The Independent Student Newspaper of Ashoka University

Understanding the FAC: A Suitable Concession or an Empty Promise?

by Sankalp Dasmohapatra (UG’24) and Vishnu Prakash (UG’24)

On October 9th, six new members were elected to the House of Representatives in far from convincing fashion, with there being more NOTA votes than votes for all the candidates combined. The legitimacy of these elections is further brought into question when one accounts for the fact that UG24, the single largest batch of students at Ashoka, was barred from voting. Anticipating the outrage over the exclusion of some 750 students from the electorate, the Election Commission mooted the idea of a Freshman Advisory Council (FAC) on September 3rd, in an email titled ‘Update: The Way Forward’. On September 15th, the EC laid out their proposal of the FAC, describing it as a “representative body for the incoming batch until the period where they can stand for elections to the House of Representatives with five members who would be elected through internal elections within the fresher batch.”

But why were freshers barred from voting in the first place? The AUEC maintains that this was done for three reasons. The first, that “according to Article V, Section 8, clause 2 of the Constitution, the term limit for members of the House of Representatives is capped such that no member of the student body can serve more than 3 consecutive years in the House of Representatives”, and this therefore, could potentially prevent students from standing for election in their third year.  Secondly, they could not grant freshers the right to vote without also granting the right to contest, and this would require large scale amendments to the electoral code and “the AUEC having only advisory opinions in the passing of the former, could not override the HoR on this issue and the House was unwilling to implement large-scale changes when it’s composition failed to even meet quorum.” 

Finally, the AUEC understood that the role of the Interim House would be to facilitate conversations with the student body regarding structural reform of the SG, and “Given that the events overwhelmingly contributing to the reason for structural reforms within the SG, occurred over the 4 months leading up to the by-election, there was an overwhelming lack of context for the members of the UG 24 cohort (who had been a part of Ashoka for two weeks at the time of announcement of the by-election).” Furthermore, members of the Interim House were concerned that having representatives from UG24 in the new Interim House would limit the extent to which it could facilitate conversation around SG reform. The AUEC also claims that they could not wait any longer to hold elections due to imminent resignations from five House members. Had the five members resigned with no replacements, the House would be reduced to a strength of two.

The September 15th email also contained a survey, gauging interest from UG24 for the FAC. The Edict accessed the results of this survey, finding that engagement from first years was underwhelming, with only 111 responses. Its results indicate that 73% of respondents are in favour of greater representation for the fresher batch. Interestingly however, only 28% of respondents affirmed that they would be interested in being a part of such a council. In order to get a better understanding of this new idea and to further gauge student response, The Edict contacted the AUEC and the HoR and conducted a survey open to all batches.

The survey carried out by The Edict totalled 157 respondents across batches. The support for the FAC is clear, with 57% of all respondents being in favor of the constitution of such a body. However, 40% of respondents supported the decision to bar UG24 from voting in the by-elections. These respondents felt that UG24 were under-informed about the Ashokan political system and the context surrounding the elections and thus were ill-suited to voting in the present by-elections. This point was challenged by some respondents commenting that the standard practice during by-elections around the world allows new voters to vote during the election, and that the duty of informing new voters of the circumstances surrounding an election lies with the EC, as well as the candidates themselves. 

The AUEC and the HoR have both confirmed that the decision to implement the FAC is still being debated within the house and a formal proposal to implement the FAC has not yet been proposed. They have reiterated that the FAC will have a purely advisory role, since it would not be elected by the entire student body. Moreover, the decisions taken by the FAC are not binding upon the HoR and the FAC will hold no voting power. The intent for the FAC is to introduce the fresher batch to Ashokan politics and to ensure a smooth transition for UG24 to electoral politicsWhilst there is still ongoing debate about whether an advisory role as opposed to a complete integration as part of the Student Government is ideal, the FAC appears to have clear support from the survey participants; although not as a substitute for voting power. While the current HoR is still deliberating whether to propose the idea within the House, there are key issues to keep in mind during the implementation and subsequent working. 

The first and most obvious concern is that the FAC should not simply become token representation for the incoming fresher batch. While this concern will hopefully not exist for future batches, the exclusion of UG24 from the electorate without a clear plan for its representation in the SG has left much of the batch disgruntled with a lack of representation. Moreover this exclusion, whether intentional or otherwise, has alienated UG24 from the political process, with many being unaware of the workings of the Ashokan political system which is a dangerous precedent to set for what will soon be the largest voting group in Ashoka.

The second concern comes with the ability of the FAC to meaningfully address issues faced by freshers. Given the interim nature of the house and the endless resignations, students are calling into question the ability of the SG to effectively function and address student concerns. An advisory council that has no real voting power will have an even harder path to ensure that voices are heard and problems addressed.

The third and final concern is the ambiguity within the process and the lack of immediate and transparent communication around it. The specifics of the FAC remain unclear, and with the House not yet introducing the motion to implement it, one fears that the FAC may not be implemented this semester after all. However, this does not mean that the FAC should not be implemented at all as irrespective of the value it holds to the current freshers, it will be useful for all fresher batches going forward.

The FAC is ultimately a step in the right direction for Ashokan politics, but the circumstances under which it has been implemented warrant necessary criticism and concern from an already sceptical student body.

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