Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article are those of the author only. The Fifth Estate does not endorse any of the views mentioned in the article. The views are not to be construed in any manner as the official views of IIT Madras.

Soapboxes are places for very effective grilling of would-be student representatives. With their “Oo, well played” moments to their gentle smatter of heckling, they are enlightening spaces which are traditionally also entertaining, an important part of insti culture. But what happens when the heckling becomes toxic and brawls are commonplace occurrences in the venue? A disillusioned GSB member writes:

     That a certain strong streak of corrosive politics unearths each year around elections is undeniable. In soapboxes, this translates directly to an equally strong vocal display of support, a call to arms that campaigners seem to hardly resist, that is if they have been trying. Another less direct consequence is the seemingly dismally low attendance to the soapbox by the stakeholders, the GSB members, unless it is to show support to the candidates they have already shown solidarity to.

If a group of people supporting a candidate think their best strategy is to out shout those supporting the other candidates, I wonder what it says of the supporters’ faith in the candidate.

     Where does, one thinks, championing end being healthy and start becoming disrupting. If it is at the point where specific candidates are not allowed to make a fair presentation of their views and manifestos, then our soapboxes probably have hit the bottom. Incidents in the recent soapboxes lead one to believe that sections of the crowd hardly care for the nuances in any manifestos-of the candidates they approve of or otherwise-and also largely lack concern for the SECC members’ repeated pleas to mellow down. It has also been disheartening to find that members of GSB will stoop to publicly make personal references to candidates and SECC members. In the SGS soapbox on 8th March some GSB members were bearing posters with slogans like “Akka, don’t throw me out!”, “Akka, is cheering a crime?”, “Akka, questioning the candidate is my right! Don’t take it away!”, assumedly responses to the events of another unruly Soapbox for the post of Sports Secretary on 6th March.

     Also to be put on record is the EC’s inclination to take over control of the proceedings that borders on disregard for the SECC moderators. Matters came to a head when the Students’ General Secretary, rephrasing a GSB question, asked one of the candidates what he had ‘paid’ the SECC that they had allowed him to contest for the election.

    The defeat of any ideals is always slow at first and starts with barely noticeable corrodings. So if we are at a point where we are alarmed by the coercive nature of support and dissent but still can put only an uneasy finger to it, it definitely warrants prompt attention.

The soapboxes of this election are by no means without integrity; far from it, they have succeeded in exposing the depth of groundwork done and several incompetencies in candidates. But it should be acknowledged they have melted down into showdowns with fuzzy boundaries that are not what they used to be or should be.

      These views shall not enjoy the vice of remaining fashionably or even perhaps appropriately aloof. They have a point to make and it shall be made thus. What if we do not have to strong arm winning an election by shouting ourselves hoarse in support? If only we do not, revelling in the collective power of being a crowd, try to drown out the candidates’ voices, perhaps it would be more than enough done to ensure less murky politics. Surely it seems worth pondering over if being an audience that boisterously cheers its hero candidates but knows when to stop matters immensely to being participants of free and fair elections.

       In the space after a point is made by a candidate, there is a tiny moment of silence in which the crowd deliberates on its power to boo or clap, a choice that individuals make for themselves. And if the result turns out to be disturbing and sometimes even lewd cries of support and opposition, what does that say of the GSB members who populate the soapboxes. And if that weren’t to happen, will it not mean an unanimous respect for mettle alone? Could it be that the candidates that we support are perhaps good enough to win their elections with just the right amount of mature support and do not need brawls or deals on their behalves? Everything in moderation, they say. I wonder how badly does insti need this.

 

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