The Dirge of a Dying Democracy


DemocracyThe start of the even semester brought with it the buzz of elections. Rumours about potential candidates became a topic of discussion, and current secretaries, conveners, and other “influential” people on campus began to receive calls from ambitious candidates hoping to convince others to vote for them. Some candidates were worried about vote-bank politics, while the others fretted that their opponents might use underhanded tactics and mudslinging to tilt the vote in their favour. At the same time, sections of the electorate hoped that “dirty politics” would not colour the elections this year, and a particularly enthusiastic group even created a Facebook page titled “Clean Politics at IITM”.

Had this been like any other year, the first years from the hostels of each candidate would have been sent to the PG hostels to campaign. Aspiring secretaries would be busy making visits and winning votes. Closely-guarded copies of manifestos would be passed around. But this time, our campus is curiously silent. Nine candidates stand for eight institute posts; all but the two contesting for the post of Academic Affairs Secretary are unopposed.

In a campus which saw up to three people contesting for the same post last year, the current situation is surprising, to say the least. Are there not enough people willing to stand? Have the institute posts lost their aura of power and glamour which made them so desirable? And what can the electorate, now made redundant by the lack of choice, expect from these secretaries in the making?

A curious aspect of this entire affair is that up until the final day for filing nominations, there were, in fact, multiple nominations for some posts- three candidates had filed nominations for the post of Cultural Secretary (Arts), two for the post of Students’ General Secretary. This would lead any outsider to conclude that something, or someone, prompted these candidates to withdraw their nominations. Could this have been coercion at work?

With an electorate of over 4000 students eligible for each post, it is hard to believe that there is only one person in the whole campus good enough to contest for each of these seven posts. Does the political machine on campus, then, somehow deter or intimidate potentially good secretaries? Although the rules state that all members of the electorate who clear the academic and disciplinary requirements are eligible to contest in the elections, it is an unspoken “tradition” of sorts that only pre-final year undergraduate or dual degree students contest. First and second years running for institute posts are unheard of, and multiple candidates from the same hostel running for the same post are looked upon with a mixture of mirth and derision. With so many things coming in the way, it would not be too surprising if this system of politics deterred many a promising candidate who was unable to get to the centre of the Chakravyuh that elections tend to be.

Amidst the complete lack of furore over the elections, the soapbox held this year was a crippled version of its predecessor. Unlike last year, when the audience was allowed to question the candidates, only around two questions were permitted per post this time. The questions that the candidates were supposed to answer had been selected using a form on T5E, but as time passed, this was dropped, and the candidates left after parroting out points from their manifestos. Citing the lack of time as an excuse for organising such a perfunctory soapbox session, the SAC speaker did not let candidates remain on stage for very long. To top off this farce, the Cultural Secretary (Literary)-to-be began his speech by thanking the audience for “electing” him unanimously.

But certainly, it is very easy to blame the ‘system’, that most convenient scapegoat for any disgruntled student. What we must consider, though, is this – the official system is fair and open, the rules for contesting are well-publicised, and the electorate is educated and aware. We have all the infrastructure in place for a vibrant democracy to thrive. To look upon the visage of the enemy that threatens the fabric of democracy, the malaise plaguing free and fair elections on campus, one needs but to look into a mirror.

This article was written by Aravindabharathi R and Poorna Kumar with inputs from Anand Rao and Vaishali Venkatesh Prasad.

T5E conducted a video survey (Vox Populi) on this topic. Click here to view it.

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