily dominated by UG24 participation, the NOTA result highlights not just the student body’s disinvestment from student politics, but also the senior batch’s (UG22) withdrawal from student politics. Where are the UG22s? And what is their current relationship with campus politics?
The Edict conducted a survey to gauge UG22’s interest in politics. Out of 50 respondents, 62% indicated that they were not interested in student politics, while 32% indicated they were ‘somewhat’ interested. Much of the justification behind this disinterest has to do with the pandemic, shift to virtual interactions and the successive resignations. While some people feel that student culture at Ashoka must continue to thrive, the contribution of politics to the culture is questioned, with several people contemplating if it is worth all the hassle. “I feel there's a lot going on and it's hard to take it seriously when there's very limited changes you can make under the institution,” answers one respondent. Inaccessibility of the workings of the SG was another common thread, where many respondents felt detached from the system owing to the convoluted constitution, the complicated jargon, etc. “Things need to be simplified, the electoral system needs to break down into a simpler system that is actually comfortable to understand and get behind by” says a respondent.
Interestingly, 42% of the respondents were involved in student politics in their first semester at Ashoka - a time when the convoluted jargon didn’t seem to hold them back. One respondent says, “SG's actions had a visible impact and not only in terms of fighting against the admin but just doing some good for the community in general and making Ashoka feel like home.” The SG was thought to have “mattered,” and was considered important. People believed in the SG to have tangible resources to facilitate solutions. “We were the first huge batch at Ashoka and with that came its own set of expectations and changes. I think, as a batch, we were heavily involved in student but also national politics. Many collectives were formed by UG22 students and because of the national changes happening around us, it gave us more of an incentive to be involved,” says a former representative in an interview to The Edict.
Advaith Jayakumar, the current deputy CLM and former President of the House, further elaborates on this point during an interview to The Edict. They explain how active and alive the SG was in their first semester. “Having an offline student government that held regular meetings, and did work around campus helped in spreading the visual of change,” they say. When Ashokans live on campus, they often come across issues or problems that directly affect them, and having an SG that works on those issues re-affirms the students’ faith in the institution. However, the online presence of an SG is almost un-remarkable or un-noticeable for many students, as the issues that affect them cannot have tangible solutions to it and collectivisation or mobilization of the student body becomes harder. “The pandemic played a huge role in literally and metaphorically creating a distance between students and student politics. The campus atmosphere played a huge role in inspiring people to join town halls, participate in sit-ins etc. The shift to online teaching resulted in students spreading all over the world which made it harder to mobilize and emails were our go to form of voicing complaints,” says Sanjay Sudarsan, former member of the 6th HoR during an interview to The Edict.
Many survey respondents believe that the first year enthusiasm is short-run and prone to burn out quickly. While the roles and duties of the SG may still hold importance in certain aspects, its lack of a physical presence owing to the pandemic has resulted in it requiring some serious reforms for long-term engagement. “I also see a major discontinuity in student politics as newer parties have no idea about what the culture of the college is and even less of an idea what the history of decisions that led us to this point is,” mentions a respondent from the survey.
The SH allegations against members of the 7th HoR and the subsequent resignations also played a massive role in UG22’s disengagement with campus politics. The abuse that arose from holding positions of power and the callouts on the Facebook group that followed resulted in a wave of resignations and eventual disintegration of the House. A former representative argues that these callouts made many UG22s want to stay away from the toxicity of the House for the future.
Even students who got involved with the SG in their first semesters, or otherwise, found themselves trapped in hostile work environments that they wished to remove themselves from. They explained the amount of emotional investment that goes into being in the SG, and how the workload reaches massive bouts. Some of the major crises observed in the tenure of the 7th HoR like the second COVID wave, the PBM protests - further gave rise to stressful situations for House members. “I remember during PBM protest times, we were constantly having discussions - we had a meet link where at least one if not all of us was on 24 hours. Most of us took 10 minute breaks for food. I know for a fact that at least 4 house members lost a lot of weight during that time because there was simply not enough time or mental space to eat,” says the former representative.
These findings draw out larger questions with respect to the future of Ashokan student politics - What does this mean for the student body? What can we do to revive faith in the SG? These questions, however important, do not guarantee straightforward answers. Unless revamping and re-working of the SG takes place, this trend of resignations and loss of faith in institutions will be a recurring one. Simplification of the constitution, reform of the electoral system, and equal representation within the house were some common responses collected from the survey– “Student politics were meant to involve students, not alienate them by making your processes so rigid that people are absolutely disincentivized to stand,” says a respondent.
Sanjay fleshes this point out further, by explaining why the trend could be recurring. “Unless the existing issues within the SG are not solved, the shift in perspective is going to be recurring. Mental health breaks and vacation days need to be recognised, the election system needs to be simplistic (or atleast better explained/understood), the house needs to increase the number of seats from 15 to 21 (atleast). These are just a few of the many issues that need to be resolved before we even begin to repair the damage that has been caused over the past year,” they say. Advaith Jayakumar adds to this by stating that the age-old narrative of UG24 being the largest batch and thus lacking context must stop, especially seeing since no other batches stepped up for elections this year. The revival of the SG lies on the table only under a collaborative, cross-batch effort. As stated by Sanjay, “The only way UG 22 can contribute at the moment is by being active carriers and story tellers of history and by recounting what has happened over the past 2 years. Their accounts and suggestions should be taken into account by future batches to avoid repeating the same mistakes.”
An entire batch and a half are about to move to campus for the first time whereas all batches at Ashoka are finally about to move back to offline semesters. It's a big shift - one that requires an adjustment period as well as a good support system for many freshers. As we anticipate re-elections anytime in the coming few weeks - seniors should be able to guide the newer batches. Return to campus means a lot of things for a lot of people, and hopefully, the revival of UG22’s interest and participation in the SG is one of those things.