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Disclaimer:Through this editorial, we have looked upon freshers’ roles in the Institute General Elections. We have also tried to understand how their situation is different from their senior counterparts. All the opinions are held by the Editorial Board of Insight. If you feel that you are opposed to the opinion we have stated here or would like to give your own thoughts/feedback on the article, we invite you to contribute the same on the Insight Discussion Forum. Let’s have a constructive discussion on the topic to figure out the existing problem if any. Use the following link to join the group (Only for IIT-Bombay students):  https://m.facebook.com/groups/316254398968753/

The Institute General Elections are around the corner. The candidates have already filed their nominations and soon, official campaigning will start. Hostel rooms and canteens will be overwhelmed with discussions like “This person is promising to do this”, “Usne bahut kaam kiya hai”, etc. Respective ‘polt’ teams will get to the task of publicizing the accomplishments and promises made by their candidates. Your social media feeds will be inundated with display pictures and hackneyed slogans exhorting the students to vote for their candidate under the hashtag #VoteforXYZ. After intense Soapboxes and other customary events, the institute will prepare to elect the next Gymkhana representatives under the supervision of the Dean of Student Affairs.

Most of us, at least once or twice, have witnessed the process, but the freshers in the campus will be a part of the elections for the very first time. Despite being new to the institute elections, they play a crucial role not merely as voters, but as active participants in campaigns of the contesting candidates. The roles they play in the elections are the same as any other resident of the campus. What makes them different is their relative inexperience in the institute which has unintended consequences. Their short stay keeps them ill-informed of the ground reality hence they form the most gullible fraction of the voters. In this article, we will further look upon the two roles they discharge in more detail.

                                                             Credits – Yash Sharma

Voting 

UG freshers are surmised to vote in large numbers outshining their senior counterparts. One can vaguely say that the turnout decreases as we go into senior years. The reasons are multifold, but that’s not the point we are trying to make here. Also, PG participation in the process has always been a point of concern for the authorities. But that issue is not limited to elections only, is it? Freshers’ significant contribution to voting shares is one of the reasons for the candidates to specifically focus on them. 

Let’s try to find out answers to the question “On what basis does the student populace vote in the elections?”. There can be no single answer to the question but from the experiences of past elections, it can be roughly stated that the outlook and image of a candidate dominate over the initiatives and the promises made by him/her. While the answer is subjective and many may not agree, it is always open to discussions. If we look further, the image of the candidate is formed on two bases. One is hearing about the person from your peer groups. The other is online or offline publicity by their ‘campaign teams’ including support by other students. Generally speaking, seniors are more aware of the candidate’s profile than their junior students and are to an extent unaffected by the publicity. It’s the freshers who are most affected by it because of a lack of knowledge of campus life. 

The obvious question that arises here is “Is publicity of the candidate a bad thing?”. Candidates and their supporters should advertise all they want within permissible boundaries. After all, the aim is to win the elections but the concern is the means opted to clinch victory. Immature UG freshers get swayed by sheer publicity, unaware of the work profile and ethics of the contestants which may result in the election of a not-the-best candidate. The counter-argument to the above statement would be that “Is not the candidate who won through elections supposed to be the best?”.

We talked to Anmol Gupta, ex-General Secretary Academic Affairs, who was also a member of last year’s election committee, regarding the same issue. He acknowledged that the freshers in the institute are more gullible than seniors and are the main focus of candidates at the times of publicity. We further discussed the extent of possibilities and concluded with the result that any solution for the issue of naive voting will compromise the right to vote of freshers and the holistic idea of democratic student elections. But the elections are still governed by the administration and rules and policies can be reframed if they feel the need.

Campaigning

Enough with the moralistic mumbling of voting and democracy, let’s get our hands dirty and talk about the campaigning. The candidates are already trying to gather the support of the students who they think are influential in their respective hostels, clubs, teams and everywhere else. The motive is to make people aware of his candidature, his initiatives, and his past experiences/credentials if any. Sharing social media posts, going to random discussions and hijacking the conversations and asking around for votes are just some of the tactics employed. People who do this are generally close friends of the person. Some other incentives like a power tussle between two councils or two hostels and club sentiments also come into play at times. Another objective is to be on good terms with the winning candidate who may help one in one’s future endeavors. Yes, that’s not perfect, but it is how it is, hence the term dirty.  

“Polt” is needed in elections to spread awareness about the profile and initiatives of the person. Ideally, the person doing polt should be well informed and should have made an independent decision to support one candidate. But that’s not always the case, especially with freshers, as they generally join these campaign teams because of club sentiments or the peer pressure of the seniors. Being naive, they are easily manipulated to do the work. On one side this is an exploitation of an individual. On the other side, it has effects on their personal/social life as well. And sometimes, they later regret what they did. We contacted a student who was a part of campaigning in his first year, this is what he had to say: 

“A final year student who was a family friend of mine was a part of the polt team. As the elections approached, I was called to the polt room once along with two other freshies. When a senior actually asks for your help, you feel very respected and kinda flattered too, and that’s what had happened with me which is why I was very willing to go initially. Though I found the opponent’s manifesto a bit better, my motivation for getting involved in the elections was to help a friendly senior rather than actually supporting the candidate.

As I was trying to secure votes for the candidate among my batchmates, I was posed with a lot of questions, most of which I didn’t have an answer for. I repeatedly asked myself why I am doing this, and that is how I slowly realized that polt isn’t my thing. I didn’t want to spoil my relations with my batchmates. I discussed this issue with a couple of other seniors, I was strictly advised to back off and so I did. The polt team tried to contact me on the last 1-2 days before elections too, I was very hesitant to say a NO but somehow I did.”

While the aforementioned person realized the problem earlier, which may not occur to someone else. One extreme idea for the election committee is to think about restricting freshers from taking part in the election polt. That might provide a solution to the issue, but will also undermine their freedom of choice. It is eventually a trade-off between uninformed choices and fundamentally less democratic elections. Difficult choice, but one which should be made by the students and the administration keeping ‘The Greater Good’ in mind.

Conclusion 

We delved through the pros and cons of freshers’ involvement in the student body elections. While we try to foster and encourage everyone’s participation through the secular contribution of their votes, the malaise mired with this democratic procedure must not be overlooked. The suggestions are hard-lined and need not be implemented. However, while exercising our basic rights, we must not forget our duties. It is our duty to make an informed choice, putting aside prejudices and bigotry and the contestants are obliged to adhere to ethical practices. Since reforms in the norms seem far, this is the least we should do to ensure a healthy competition.

 

This article was written by Abhinav Anand and Lovesh Gupta