Covered by Sarthak Pathak and Raymond Joseph.
On 28th February, the Colloquium held an open air discussion regarding institute electoral reforms at the Himalaya lawns. The idea was to bring such a discussion right to the hostel zone so that many would participate. The session began at 8:30 pm, there was a delay because the moderator, Prof. Sudarsan Padmanabhan and the Dean of Students, Prof. LSG could not be there on time.
The discussion began with around 20 people, and grew to around a hundred later. The Students’ General Secretary, P Baranidaran (who incidentally was the only executive wing member to attend the session) started off with a highly surprising remark – “Why should we have elections at all? Can’t the Executive Wing members and secretaries be chosen by a panel consisting of the Dean, Director et al?” There was a little applause and his point was backed by a few. After a few more deviating comments, the moderator Prof. Sudarshan Padmanabhan arrived and spoke about regionalism in elections. He mentioned that he was on the Election Commission of Tamil Nadu as well, and noted that regionalism was a big part of elections outside campus too and that there was no easy solution to the same.
The main reason for regionalism was cited to be a lack of awareness among people about the candidates. “If I don’t know a particular candidate nor have I read his manifesto, on what basis would I choose the candidate?”, said someone. “The candidates and the voters are distinctly disconnected from each other. For example, look at the post graduates, they would not bother to know or hear about any cul-sec candidate”. Another person piped in saying that even if a PG student decided to read the manifesto of a cul-sec candidate, he wouldn’t know how to judge it.
Somebody suggested having a periodic review of all the candidates’ manifestos, rather than a single review towards the end of the academic year. This suggestion for the was taken seriously and it was also suggested that the review be conducted in the Himalaya lawns in the same way as the Colloquium session.
Prof. L.S.Ganesh had been a silent observer till this point of time when the mike was handed over to him. He started off by doing a quick survey of the crowd composition, only to find a dismal PG participation in the discussion. He found that there were a total of 8 M.Tech students, 15 MS/PhDs and only one MSc student present in the crowd. “This itself tells us a lot about ourselves”.
“So what if you don’t have representatives?”, he said. “If I tell you that all the decisions will be taken by us, and that we love you, you have no reason to fear any irrational decision on our part. Would you go for it?”
“The moment a candidate knows he is not going to come back to the institute and be held responsible for anything, it changes. A very big drive for candidates to apply for a particular post is their CV. How many of the aspiring candidates are present here?”. As it turns out, none of the aspiring candidates had shown up for the session. (When asked earlier, a particular candidate replied “I will try to avoid this this place for today evening. There is no way I am going to show up for this session. I do not want to become a public target a day before my campaigning begins!”)
He also noted that none of the Executive Wing members, with the exception of the Students’ General Secretary had shown up for the session.
“The limited decision making authority that a candidate receives makes him perceive himself as a local god”, LSG continued. “How many of you have read the constitution of IIT Madras? And how many of you remember it? Or atleast the salient features of it? It was written based upon a single, most important premise – participation of the entire student body”
“How do we make sure that every student is exemplary? As IITians, we must take responsibility for what we do. Every week, 2 metric tonnes of food is wasted from the mess. A sheer 25% of our mess bill is simply going to waste. Why do our people behave this way? Ideally, a lot of things shouldn’t happen the way they do. Ideally, a good Academic Affairs Secretary would wonder why students are performing badly in their courses and a Research Affairs Secretary would be bothered about the falling standards of research. Ideally, a good Hostel Affairs Secretary, in collaboration of the Sports Secretary would work towards ensuring that all campus residents are fit. That is happening, but in very limited capacity.”
“You may not be a candidate standing for elections. But you are an individual with enough power to alter an election.”