The third day of the soapbox season started with the much-awaited position of the Cultural Secretary (Literary). With three candidates contesting for the position, the soapbox promised to be interesting. The session was moderated by Ms. Chaithra Navada, Chief Commissioner, Student Ethics and Constitutional Commission (SECC) and Ms. Swathi, Commissioner (SECC), with the Chief Election Officer Dr. Thyagaraj in attendance. Sharanya Menon reports. For a complete view of the events, please refer to the video of the soapbox on SECC’s YouTube channel here. 

The three candidates, all third year students, were Abhinav Kankane, Atharva Rajadnya – both from the Department of Chemical Engineering, and Sankalp Phadnis from the Department of Engineering Design. The candidates were greeted with rapturous cheering and shouts from the crowd. The soapbox procedure mandated the candidates to begin by presenting their manifestos, followed by rounds of cross questioning between candidates and finally, a set of questions from the Executive Council and the General Student Body.

Presentations

Abhinav Kankane presented first and was welcomed with cheers from his supporters. He began by presenting his vision which was to induct audiences from different spheres: those who wanted to pursue cultural activities as a career, those who were cultural enthusiasts in the past but couldn’t continue it post JEE, and thirdly to incorporate more people into the cultural sphere.

Post this, he proposed cultural grants, which would be done with the help of the I&AR Development Office – similar to travel grants for research and academic purposes, to promote excellence in culturals and to aid those who wanted to pursue their cultural passions as a career.

His initiatives included forming Niche Interest Groups – to give the power of forming interest groups to the students themselves, facilitating Peer-to-Peer Mentorship (for effective knowledge and skill-set sharing) and to collaborate with Chennai36 to release ‘CultGuru’ (similar to InternGuru and PlacementGuru) – a series of articles on/by alumni who were in the cultural sphere to kindle enthusiasm in the current cultural scene.  The candidate then talked about his plan to collaborate with NSS for his social initiative to teach cultural activities to underprivileged students. He followed this up with a proposal to create a Cultural Outreach Team who would support the contingents further by scouting for external professional opportunities, sponsorship, and building an alumni database that could be tapped into for the same. He proposed to have an Interdepartmental LitSoc for the PG students. He proposed to introduce credited Co-Curricular Courses spanning a wide range of topics from design to classical music and dance. He also proposed to start a Cultural Lecture Series in collaboration with the AAS – which would shed light on pursuing cultural activities as a career.

Coming to Sangam, his plan was for every club to maintain a Club Specific Blog that would ensure transparency and updates on the activities of the club. He also wished to diversify the library catalogue – specifically to increase the number of non-academic books available.

As for Inter IIT Culturals, the candidate noted that the performance this year was poor. To address this, he proposed to conduct Professional Workshops for the contingent as well as Improve the Branding of Inter IIT Culturals and elevate it to the public perception of Inter IIT Sports.

Moving on to the candidate’s plan of action for Saarang, his vision was premised on making it more inclusive and an experience for everyone involved. To achieve this, he proposed the ‘Saarang Confluence’ which would be a solution-oriented discussion forum inviting a diverse set of people from academia and NGOs affiliated to Saarang’s social cause. He also proposed ‘Saarang Connect’ to elevate Saarang to a cultural networking hub – as a measure to move Saarang beyond just the proshows. Finally, he mentioned that he intended to make EDM gallery tickets free for all institute students. The presentation ended with the candidate listing out his credentials.

Sankalp Phadnis followed and he was also met with loud cheering and applause from his supporters. The candidate divided his presentation into three parts: Sangam and Litsoc, Contingent and Saarang.

His vision for Sangam and Litsoc was to promote inclusivity and visibility and thereby give a fillip to its brand. His plan was to do so was by integrating the Sangam Application to the Students App, where each student could have their cultural profile. The app would also host information regarding the various events as well as the hostel leaderboards.  Another initiative was to have a Sangam Association and Branding Team dedicated to exploring collaborations as well as managing branding within and outside of the institute. He also planned to introduce an Interdepartment PG LitSoc – taking their time constraints, interests and social circles into account. He also wished to give a platform to all the Sabhas and Samitis to come together and showcase their culture on a Vernacular Weekender, taking inspiration from the Club Weekender. With respect to all of the issues faced by institute students, he planned on integrating them with Sangam and litsoc activities to create more awareness and impact. He also planned to create a Cultural Brochure which would contain exhaustive information about all the events in the institute related to the cultural sphere – catering specifically to the freshmen and the prospective students.

Moving on to his plans for the Contingent, his main vision was to give them more recognition and improve the overall ‘feels’ in the student body for the same. In this regard, he proposed to felicitate all Inter IIT Cultural Meet and LitSoc winners on Gymkhana Day. Taking inspiration from IIT Madras Sports, he also planned to run a ‘Know Your Contingent’ series for the cultural sphere. He also proposed to add more relevant events to LitSoc to help the contingents prepare for the Inter IIT Cultural Meet.

Switching gears to his plans for Saarang, his primary vision was to increase its appeal to institute students by making it more accessible. For this, he plans to make the Adventure Zone free for institute students – he added that, for now, he plans to include Laser Tag, Silent Disco and Arima Fun as the three free events. He also proposed to include a YouTube Fest wherein famous YouTubers would come down to Saarang – thereby adding to its value. His penultimate point was to facilitate convenient payments at Saarang through UPI payments in all the stalls. His final proposal in his presentation was a Contingent Championship in Saarang which would essentially be an intercollegiate LitSoc. As for the social initiative, he believed that it should be the responsibility of the entire Core Team and not be restricted to just the Sponsorship and PR Team. Sankalp concluded his presentation by listing his credentials.

The final presentation was made by Atharva Rajadnya (aka Maggi – as per his presentation) who was met with cheers from his team. As his team erupted into chants of ‘Maggi Maggi’, there was a rather interesting counter chant of ‘Maggi ko hum khayenge, Sankalp ko hum jitayenge’ (We will eat Maggi and ensure Sankalp wins).

Atharva’s manifesto presentation began with his vision. Inclusivity and Participation was the key theme and he wished this to be the fundamental approach towards Sangam and Litsoc. Adding to this, he wanted to improve the quality of the contingents.

With regards to Sangam and LitSoc, his initiative ‘Cultures of India’ planned to provide the support of Sangam, Saarang and Hostels – primarily as volunteers- to the cultural events of the Sabhas and Samitis. Building on the other initiatives under this umbrella – he mentioned that he would collaborate with the SGS and all the Sabhas and Samitis to celebrate Institute Ethnic Day, and that he would organize vernacular events under LitSoc.

Another initiative was to start a ‘Reading Club’ to provide a platform for reading enthusiasts. It would also have a centralized booksharing system that would facilitate inter-hostel sharing of books. His final addition to this initiative is to conduct book launch and book signing events.

He also envisioned to Expand NCA (National Cultural Association) to a larger domain of events – such as Classical Arts and Cooking. He proposed to invite various alumni and professionals who are actively pursuing a ‘Career in Culture’ wherein they could provide guidance to students who wished to pursue such a path. He then proceeded to note that while they pay Gymkhana fees and are enthusiastic about cultural activities – ‘International Students in Sangam’ are a rare sight. He plans to actively involve them into LitSoc and other cultural events – thus creating avenues for intercultural bonding.

Expanding on his point of inclusivity, he noted that PG students are often unaware of events and sometimes are not comfortable attending the events. To resolve this, he proposed to conduct events specifically for them apart from making them aware of the event timelines. He also noted that unlike in the odd semester, there were no ‘Leisure Shows’ where students can simply come out and enjoy. Another point included a collaboration and mentorship opportunities with Pratishruth (an institute organization of professors willing to mentor students in the Classical Arts). He then proceeded to note that Intra Hostel Bonding had dimmed down over the last few years. To revive this, he proposed to conduct intra-hostel bonding events. Building upon this, he planned to create a ‘Hangout Zone’  at Quark – furnished with cards and board games in addition to a ‘Recreational Room’ with glass mirrors to aid the Choreo Team’s practice sessions and an inbuilt photo-studio that could be used for different projects.

Next, he noted that the Cultural Contingents Budget was dwindling every year, and that he planned to collaborate with I&AR to alleviate the issue. He also felt that Selections for the Contingents were not conducted in a structured manner. He planned to address this issue by bringing a structure to the selection process – as well as cutting down the intake to focus on quality as opposed to quantity.

Coming to Saarang, he proposed an International Fest that would bring different cultures of the world to Saarang and add novelty to the catalogue of events. He then proceeded to his initiative titled ‘Choose Your Own Artist’ wherein he planned to conduct a poll among the GSB where the popular vote would choose the guests from Saarang (the candidate later provides more details about this proposal, and they are mentioned in the section on Core Team and Cross Questioning).

This point elicited a strong response from the crowd – which again broke out into the aforementioned cheers, jeers and applause. Moving on, he proposed to revamp the Navigation Sign Boards – also offering them as deliverables for sponsors. His penultimate point was on Accessible Fundaes – wherein there would be guide brochures for applications for positions of responsibilities. Lastly, he proposed to revamp the Finance Portal for Saarang and include Sangam in it as well. He could not fully list out his credentials as he had run out of time and the SECC demanded that he stop.

 

Cross Questioning

Post the presentations of the candidates, the floor was opened to the candidates to cross question each other. Each candidate was allowed to ask the other two one question each with two follow up questions, and there were three rounds of this. The questioning followed the order of the presentation with Abhinav starting the round.

1st Round

His first question was to Sankalp where he asked the latter to elaborate on his plans for his proposed Youtube fest. To this Sankalp explained that he intended to invite famous YouTube personalities and he planned for NOVA (a vertical) to take up responsibility for the same. For proof of concept, he told Abhinav that he could check BITS Embryo wherein they have a YouTube conclave which YouTubers had attended and contributed toward PR for the institute. Abhinav reminded Sankalp that Saarang 2019 already had three YouTube personalities being part of the fest and hence the latter’s initiative was just a rebranding process and making Spotlight and NOVA teams to do the same job. Sankalp replied clarifying that this could result in an increase in branding of the fest and increase Saarang’s reach. He also said he planned on expanding the horizons by involving personalities who were famous through YouTube exclusively (as opposed to Dhruv Sehgal of Little Things fame). As for the point about rebranding, he stated that branding it as a separate avenue would help generate more revenue through increased sponsorship and finally, that it could increase Saarang’s PR on YouTube which he claimed was low at the moment.  

Abhinav’s question to Atharva was based on the latter’s Choose Your Own Artist initiative. Atharva asked Abhinav to go through his feasibility report and elaborated his plan of action which aimed to give students the opportunity to be more involved in the decision making process. He clarified that this poll would be restricted to Indian Rock night, Comedy show and Classican Night. Abhinav replied stating that he did not read Atharva’s feasibility report as the latter had not taken the necessary fundaes on the topic. He then went on to explain the process of artist selection and all the variables involved. The main reason being that any information being made public would affect the negotiations processes and increased prices would trigger losses to Saarang (also sliding in a remark that he wished Atharva cared about Saarang). He also stated that if the student body was involved in the decision making process, the whole idea of artist reveal activities would be rendered unnecessary and this would have a significant impact on ticket sales. Atharva retorted by first saying he had taken fundaes from Abhinav’s Cores, and further stating that neither the comedy show nor Classical Night have a launch and as per his plan there would no impact on any ticket sales. He then said that Indian Rock would not be requiring a reveal since most Indian bands were equally famous and well known and there would thus be no need to generate hype for ticket sales. Abhinav’s final follow up question was on the exclusion of freshies’ opinion in the selection process of the artists for Classical Night as it usually happens in the summer. There was a misunderstanding of the question on Atharva’s part as he stated that PG students accounted for 50% of the population and that 30-40% of them were in favour of Classical Night.

The second segment had Sankalp posing questions to the other candidates. His first question to Abhinav was on his claim to provide free EDM gallery tickets to insti students. Sankalp questioned the absence of numbers in Abhinav’s feasibility report. He continued to present the projected loss as per his calculations under this model, which totally added up to 6.4 lakhs. Abhinav asked Sankalp for the basis of the calculations and offered his own explanation in the form of an excel sheet. Abhinav also suggested that Sankalp had used 2019 as the base when he should have used 2018 instead. He then went on to compare the numbers from 2018 and 2019. The candidates then debated the numbers as displayed on the screen. Harshith Gear Srinivas, the current Cultural Secretary (Literary) summarised the discussion by reiterating that according to Sankalp, the loss in revenue would be 6.4L and according to Abhinav, free EDM night gallery tickets for insti students would result in a total loss of 10-15k. Sankalp asked for clarification on the potential revenue and venue of the ticketed (only for outsiders) comedy show as proposed by Abhinav, for which the latter confirmed that it would be conducted in OAT and claimed it would generate a revenue of 1.4L.

Sankalp then moved on to Atharva and asked him about his plan of action for intra hostel bonding sessions. Atharva explained that as there had been a decline in the culture of bonding between seniors and juniors, this informal interaction, which would include games and a DJ night, wolf games, and so on, would help bring it back. Sankalp confirmed that as per this plan the hostel secretaries would be the main stakeholders and the budget would be from the hostel budget; according to him they (hostel secretaries) are therefore not obligated to answer to the cultural secretary and questioned how he intended to implement it. Atharva clarified that most of his proposed events don’t cost any money, and that he had already talked to the secretaries and they were willing to be part of it. On being questioned on the value addition from the Cultural Secretary’s side seeing as these events would take place only if the secretaries wished to implement it, Atharva stated that he had spoken to the hostel secretaries of Krishna, Cauvery, Pampa, and so on (remarking that he didn’t think the Saraswati secretary would give him a proper answer) and affirmed that they were willing to conduct the same.

The third segment was Atharva questioning Sankalp and Abhinav. He questioned Abhinav on his plan to create niche interest groups such as Anime, origami, and so on. He continued saying that they already existed in the form of WhatsApp groups. Atharva questioned the point in his feasibility report on easy formation of such groups and what Abhinav’s role would be in this, seeing as it was already an easy process. Abhinav replied by questioning Atharva on who the organisers of the events that he had mentioned were. Atharva mentioned that the Fine Arts Club and other informal events are conducted for this purpose. Abhinav replied that his reason for this was to bring together like minded people and ones who have similar interests.

Next, Sankalp was asked by Atharva if he had spoken to the necessary people regarding his plan for the integration of Sangam in the Students Application, seeing as this fell under the jurisdiction of Institute WebOps and not Saarang WebOps. Sankalp replied in the affirmative (he had spoken to the head of MobOps). Atharva continued and asked why the people in question, who are already overburdened with other work, would agree to work on this. Sankalp answered that it would work in a form of a collaboration. Atharva stated that as the litsoc calendar is dynamic, there would be changes and questioned Sankalp on how he intended to factor this. Sankalp offered that the general working of Sangam and Litsoc is usually static and the information is given at the start of the semester, and that he never proposed to have a calendar but to provide updates on events along with a list of clubs.

2nd Round

The second round of questioning followed the same pattern and started with Abhinav questioning Sankalp on his idea for a vernacular weekender and why the Sabhas and Samitis would want to collaborate with him, seeing as the idea for the same didn’t work out this year on account of some of them not wanting to be a part of it. Sankalp said that he plans to be a facilitator and help by offering a grand ‘mega orientation’ where they can showcase their culture. At this point Abhinav asked Sankalp who would be responsible for the costs of production. Sankalp answered that it would be borne by the Sangam budget. Abhinav questioned the feasibility of this plan in the scenario of budget cuts, and also asserted that these bodies were not inclined to lose their uniqueness. Sankalp replied that as far as uniqueness was concerned, this wouldn’t be an issue if he provided a slot to each Sabha and Samiti. Here Chaithra interjected to tell Sankalp that he only needed to answer to one of the questions as Abhinav had exceeded his follow up questions.

Abhinav moved on to question Atharva on his plan to have recreational rooms- where and when he was planning to build them. Atharva explained that having talked to the relevant authorities, it would be constructed in the area beyond GC, in the professor’s quarters, stating that he had spoken with the Dean of Students and the Dean of Planning. He was told that there were some vacant spaces that could be used for this purpose. Abhinav followed up by mentioning the cost of the construction (6.5lakhs) to which Atharva claimed that the DoSt and the concerned authorities were on board with the plan and that as it was a long term investment, it would be either paid by the institute or could be a batch project under I&AR. Abhinav questioned Atharva on the choice of location for the room and questions him how he would account for any disturbance caused. Atharva replied saying that as the quarters were isolated, it would not pose any disturbance.

Sankalp’s second round of questions to Abhinav were on the groundwork done by the latter on his plan to introduce co-curricular courses. To this Abhinav said that the Dean of Academics was very open to this idea. Sankalp interjected here and stated that Dean Academics was not the final authority and that there were several steps involved before this could be implemented, and questioned Abhinav if he had the grading process and structure in place. To this Abhinav replied saying that he would be routing it through the HSS department and that as the cultural scene in Chennai was very rich, it would be very easy to facilitate this. Sankalp asked what Abhinav would be bringing to the table seeing as similar courses were already in existence, to which Abhinav responded that he would add a set of diverse courses to bring more people into the cultural scene, such as film-making, Indian dance, design, and so on.  

Sankalp moved on to questioning Atharva on his idea of an international fest, asking what he was doing other than bringing existing verticals under one superset. He mentioned that Worldfest under Proshows, Roadshows under events, and the choreo team had been bringing foreign talent to Saarang for the past several years. Atharva stated that in none of the events Sankalp had mentioned was there any form of interaction between the audience and the judges or the artists.  He then went on to name the possible events that could accommodate this interaction, such as sushi making, martial arts, and so on. Sankalp and Atharva continued talking about the possible clubs that could do this and Atharva stated that there were several avenues for this and that it could be implemented. On being asked how he would implement the same, Atharva stated that not all clubs have unique events that would engage people, and that with this initiative they would find avenues to introduce such events.

Atharva’s question to Abhinav was on his initiative to introduce peer-to-peer mentorship and on how this was any different from what Saathi, the student body did. He also asked him if he had access to the database of people who are involved in cultural activities, and pointed out that the number of people interested in cultural activities would far outnumber the mentors that might be available, thus overburdening them. Abhinav answered that he assumed that the clubs would have access to that information, and that as Saathi was not involved in the cultural scene the comparison could not be made and since his initiative aimed to spread the cultural scene, it would be useful even if it catered to 60 or 70 students who might learn something new at the end of one year. Atharva then asserted that Abhinav would not have sufficient people who would be willing to spread the cultural scene and also that interactions with people whom students don’t personally know might be difficult. Abhinav responded that the working of Saathi could be taken as a proof of concept and for his idea he intended to circulate a Google form that would facilitate the interaction between batchmates. Atharva questioned the efficacy of such a system, to which Abhinav responded that he would think it would be easier to approach ones batchmate rather than a relative stranger.

Addressing Sankalp, Atharva questioned the feasibility of having a cultural brochure as creating a Saarang brochure is known to be very difficult, and how he proposed to do the same for Sabhas and Samitis. Sankalp answered this question saying that he had talked to Ayush (the Saarang Design Core) who had agreed to the same and offered that this project could be as part of the training period for the design coordinators in the summer. Atharva objected saying that Ayush was the Saarang Media Team Core and that the Sabhas and Samitis did not come under his purview. Sankalp continued by stating that the design team was the main stakeholder in this context that the brochure would be designed by collecting information from all the necessary verticals to include information on Sangam as well as Sabhas and Samitis. Atharva repeats the question on the enthusiasm of the design coordinators and if Sankalp could guarantee that the work would be done. Chaithra stopped Sankalp and informed Atharva that he was repeating the same question, and asked the candidates to move on.

3rd Round

For the final round, Abhinav questioned Atharva on his idea for a reading  club and his plan to ensure accountability, and whether he planned on creating a new Sangam club. Atharva replied in the affirmative to the latter and explained that the system would be very simple and accountability could be ensured through the circulation of a simple Google form / sheet that would track the books. Responding to a point about Sangam already having a lot of clubs, Atharva said that this could be resolved by reducing the number of convenors, for which plans were already underway. Moving on, Abhinav questioned Sankalp on his idea for making the adventure zone free for insti students and how he intended to cover up for the losses made through this. Sankalp asked Abhinav to read his feasibility report which offers the explanation to this question. Abhinav questioned Sankalp further on this issue by questioning how he intended to make up the 1.2 lakhs as per his report. Sankalp explained that the Laser tag company was interested in furthering their association with Saarang and that they would be willing to reduce the price in exchange for increased branding. In addition to this, he offered that the hospitality tariff could be raised by an additional fifty rupees to cover the costs.

Abhinav questioned Atharva on his plan for improved navigation for Saarang and what he meant by it. Atharva explained that he wanted to opt for creative avenues and signboards for navigation and that this could be explored through the Sponsorship team by offering brands space and in turn using that for navigation- this would increase functionality and help toward plastic reduction by replacing banners. Abhinav stated that this seemed like something an ambience coordinator applicant would mention in their application. Atharva disagreed and stated that the ambience team cannot offer what sponsors can and provides the example of Arctic Fox.

Sankalp questioned Abhinav the feasibility of ensuring club specific blogs being updated regularly. Abhinav answered that the blogs would ensure transparency in the functioning and updates of the team and the coordinators would, alongside being responsible for the same, also learn from it via tutorials that he intended to implement. When asked how he intended to sustain it, he answered that the posts would include cross-posting content from other blogs and sharing it etc to ensure engagement.  

To Atharva, Sankalp asked about his association with Prathishruth and questions if classical clubs had already done so. Atharva responded that most people did not know much about the association and that he intended to tap into the enthusiasm of the people interested in this field and to get the convenors of the club to be the facilitators. He also added that he had spoken to the people involved with Prathishruth who had told him what he could do to increase interaction with students, hence he would not just be branding the organisation.

Finally Atharva questioned Abhinav on his idea for a Saarang confluence and mentioned that the sponsorship team had been attempting to do the same for several years and had not managed to be successful in the same and questioned if Abhinav had met and spoken with the Sponsorship Cores. Abhinav answered in the affirmative to the last question and said that the Cores had mentioned that the failure had been attributed to the lack of partners and insufficient funds to execute it this year. Atharva contradicted this and said that the Cores had not been contacted by the Abhinav, and that he also needed to have associations if he planned on implementing such an idea. Abhinav continued to give the proof of concept for his idea, saying that he had spoken to two different partners and that this could be verified if needed.

With regards to Sankalp’s manifesto, Atharva observed that the former had several design centred points and wanted to know how the he intended to solve the issue of severe workload on the design team, adding that his contingency plan involving a ‘Know Your Contingent’ poster series would further add to the already heavy reliance on design. Sankalp answered by stating that all his ideas were not very design intensive; they required a template that could be edited to make a new poster for each member in a matter of minutes and would thus not burden the coords with additional work. In response to a final question regarding whether he had spoken to convenors who would have to help him with the same, he replied that they would only need to provide the elements required for each member, and that the template itself would be made by the design team. He therefore did not think it was a big issue.

With this the cross questioning round came to an end and the floor was opened to the executive council to question the candidates.

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