Demystifying Institute General Elections
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Chief Editors: Mihir Kulkarni, Niranjan Thakurdesai
Mail to: insight[at]iitb.ac.in
Our institute, in many ways, is a microcosm of the broader Indian society. Diversity in language and culture, celebration of different festivals together, councils conducting student activities, clubs and groups pushing their agendas, etc., the list just goes on. In such a setting, the institute also grants its insti-zens the right to look after their interests through democratically elected representatives. Although sometimes encumbered by institute authorities, these representatives play a crucial role in upholding student needs and opinion in matters which affect the student community. In spite of the immense importance of the process, the student community is largely unapologetically detached with it. Insight, hence, is making an effort to urge people to understand the election process, and understand how imperative is it for us to be a part and parcel of the elections.
Humans of IITB General Elections
Returning Officer – The Returning Officer is an Election OC in the essence, usually one among the GSes. The GSHA has been the returning officer since the past 5 years. The role of the RO includes looking after the organization of the electoral process, overseeing the proceedings in the blackbox and the soapbox, stamping the manifestos, etc.
Election Committee – It consists of the GSes, including the RO, one System Administrator (Sys-Ad) and one Web Nominee from the Hostel Affairs council, one undergraduate nominee, one postgraduate nominee and one girls’ nominee. The nominees are selected by the rest of the committee after their applications have been reviewed and it has been established that they do not have a bias towards any candidate.
Observing Body – This year, an Observing Body has been set up for the first time in accordance with an MHRD directive to supervise the activities of the Election Committee. This has been done with an intent to increase transparency in the election process. The members include two professors, Prof. Anindya Datta and Prof. Tom Matthews, and two senior postgraduate students. Dean of Student Affairs, fondly called DoSA, is also a member but just in a consulting capacity.
Penalty Committee – The committee constitutes of the RO, the DoSA, the Associate DoSA, one member of the Election Committee and 2 members from the Observing Body. This committee decides the various penalties that are imposed due to malpractices committed by candidates or their campaigns.
As the name suggests, groundwork is essential to build a strong foundation for one’s campaign. Its importance is paramount and cannot be emphasised enough. Groundwork is how a person learns about the challenges and responsibilities that come along with the post he/she is vying for. This helps the candidate build a strong and clear manifestation of plans and ideas – the manifesto, which is at the core of a strong campaign. The building of a manifesto is an uphill battle and without solid groundwork, it is impossible to tackle this Herculean task. Groundwork itself is a colossal exercise considering that a candidate has to meet with a myriad of stakeholders in order to form a very deep understanding of the problems as well as the solutions to cater to the student needs. Usually, candidates end up meeting concerned people in their genre as well as hostel council members since covering the entire student community is impossible.
Interested and eligible students have to fill a nomination form and pay the nomination fees to the Returning Officer. The fee to be paid for a General Secretary nomination is Rs. 3000 and that for an Institute Secretary nomination is Rs. 2000. Any UG who has completed a minimum of 5 semesters and any PG who has completed a minimum of 1 semester is eligible to contest for any General Secretary position (note that a UG cannot contest for the post of GSAA PG and vice versa). Any UG who has completed a minimum of 3 semesters and any PG who has completed a minimum of 1 semester is eligible to contest for the position of any Institute Secretary. Other than these, a candidate has to provide a proof that he/she does not have an active backlog at the time of nomination. Following the filing of nomination, the candidates have three days to withdraw their candidature and follow it up with an email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As mentioned above, the manifesto is a clear reflection of a said candidate’s ideology, as well as the depth of his knowledge about the functioning of the institute and the various authorities. Good groundwork is an exigent requisite for a good manifesto. This includes looking for solutions to problems, taking initiatives which try to keep pace with the demands within the student community as well as follow-ups on the work that has been carried out over the past tenure. While a candidate should be trying to cater to the growing needs of the institute populace, he also has to buttress his points with solid groundwork to prove that his manifesto points are feasible and can be pursued successfully. The manifesto is also a strong instrument for ensuring accountability throughout the tenure. For an election process to churn out good representatives, it is imperative that the manifesto be the yardstick for gauging the credibility of the candidates, and hence it is important that the electorate scrutinizes the manifestos in great detail.
Towards the end of a tenure, a GS’s success is assessed by the extent to which his/her manifesto is fulfilled. On being asked what is considered to be a successfully completed manifesto, Shubham Goyal (the incumbent GSAA UG) responded with a two-pronged answer, “When it comes to policy decisions, they concern a large number of stakeholders like officials and bodies (any of DUGC, Dean AP, Dean SA, the Senate, etc.). One needs to be practical and realize that if even 2-3 of these points are fulfilled, it is a feat because of the red tape that is involved in making these changes. However, the manifesto points that are within the direct purview of the Academic Council, e.g. conducting fundae sessions, etc., should be fulfilled in their entirety.”
Minutes after the manifesto submission deadline, the candidates are summoned for a closed-door (hence the name) meeting with the incumbent General Secretary and the designated Returning Officer to discuss the feasibility of different points in the candidate’s manifesto, and revise whatever points demand changes. This year, the Returning Officer has invited members of the Observing Body to ensure required transparency in the process. The feasibility check is performed taking into account the incumbent GS’s experience as well as the adherence of the manifesto to the SAC Constitution. For instance, a candidate cannot decide to create new PoRs that the Constitution does not mention.
The most common edits made to manifestos involve rephrasing the operating verbs to ‘propose’ or ‘push for.’ This is done to give some leeway to the candidate owing to the sheer number of people involved and the scale of the task mentioned, which the GS understands better in hindsight. Although one might argue that the said phrases leave the points open to interpretation and compromise accountability, their inclusion is necessary to emphasize the candidate’s ideology, and more importantly, keep the GS post open to new ideas.
Thereafter, all contesting candidates for a post have a mutual discussion on the opponents’ manifestos, and can ask each other to comment on the groundwork, feasibility and a plan of action for their points. After the manifesto passes through the blackbox, it is stamped and is signed by the RO. Only manifestos which have been stamped and signed are legitimate for campaigning and any candidate not adhering to this faces a penalty.
The manifestos are not made public before the blackbox to ensure that a rough manifesto without inputs and guidance from the concerned GS and the RO does not reflect badly upon the candidate and the electoral process.
The Soapbox provides a platform for candidates to debate against each other based on their manifestos. Candidates are allowed 5-7 minutes to make an opening statement about the vision of their manifesto. This is followed up by cross-questioning between candidates, topic debates and questions from Insight and the public. The concerned GS moderates the proceedings, along with the RO, to ensure that the decorum of the process is maintained. The biggest purpose that the soapbox serves is to engage the electorate to ensure that candidates are put under the public scanner. The public can scrutinize the candidates on the basis of their visions, their manifestos as well as their past history and credentials. For unopposed candidates, a panel has been set up, comprising of a particular genre to put them under the same scrutiny as others. The set of rules governing the soapbox for unopposed candidates can be found here. The reach of the Soapbox is well beyond the attending audience since videos are circulated on social media, Facebook mostly, which results in more people getting to know their candidates better.
Campaigning is where the candidate reaches out to institute students, the electorate, and elaborates on his vision and his manifesto. This is often done either through common campaigning, where the candidate addresses the entire hostel together, usually in the hostel lounge. A candidate can also go for floor-to-floor campaigning where the candidate addresses individual wings together. It has been argued that common campaigning is a much better option considering that a candidate has to cover a large number of students in a very limited timespan. However, common campaigning suffers from a problem of low attendance. During last year’s elections, 3 people had turned up for common campaigning in Hostel 1. According to Sarthak Agarwal, the incumbent GSHA, “Common campaigning serves a very good purpose. It offers one place where we can directly compare the candidates; it sets a benchmark. However, people don’t turn up which is a big problem.” This year, the candidates have been asked to choose four hostels where they do not want common campaigning. Out of the rest of the lot, all the hostels which are in favour of common campaigning will have common campaigning.
While open elections are held for General Secretary positions, a closed electorate, comprising of concerned genre-specific people, votes for the Institute Secretaries for cultural and sports councils. Polling booths are installed in every hostel and the voting process goes on till 11.00 PM. One can also cast a vote in the SAC office where polling continues till 11.59 AM. After the polling is closed, vote counting takes place and finally election results are declared after 3-4 hours. The delay in the election result occurs due to the counting of penalties incurred due to malpractices which is decided by a separate Penalty Committee. These malpractices include misuse of PoRs, bulk spamming, open play on religion/caste/other such differences, defaming of candidates, anti-campaigning, etc.