The Independent Student Newspaper of Ashoka University

The Ashokan Socialist Syndicate: A Fresh Take On Political Parties?

by Aggam Walia (UG’22)

In September, the Ashokan Socialist Syndicate (ASS) registered with the Election Commission as Ashoka’s newest political party. Started by students from the UG’24 batch, ASS is “committed to creating a platform of accessibility, change and transparency to further progressive ideals.” The party has a public Constitution which lays down the organizational framework for its operations. While it did not participate in the recently concluded by-elections, considering that UG’24 was barred from voting and contesting, it plans to field candidates for the regular elections in February. As of now, the party has over 45 members, most of whom are UG’24 students. 

In an email sent out in mid-September, ASS positions itself on “the left of the political spectrum” and rules out any room for “bigoted ideals” within the party. It emphasizes the importance of structure and stability both for political parties and the Student Government. Towards that end, the ASS Constitution constructs an internal hierarchical system that is led by the President and the Syndicate Working Committee (SWC). There are nine more formal positions, all accorded with varying responsibilities. Currently, Geetanjali Roy (UG’24) is the Acting President and Vikram Tapadia (UG’24) is the Syndicate General-Secretary.  

“The Constitution is the glue that holds us together,” Vikram says. He explains that the reason behind having a formal Constitution is inspired by the current political system. “The entire purpose of having a fixed structure and a fixed constitution is for the party to not implode or collapse onto itself. Regardless of the mess that went down earlier this year, it was only a matter of time before the parties imploded or their workers became unenthusiastic,” he explains. Based on his interactions with members of other political parties on campus, Vikram concludes that they were highly centralized and lacked inter-party democracy. “They [party members] never felt like they had a say, even after being elected to the House,” he adds. 

The ASS Constitution strictly defines the role of the various bodies and officeholders within the party. It also contains procedures for when members engage in “anti-party activities.” In Article VII: Parliamentary Conduct, there is a clause which allows the President to “unilaterally absolve or expel” ASS House members for violating a whip as it falls under anti-party activities. Vikram explains that anti-party activities include collaboration with other parties that harms their image or joining another party without informing the leadership. “We don’t intend to expel our members because of the slightest hint of collaboration. We hope to collaborate with other political parties at Ashoka, in whatever shape or form they may exist. We don’t want to be an isolated entity,” he clarifies. 

Vikram adds that the whip is only meant for “extremely important votes in the House, especially constitutional amendments.” He assures that House members can protest a whip if a simple majority disagrees with it. “If they find the whip unfair, they can always appeal to the SDB, our disciplinary board. Any member can raise a complaint against any other member if they feel like that said member has violated a constitutional norm, which includes the will to fight against bigotry and our commitment to secularism and socialism,” he says. 

Responding to potential concerns that the formal party structure may be intimidating, Vikram says that the various departments in the party will be much more loosely organized. “We recognize that when people are in a collaborative, or fun mood, they tend to be more engaged, energized and enthusiastic about the work they have to do,” he says. He adds that the party acronym is intended to make it less intimidating.

ASS has conducted inductions for three departments: Volunteerism, Media and Outreach, and a party newsletter. “The newsletter is a consolidated effort which will provide commentary on Ashokan and external politics. It will be open to journalistic and creative expression,” Geetanjali says. Vikram adds that it is also a convenient way for the party to clear its stances on many issues. The first issue of the newsletter was released on 29th September. 

The party claims in its induction email that if one joins the party, their “timetable will not be stressed.” Geetanjali adds that membership to the departments is voluntary. “We don’t take our members and put them in departments they don’t want to be in. You can just be a party member without being involved in any of the departments. You just have to be present in our all-party meets and be vocal about issues,” she explains. 

ASS has been vocal about the EC’s decision, in consultation with the House, to bar UG’24 students from either voting or contesting the by-elections earlier this month. “In our opinion, the decision was not only illogical but also undemocratic. While a Freshman Advisory Council (FAC) is a good idea for batches to have in the future, it is not an adequate concession or replacement for participating in the by-elections,” Vikram says. He adds that in by-elections for actual governments, the vote is granted to everyone who is eligible, irrespective of whether they were or weren’t at the time of regular elections. He cannot confirm ASS’s participation in the FAC yet but is confident of grasping any opportunity to represent the batch of UG’24. 

On electoral reforms, ASS unequivocally backs the demands to change the Swiss-PR system. It is also unsure about whether increasing the number of seats in the House is an adequate provision for ensuring stability. “We will have more to say about this whenever we contest for elections,” Vikram adds. On unionization, Vikram feels that the SG and parties have been much more vocal about it than the student body. “It is not a priority for us right now because we feel like it’s not a priority for the majority of the student body,” he says.

In response to criticism that party members do not have much administrative experience, Vikram has a quick reply– “There were primarily three parties contesting the elections last time, two of which had previous administrative experience, and one did not. Despite their years of being active in the political scene, those three parties are either on their deathbed or already in the grave.” 

“We’re asking the student body to give us a chance, and we’re not asking them to do that right now. We have months to build the party organically,” Vikram says. 

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