DISCLAIMER: The authors and editors of this article have tried to be as objective as possible in the following representation of the events of the soapbox. For the sake of brevity, we have discussed, what in our opinion, constitute the most relevant points of the debate. For a more detailed story, watch the video at the end of the article.
The debate between Shreyas Harish and Mehul Chaudhary, complete with the presence of a highly vocal and questioning crowd, showed the amount of competition this year for the post of Cultural Affairs Secretary (Literary). The first round of the debate was started off by Mehul, who presented his manifesto in brief, and answered questions that were raised through the online survey, followed by Shreyas in the same pattern. Though the crowd had an equal and substantial number of supporters for both the candidates, Mehul’s supporters were quite vocal in their allegiance, which evoked multiple warnings from the SAC Speaker. The following were the main points of the debate.
Mehul’s proposition to reduce the cost of discounted tickets for insti students by increasing the prices for the non-discounted tickets, and lowering the budget by collaboration with SPIC MACAY to get Classical Night artists, led way for one of the most heated debates of the evening. The current CulSec highlighted the fact that it was something that had already been done over the last two years, and a further change in the existing rates would only substantially reduce the ticket sales outside the institute. Also, he added that this would backfire if he was planning to introduce a new comedy show (Laughter House, another point on Mehul’s manifesto), as that would only blow up the expenditure, with reduced chances of compensation. Mehul backed his motion by a verbal assurance that it will be beneficial for the student community overall, and the losses suffered could be easily compensated by the profit raised during ticket sales. Also, his competitor Shreyas, who had worked in the professional shows team for 3 years, pointed out that the initiative to collaborate with SPIC MACAY had been a failure for the past 5 years, owing to its strict policy against external sponsors which could lead to a significant fall in Saarang’s profit. However, Mehul, claiming to have been in talks with the SPIC MACAY coordinators at IITB, restated that it was still feasible.
Among his other initiatives, Mehul also faced criticism for his proposal to increase transparency in cash flow during the organization of Saarang — the major barrier to this being the non disclosure clause in MoUs signed by the artists and coordinators, according to his opponent and the current CulSecs. However, Mehul articulated that this will be done by ensuring due privacy to all the artists. He was also questioned by the members in the audience regarding his initiative to allow larger budgets for clubs which were performing incrementally better, since established clubs would then have an unfair advantage. The current CulSec also refuted the point saying that such incentives for the better performing clubs were irrelevant as club budgets were always flexible.
The hostel captain system for intra-hostel events, which had been a failed concept owing to the fact these captains were accountable to none, was also questioned heavily. To this, Mehul promised to keep a check on the Literary and Social Affairs secretaries of hostels, to whom these captains will be made accountable. Also, the concept of club support team that would aid clubs in publicity, sponsorship, facilities, etc., was criticised, owing to the fact that even some of the Saarang teams were understaffed in these areas. On the grounds of the data that he had collected from members of the Saarang team this year, Mehul however stressed that lack of participation will not be an issue to its feasibility.
On a personal front, Mehul also came under a lot of scrutiny for the way he has handled his hostel, Jamuna, as their LitSec, and the descend of their LitSoc position from 3rd in the previous year to 12th this time (current position). He articulated that though his tenure hadn’t been successful in terms of their LitSoc position, which he attributed to “bad luck”, he claimed that he had been able to improve the participation among the inmates of his hostel.
Shreyas was thoroughly interrogated over his proposal to allot infrastructural spaces exclusively for the use of cultural clubs along the lines of CFI by his opponent, who, quoting the current AAS, emphasized that alumni funds are open only for tech related developments. Shreyas clarified that the analogy with CFI was only on the lines of its functionality, and the Dean had already agreed to the reconstruction of unused structural places within the campus, thus eliminating all needs for an external source of funds. This point was backed by the current CulSecs.
Shreyas’s initiative to outsource ambience work during Saarang to professionals was not received well by a group of people who claimed that it would invalidate Saarang’s claim of being an entirely student-run festival. In response to this, Shreyas clarified that outsourcing is already happening in the case of professional shows, a few events and facilities, which had actually helped improve the brand appeal of Saarang. He also assured that Saarang’s pride of being the largest student-organised festival in India will remain intact as long as the foremost decision makers were from the student community. Regarding his initiative to improve the consistency of social outreach programs and cultural charity events under the World Culture Fest banner even after Saarang, concerns were raised regarding the willingness of coordinators to work post-Saarang. He was also scrutinised by his opponent (who was the Proshows production coordinator for Saarang 2016) over the extra production costs such events would bring about. Shreyas explained that coordinators are selected annually also to be a part of the cultural scene throughout the year, and charity events could host a plethora of non-music artists, for whom no production budget would be required.
Adding to the system of allotment of freshers to the UG hostels to improve their participation in LitSoc, he proposed that the freshers will also be given a choice to represent their hostel or the UG hostel they were allotted to, to address all ragging concerns. He also added that this initiative was run through the Dean of Students. He was questioned regarding the possibility of foul play in the allocation of LitSoc points won by freshers and favouritism to only those freshers who had represented the UG hostel in LitSoc by their seniors, when they move into that hostel in their second year. He promised that additional effort will be taken by coordinators and club members to ensure fairplay. He also explained to the crowd that on the long run, UG hostels would benefit from freshies participation, irrespective of the hostel they represent, thus ruling out the possibility of favouritism.
The inclusion of regional societies into the cultural scene in insti was an important point addressed by both the candidates in their manifestos. They proposed the conduction of institute wide events to celebrate the cultural diversity in artforms and cuisine. To this, Shreyas also added the introduction of club fundae sessions in regional languages with the help of the samiti members. A minor controversy got sparked off when Mehul’s groundwork in this area was challenged by the heads of the Tamil and Telugu societies present in the audience, who claimed that their inputs were not seeked for. Voluntarily, Shreyas also admitted that he hadn’t met all of the Samiti heads.
You can find the video of the entire session below. Credits – Media Club, IIT Madras