The Accountability Debate: A Tale of Two Terms
TW: Mentions of sexual harassment and sexual assault
The first event of the 2022 election cycle took place on 21st January as the current Student Government (including members who resigned before completing their term) came forth for the Accountability Debate. The Cabinet ministers as well as most of the members of the 7th House of Representatives (HoR) were present, barring Jai Desai, Karan Lobana (both of whom had emailed before the debate stating they were unwell) and Shreya Jain (informing of her absence only after the event). Moderated by Nishtha Khunteta (UG ’23) and Rithupar Pathy (ASP ’22), the purpose of the debate was to take a dive into the Student Government’s (SG’s) work during their tenure as promised at the beginning of their respective terms.
The debate provided a platform for members to recall their contributions over the past couple of months and for the student body to hold them accountable for the promises that they made in their respective manifestos. The Cabinet ministers began by presenting the projects their departments worked on- ranging from building academic resources, working for reinstatement of cross-access, holding events, incorporating sustainable approaches around campus, revamping social media and so on. The elected representatives of the HoR brought up organizing protests post the resignation of Prof. Pratap Banu Mehta, handling fundraisers, working for the welfare of the workers and fee increment concerns; most members reiterated the same few issues. The Acting President Neha Sheikh brought up the Freshman Advisory Council (FAC) that she had aimed to form which remained nothing more than a draft because of “contention in the house”. It’s also interesting to note the continuous emphasis of the SG on furthering the workers movement when in fact, as pointed out by multiple attendees, it was the non-member students who are majorly involved in the issue. While they acknowledged they might not have done all what was promised they went on to mention how many of them had less time and also mentioned that many of the members weren’t as pro-active as hoped.
Next, the attending SG members were questioned on some promises they had made pre-elections. When asked about the statements on expanding house seats, the Acting President replied that considering the low capacity of the house, they prioritized other pressing issues. Members of Prakrit were further asked to elaborate on their promises to widen reservations according to caste and gender to foster diversity to which they simply responded by saying that maximum efforts were not made owing to Ashoka’s politically turbulent climate in the past year as well as the toll the second wave took on most of their mental health. When Dhamma’s failure of commitments was questioned, they agreed their aspirations were highly ambitious which they couldn’t fulfill as the party disbanded soon after. Tarz too was asked to elaborate on their promise to ensure reservation of students on financial aid for its committee, which they defended saying that they had opened applications to the student body but received less than a lackluster response. Regarding the toxicity in the House that the candidates had vouched to reduce, a member of the HoR simply said the current House wasn’t specifically toxic. The Cultural Ministry defended the lack of events by mentioning that they were short staffed and overworked, thus they thought it best to wait for a new and enthusiastic ministry to take over.
Regarding a few tips for the future HoR, members said that debates should be conducted more respectfully. They emphasized on the fact that the student body should recognize that SG comprises students and so there should be an equal division of work, student body participation should increase, and boundaries should be created. The floor also opened to the audience for questions where someone, directing the question to Nipun Jain, asked what apart from directing people to the concerned ministries had he done only to realize he had left the debate because of internet problems. Another question directed to Prakrit talked about the questionable statements made by party members on SH, to which they simply replied that these statements were made by a former member who was not associated with the party at that time.
While many students had been hopeful for the new SG, the Accountability Debate only proved the crumbling nature of the HoR. It seemed to showcase a shadowed path the Student Government has led this past year full of unfulfilled promises in an already unstable political environment. As their term comes to an end, the student body once again prepares for the upcoming general elections.