Rethinking the HOR: Time to Let Go?

  • by Rutuparna Deshpande, UG’23

In the third part of the Edict’s series: HoR Insights, our writers delve into a deep analysis of the House of Representatives of Ashoka University’s Student Government. They study student politics through the relationship between the HoR and the Cabinet, and discuss the current relevance of and issues surrounding the HoR. In the first part of this article, Hiya Chowdhury (UG 23) writes in favour of the HoR continuing to hold relevance within Ashoka University. Meanwhile, in the second part, Rutuparna Deshpande (UG 23) focuses on the problems that exist with the HoR and proposes solutions accordingly.

It’s no secret that student faith in the HOR is at an all-time low given the tumultuous year the different iterations of the 7th HOR has had. The very fact that the House had so many variations in its composition is reason enough to doubt its hegemony as the stable body capable of making decisions for all. According to the Constitution of the SG, the House has the sole authority to represent the student body. The Cabinet in contrast has no representative power. With the representativeness of the HOR rendered almost redundant during the by-elections, let’s think back about why we need such a body in the first place.

Before any discussion about the need for the HOR, we need to know what exactly are its duties. Technically, the HOR functions as the headless chicken of the SG—it has no defined mandate. It works as a ‘go-with-the-flow’ war cabinet. According to Rhea, a long-time HOR member, “Since we can’t predict the situations that arise, anything not explicitly falls [sic. falling] under the mandate of the ministries, the stat [statutory] bodies or an administrative office is within our mandate”. 

On the other hand, each Ministry has a clearly defined mandate, is built around an area of concern, and based on figures from October, has 197 members in total. Not only does this ambiguity of function give the House essentially unrestricted power, but the fact that it’s only 15 members is also astounding. 

The HOR capitalises on the ambiguity of who should handle a situation, but how many issues are really that ambiguous? Based on voting records and monthly reports, the House works in four broad areas: admin communication, mobilization, fundraising and forwarding miscellaneous emails. There is little reason as to why the House should have an upper hand in these areas given that there are more effective ways of achieving these outcomes.

For example, each Ministry has a channel of communication with the admin based on its mandate: Academic affairs with OAA, and Campus life with the OSA. These ministries and their members have an established working relationship with the concerned admin offices. Multiple ministers have expressed concerns over the HOR overstepping in this regard. During my work as the deputy Parliamentary Affairs minister last year, I found this issue acutely noticeable and troubling.

The volunteer group working for worker’s issues has proven that mobilization can be much more effective and coordinated if it’s not the responsibility of only 15 people. We must ask whether a willingness to stand for elections proves the ability to organise. Volunteer-based mobilization centred around specific issues ensures that the attention of those working isn’t diluted by other responsibilities and that people who can’t stand for elections but have the ability can effectively be decision-makers. 

It is a legitimate fear that if we lose the HOR, we lose any negotiating power with the admin but that was not the case with workers’ issues. Students made headway with the workers’ grievance redressal committee without the HOR’s involvement. Why can’t we extend our imagination to other concerns as well?

To add to this were the myriad disagreements between UG23 and the HOR during the PBM protests. For example, a group of students from the batch claimed in an email to the student body that the demand for the VC’s resignation was not communicated to them until it was made public, their request to the HOR stated: “Please remove this and allow for discussion among students before listing demands that are supposed to represent us.” Despite being the largest batch at the time, batch WhatsApp groups were full of deeply entrenched feelings of being left out–who were the HOR representing then?

Fundraising for students during the brutal second wave and the workers was an important function too but again, could we not create a Ministry dedicated to emergencies and fundraising? Not only will this ensure that fundraising is a continuous effort, but it will also make sure that sensitive information about the benefactor is kept safely with the Minister who would be accountable for just that duty. 

Finally, coming to emails, what aspect of the HOR’s elected-ness gives them the special ability to decide which emails to forward and which to hold back? The Facebook group moderators are volunteers who do a good enough job at determining what information to put out. With democratically determined guidelines, even disagreements can be solved. Could the Tech Ministry not have a unit dedicated to forwarding miscellaneous emails? 

The fact that such a small group of people have to handle a large and ever-expanding portfolio makes it no surprise that the mental health of members is compromised. Moreover, the boundary between a professional relationship and friendship is virtually dissolved. This was the very reason why a majority of the 7th House resigned in the middle of their term. 

Dissent is also hard to come by in this close-connected group: based on publicly available voting records out of 79 total votes in the 7th House, there were only 17 ‘no’ votes out of which 14 were for confirmation of two ministerial posts. In other legislative matters, a staggering 96% were ‘yes’ votes. 

The line of argument here is simple: the undefined mandate and small size make the HOR a body doomed to existential issues by design. The loss of trust in the HOR is not going to go away if we continue with the same system of bestowing enormous power and duties to 15 people. Let’s begin by thinking of expanding the ministries and doing away with ambiguously centralised power. 

Despite the fatigue, inertia and sheer frustration with the SG, we must remember that real things are at stake if we do not have a meaningfully representative student government. It is undeniable that we need a ‘face’ for the SG and that the HOR has done good work in the past, but it is also time to start thinking of a better, more efficient and representative system.

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