The soapbox for the post of Cultural Affairs Secretary (Arts) started late in the evening on 7th March, well past its scheduled time, with the previous soapbox for Cultural Secretary (Lit) taking a while to complete. A few dedicated ones in the audience stayed on. Dr.Thyagaraj, the Chief Election Officer, was present. Ms. Chaithra, Chairperson of the SECC, moderated the session. On the podium was Shashwath Sargovi Bacha, the sole candidate for the position. A third-year undergraduate from Engineering Design department, Shashwath stated that he was contesting for the post of Cultural Affairs Secretary (Arts). With this introduction, the proceedings for the evening officially began. Manoj Sundararajan reports. A full video-coverage of this Soapbox can be found here.
His vision was clear: to strive to foster a rich cultural experience catering to all institute students through a diverse sphere of events, revive the Saarang brand, and undertake efforts towards digitization of Saarang. He then moved to the cultural scene of IITM. His first initiative was to collaborate with professional cultural groups in Chennai. For example, Shashwath stated that the Quiz Federation of India could conduct their events in the institute premises in return for scrapping the registration fees. Similar tie-ups could be initiated for the sixteen Sangam clubs.
Regarding the Sabhas and Samithis, he assured the provision of financial support to the same. He then proposed forming cultural mentors: a programme planned at having a 1:8 ratio of cultural mentors, where anyone could choose to be a mentor. This was expected to go in tandem with the Saathi mentor programme. Regarding recreational books, Shashwath planned to expand the already available children’s section and bring in a system where books could be borrowed.
For Saarang 2020, he planned to digitize coupons and make them available in the phones of coordinators. Regarding obtaining UNESCO patronage, a list of events conducted throughout the year could be sent to the national commission in Delhi, which would then forward the same to UNESCO which would then choose to recognize the social campaigns. Shashwath also proposed a Saarang overall championship; this would incentivize other colleges into participating in more number of events and also bringing more people into Saarang, ultimately increasing the footfall.
A Saarang amusement park was also proposed. He proposed the diversification of Saarang merchandise, so people would have more goodies to choose from. With respect to Sangam and LitSoc, the points he put forth were thus: a revamp of Sangam publicity with a newly formed team; prize money for Litsoc to increase participation;
restructuring of Sangam from forty-five to twenty-seven conveners; and a finance portal for temporary advances and reimbursements with the Dean approval in the portal. He then focused on the cultural contingent. A winter camp for participants to stay back and practice ten days before inter IIT with food and professional mentorship was among Shashwath’s initiatives.
With this, Shashwath concluded his presentation. The floor was then opened to questioning. Questions were first asked by the Executive Council, followed by the Core team and finally, by the General Student Body.
Executive Council Questioning
Gear Harshith, Cultural Affairs Secretary (lit) on behalf of Subba Reddy, Cultural Affairs Secretary (Arts), started the proceedings by asking about the restructuring of clubs and the way they have been grouped. He was particular about why Fine Arts, Media, and Design had been put in one group. Shashwath’s response was that by merging, convenors would get a broader perspective of clubs. The clubs had been merged based on the overlap of people participating and the type of work they did. Harshith repeated the question on why the three clubs had been merged and how convenors would selected for the same. Shashwath responded that on speaking to the Design Club convenor, merging design with media is possible because the Design Club had only two Litsoc events. Harshith’s follow up was on why a participant from Fine Arts should be expected to know fundaes about design and media if their motive was to be a Fine Arts convenor and improve its culture. Shashwath replied that there would be two applications for a convenor post: one for the club they would be applying for, and the second on some basics regarding the other two clubs. Harshith was not convinced and insisted on knowing why Shashwath plans for people to take multiple fundaes to apply for a single convenor post. Shashwath’s reply was that it best suited a scenario where clubs were being re-structured.
Harshith’s second follow up was regarding the possible merger of clubs being discussed with the aspiring Hostel Literary Affairs Secretaries. Shashwath replied that they did have a meeting and a basic structure plan was put up with all parties stating their agreement. Harshith asked if Shashwath was fine with the old system or whether he would force a new system into action. To this, Shashwath insisted on having a discussion with the cores to identify any problems with the new system.
The next question (Subba Reddy’s) was regarding ticket sales during Saarang and the plan of action if the administration did not want the outsiders to attend Proshows. Shashwath suggested having a meeting with the administration and figuring out the issue. He said that if this does did work, then pricing could be increased in other places to compensate for the losses. Harshith then pointed out out that the next immediate source of revenue was not ticket sales.
Nihal K, the current Hostel Affairs Secretary started his questioning by probing into the winter camp arrangements proposed for the cultural contingent. His set of questions revolved around the strength of the camps, the number of days and the funding for the same. For a strength of a hundred and fifty participants for a period of twenty days, Shashwath estimated the cost to be approximately one and a half lakhs. The follow up question from Nihal was about whether a feasibility check of the room-arrangements had been undertaken. Shashwath replied in the negative.
Nihal’s next question was about the digital distribution of coupons and how it would be done during Saarang. Shashwath said that students would be enrolled in the Saarang application and that the Finance Core would run a portal sending coupons to coordinators. The Web Ops team would build the portal and a third party server would be used.
Nihal then posed the same question that he had asked the Cul Sec (Lit) candidates, which was about the scrapping of iKollege ticket sales and the alternate possibilities. Shashwath replied that Razorpay, the medium used for events registration, could be used and the extra cost could be borne by the user. The follow up question to this was regarding the marketing for the same. Shashwath’s response was that various strategies could be discussed with the marketing and sales cores. The next question from Nihal was about Saarang accommodation and the administration not permitting people to stay. The possibility of collaborating with a hotel was also eliminated. Shashwath was not sure about the answer to this question after thinking for some time, so the question was passed.
The mic was then passed on to Harshith Gear again. This time, Harshith shifted his focus to inter- IIT Culturals and asked why our contingent performed badly and what Shashwath would do as a Cultural Secretary to improve the performance. Shashwath listed out the reasons which in his opinion affected the performance: not enough practice, and a clash between Mood Indigo and Inter-IIT Culturals. While funding was provided only for inter IIT, people preferred Mood Indigo as it was a high stakes event; also, they were occupied with Saarang work and very few people actually left for Roorkee (where the inter-IIT Culturals happened in 2018). On his plans to improve performance, he planned to begin practices as early as September and merge this practice schedule with club timelines. Shashwath said that bringing in mentors would boost contingents to perform and win. The follow up question from Harshith was about a possible solution to ensure that that Mood Indigo and inter-IIT do not clash. Shashwath replied by saying that a meeting could be arranged to see if the time gap between the two events was possible.
Harshith’s next question was whether having three events cores is a practice that Shashwath wishes to continue. To this, he replied that for the first year, we would continue with three Cores because a radical change in convenorship was being implemented, and any problem must be managed properly.
Following this, Harshith asked Shashwath about the stakeholders of Saarang, a question he had asked the other aspiring Cultural Secretaries as well. Shashwath listed them all: participants, artists and judges, vendors, admin, the organizing team and institute students, and sponsors. Harshith then followed up by asking to choose any three important stakeholders and how their experience could be made better. Shashwath started with the participants: the most important part stakeholder of Saarang. For them, hospitality and accommodation could be smoothened and the quality of events be improved. With regard to judges and artists, their needs like food and travel should be improved. Further, the quality of participants and the level of competition affects how judges consider the event. The deliverables of sponsors should be met so their experience is better.
Sudharshan R, Research Affairs Secretary (RAS) followed with his question on whether Shashwath was happy with the participation of PG students in Litsoc events. Shashwath replied that he was not. The RAS then asked why he had not included any point in his manifesto regarding their participation, and Shashwath’s response was that LitSoc wa for everyone. Sudharshan interrupted and said that when one section of the student population wasn’t involved, it was an issue, to which Shashwath’s response was that PGs contribute more in Sabhas and Samithis. Thus Litsoc could be merged with vernacular events, wherever possible. The follow up question was regarding vernacular events conducted by Sangam. There were a few Sabhas such as MMM (Marathi Mitr Mandal) which conducted their events in collaboration with Sangam, said Shashwath. Also, he planned on conducting inter-hostel PG specific events inside their hostels so that people would be encouraged to participate. Sudharshan’s next question stressed on the Lit-Sec and Soc-Sec positions being vacant in PG hostels. Shashwath said that there were culturally active people in these hostels as well and that they could be approached.
Sudarshan’s then asked him for his take on inter-department PG leagues, which had been proposed by the other aspiring Cultural Secretaries. Shashwath acknowledged that they were good initiatives and a popular poll could be taken for the necessities. When asked about the feasibility of providing financial support to Sabhas, Shashwath clarified that they were not student government bodies and hence Gymkhana funds could be allocated. What instead happens is a collaboration with Sangam. The Drama Club, for example, could conduct vernacular drama events along with sabhas.
Amar Jyoti, Speaker, SLC, opened with his set of questions. he opened with asking about the procedure for a budget presented in SLC. Shashwath stated whatever came to his mind: to prepare a budget first, then mail the Speaker who further mails it to the Legislator(s) and then explain the budget during SLC meeting. Amar briefed him about the points Shashwath missed which were: before SLC meeting, Fac-Ad and Dean of Students must be met and the budget has to come through the standing committee.
His next question was regarding the steering committee for Saarang and how they can be used better. Shashwath felt the steering committee is already being used effectively. Amar followed up saying there is only one meeting before Saarang in which the Cores discuss the budget and leave; where is the communication happening? Shashwath replied that each Saarang department has a Fac-Ad who is ready to help throughout the year. The Speaker moved on to the next question: the roles of CulSecs in SLC. Shashwath mentioned a few: the standing committee of SLC monitors the CulSec with regard to decision making; the committee also helps them in making the rulebook. Amar mentioned that he missed a few constitutional bodies playing a role in Cul-Sec activities. Shashwath figured out it was the Financial Accountability Committee(FAC), to whom all documents must be made available to ensure transparency.
His next question was about the Litsoc prize money, given that Gymkhana was facing constraints. Shashwath mentioned that he did talk to the Dean of Students, who was willing to increase the budget. In the event that the budget remained the same, production costs from weekenders and leap concerts being reduced would amount to 1.2L. The next question by Amar was about the procedure for obtaining sponsors for Saarang and how the sponsors are to be approved by SLC. Shashwath replied that there were four criteria for it to be accepted and listed them as follows: no political affiliation; no discrimination on any grounds; should not promote any additives; and must not fall within the blacklisted sponsors. As a follow-up, Amar asked when the list of sponsors should be given to the SLC and whether this was done last year. An ideal time would be at the beginning of December, replied Shashwath, and also that this was not done last year.
Harsha, the FR core, wanted Shashwath to focus on the logistics part of helping Sabhas and Samithis. He replied that the NOVA team would help them with it and act as a point of contact between Sangam and the Sabhas. his next question focussed on the backend departments of Saarang and why no specific points were mentioned to improve them. Shashwath responded that he did have points for them: diversification of merchandise and digital coupon distribution. Harsha’s concern was that only a few applications were received for teams like FR, Marketing and Sales, and Security. Shashwath said that personal contacts could be used and that was how any PoR worked. Harsha then enquired about the safety concerns bringing in Columbus and the plan of action in case the audit does not approve the same. Shashwath replied that safety checks would be made. On being asked if he spoke to the QMS Core regarding this, he replied in the negative.
Anshuman, the Events Core, began by saying that he would provide a hypothetical situation that the Cul Secs would have to face: what if on day 0 of Saarang, it starts raining- acknowledging that this had both been asked before and had actually happened. Shashwath stated the possibilities: events in classrooms would not be affected; rooftops could be installed for Proshows, as was the case this year; catering services could be made waterproof; and for events in the KV grounds and others like the food fest, they could be postponed until the rain stopped. Anshuman’s second question was as follows: “What if a certain Namburi starts messing with your sponsors and starts mailing SECC?”. Amidst the audience’s laughter at this, Shashwath replied to Anshuman’s question, stating that a list of sponsors could be sent to the SLC a month in advance so that they would have enough time to decide. Aniket, the Sponsorship Core, mentioned that UNESCO patronage was a recurring point in the coordinator and core applications every year, and asked why this had not been implemented so far. Shashwath replied that this would help in obtaining more sponsors because the Saarang social campaign is associated with the same.
Sreenidh, the current Pro Shows Core, posed his questions to the candidates by first stating a few facts: the budget, due to upgrades in pre-production for proshows, had been around 95L in the previous year. This year, however, it would be likely be much lesser, which meant that the quality would also be affected. His question therefore pertained to reaching people’s expectations based on the previous year’s standards. Shashwath replied that the experience could be enhanced by providing bands and other memorabilia. People would also still attend for the new artist that the new year would bring. When asked about the budget for Proshows, Shashwath estimated 60L. Sreenidh was amazed and clarified that estimation is incorrect. There was a short discussion between the Council members and the mic was then passed on to another Sponsorship Core. His question was regarding the possibility of sending contingents to other college fests. Shashwath clearly mentioned that if the budget allowed for it, it could be done but that as of now it would not be possible. Thanmay mentioned Shashwath’s vision of striving to foster a rich cultural experience and asked how he would reconcile this with not sending a contingent to other colleges. Shashwath’s reply was that there would be a balance between club culture and competitions, with mentors coming down to the college and having budget allocated evenly. Since the contingent’s strength would be 150 people, pooling in money to send them to other fests could not be prioritized over conducting events on campus.
Akash Ramdas, one of the Events Cores, then enquired about the food and accommodation charges for winter camps and asked where the money for the same would come from. Shashwath calculated it to be around 1.5L and that it would be taken from the Sangam budget. He further said that the Dean of Students had been spoken to and that the budget could be increased. Akash wanted to know where the money would be compensated from. Shashwath replied that he had the following in mind: cutting down the production costs of the Weekender (50k) and the Leap concert (70k); adding that MUNs and open scrabble events which use Gymkhana funds and were conducted for outsiders as well could be cut. The follow-up from Akash was whether he thought these cuts would suffice, given that in addition to winter camps there was also LitSoc prize money and other such things planned. Shashwath responded that the contingent plan could be lightened and that things on campus could be planned according to the requirement of event. Akash then asked if he would rather spend money on sending contingents, or on the proposed winter camp, to which Shashwath reiterated that he would send the contingent to at least one place and spend rest on the events inside the campus.
Anshuman then questioned why he thought it made sense to spend the institute taxpayer’s money on outside students attending events. Shashwath replied that this would lead to exposure and an understanding of how the circle is outside of campus. Anshuman first follow up question: “to get experience, we go to other colleges. How does their coming here help us?” Shashwath replied that when we go outside, it’s only the students but when outsiders come here, everyone stands to learn. The second follow up question was regarding the necessity of having a Model United Nations event. Shashwath responded saying we did not have to; because according to him students could attend better conferences outside the institute instead of having 70K spent on five students here. Anshuman asked about the events that he was planning to exclude to accommodate his heavy budget. He presented another situation: after spending for winter camps and Litsoc events, the budget by the end of January would be 2L. Shashwath responded by saying that the production costs of Raagabop and Stagecoach could be cut and depending on the schedule of Litsoc events, it could be managed accordingly. His follow up was regarding whether he thought the number of Litsoc events (60+) was too much or too little. Shashwath stated that he himself had participated in several events and had liked them, and he would therefore not scrap any events.
Akash, a member of GSB, then asked for his opinion on the LitSoc week model that was attempted. Shashwath replied that as long as six big events do not pile up, he is okay with it.
Sreenidh then asked what the demarcation between the two CulSecs is. Shashwath said there is no such distinction. The first follow-up question was: ”What is your opinion on you being a unanimous candidate and three people fighting for the other post?” Shashwath replied he was never unanimous in the first place and it happened by luck. Sreenidh then asked his opinion on having a single election and selecting the top two candidates. Shashwath replied that he had no opinions on this and would come to a solution after discussing with the SLC. Anshuman, wanting an answer for the same question re-stated the question. Shashwath replied that having two CulSecs is always helpful, with more brains to contribute.
The Fine Arts Club convenor, Indu, then mentioned the grouping of Fine Arts and Film Appreciation Clubs together, stating that they are poles apart. Further, she asked how Shashwath planned to manage with only three convenors for four clubs (fine arts, design, media, film appreciation). Shashwath, as he had mentioned already, said that on speaking to Design Club head, there was no need for a Design Club and it could be merged with Media Club. Three convenors would thus be allocated for three clubs.
Tejas Ambati, catering head of Saarang, asked Shashwath to elaborate on the digital distribution of coupons and passes. The mic set, taking its own time to work properly after a short disruption gave Shashwath a respite. Shashwath that the coupons shared through the app would allow students to buy food in the morning as well. Tejas then argued that many professors in the steering committee do not have a smartphone. Shashwath said he spoke to the concerned authority and that they would be printing a limited number of coupons. Tejas then shifted to the caterers and the problems they might face. Shashwath replied that it would be implemented similar to how they use Paytm.
Harshith stated that one of the present aspiring CulSec (Lit) candidates intended to make the EDM show free and instead ticket the comedy show and asked for Shashwath’s opinion on the same. Shashwath replied that if there is a necessity to ticket comedy show, it would be done. He added that he had not really thought about it and would look at the feasibility reports of the candidate before making a decision.
General Student Body Questioning
Ranjani Srinivasan, representing T5E, opened her set of questions. Her first question was: “The general discussion surrounding LitSoc is how to revive it. What is your opinion on making cross-hostel compulsory because there are events which some hostels do not participate in?” Shashwath replied that there is already such an option available but making it compulsory would not be his choice. Ranjani followed up by asking why he would consider cross-hostel a hindrance if there was some event in which a particular hostel was performing badly and would benefit from a collaboration. Shashwath replied that for his hostel, he was able to gather more people to participate and so finds no reason in making collaboration compulsory. She moved on to the next question which was regarding booking of venues for outsider events like QFI and Warhorse. Shashwath replied that the institute gets to pay for the venue and in return, they (QFI, Warhorse) cut off the event registration fees.
A member from the GSB then asked about Shashwath’s initiative concerning cultural mentorship. Shashwath said there would exist a pool of Sangam coordinators and convenors who would be willing to choose the roles. He said that upon speaking with the aspiring Student General Secretary, he planned on having one Saathi mentor, one cultural mentor and one for the tech scene to the ratio of 3:8. He followed this question up by asking about the system of parent hostels, which play the same role. Shashwath said that during his position as a social secretary, it did not work out well as he got one hundred and twenty randomly-allocated people, making it difficult to manage.
Abhinav Uttaravalli, the Proshows Core, asked for Shashwath’s opinion on the problem with Rock Show. Shashwath said it could be moved on to an international rock band model. His follow-up question was: “last year’s budget was 70L and we managed a free pop night artist, which we won’t be getting this time. How will you manage with an international band?” Shashwath said that it would be possible to acquire international artists. Further, every year, artists were chosen in the following order: Classical Night, Rock Show, EDM Night and with whatever money left, the popular night Popular Night artists were chosen. The follow up by Abhinav was: “You will be left with 20L for the Pop Night artists. How you will choose an artist?” Shashwath said that he did not know the fee for each artist, so he could not decide now.
With that, the soapbox came to a conclusion.