InFocus-1: HoR and Structural Reforms
by Ragini Bakshi and Sana Bashir (UG ’24)
In the first InFocus event of the election season, parties and independent candidates were expected to present structural reforms they wanted to bring in the House of Representatives (HoR). The aim was to accentuate candidates’ policy ideas and was moderated by a member of the AUEC, Arya Shukla. The event saw 60 attendees at peak, with an average of around 45 attendees, out of which 20 were panelists.
The debate kicked off with the candidates’ plans for the HoR. Most parties spoke about the stagnant number of the representatives in contrast to the expanding student body. The need for more representation in the HoR was highlighted, to enable a space for students to contribute without committing extensively. However, one of the independent candidates, Rhea, emphasized on increasing student body participation before increasing seats. The second question revolved around amendments needed to the existing structure of the HoR. The Syndicate elaborated upon their plans for introducing an expanded parliamentary system with a senate and a creation of a house to oversee the ethics committee. Next, Rhea gave the idea of having an internal vote instead of a referendum if faced with allegations/other reasons for incompetency so as to shorten the process. Karan, the only candidate from the Progressive Alliance, also brought up the need to dismiss people having a history of allegations from entering the house. The moderator further asked the candidates what motivated them to stand for which Rhea spoke about the utter lack of participation amongst the UG `22-23 cohorts, whereas a member of Allied Socialist Syndicate (ASS) spoke about UG `24 being denied the chance of participating in the recent by-elections being his reason to enter student politics. Susan, an independent candidate, referred to her experience in the advisory council as something that gave her the experience of working for the student body. Hazim, another independent candidate, spoke about his work with the Campus Life Ministry which enables him to understand student concerns better. On the topic of cross cohort participation, Kevin (ASS) mentioned how Ashoka Scholars’ Programme (ASP) students should be allowed to participate in the electoral process, however Rhea offered a correction by mentioning that ASPs do have the right to vote. Karan argued that the undergraduate body is large enough and hence more people aren’t needed. Hazim highlighted how although YIF doesn’t have enough background to form the student government, they could allow MA and PhD students to take part. Arya followed up by asking a question about the candidate’s suggestions on how to avoid blockage of communication between HoR members. ASS brought up the need for members to be more committed to attending meetings and mentioned the introduction of the GOC (Grievance, Outreach, and Cooperation) Ministry, while Karan suggested focusing on the mental health of members. On being asked what committees the candidates would make amendments to, Rhea mentioned the Alumni Relations Committee because of its lack of progress. Karan further proposed the idea of a Constructive Criticism Committee in place of a Complaints Committee. Regarding communications between the HoR and the Cabinet, Rhea emphasized on limiting the HoR’s power to infringe on the duties of cabinet ministers to which Karan agreed. Susan elaborated on the importance of the HoR to be prevented from interfering with the cabinet ministers who are well versed in their duties. There was a discussion between Rhea and Hazim around the cross-listing of HoR members with cabinet ministers to which Rhea concluded that she wouldn’t look favorably to a house member being a minister.
The audience Q&A was open to all however solicited responses from only a few members. Despite having the most candidates, only a few members from ASS were regular with their answers. The first question, directed mostly towards ASS, questioned how the candidates plan to carry out structural reforms in coordination with the Board of Management (BoM). They assured they will respect cabinet autonomy while carrying out changes within the structure of the HoR and also attend all BoM meetings, stating the latter had been an issue with the 7th HoR. Another question that followed was particularly about the voting by the Senate since these members too will be nominated as is in the cabinet. Their reply to this was that the cabinet would still have their own process of accountability and that it wouldn’t be fair to equate the senate to the cabinet because the latter isn’t directly accountable. They also said that senate members would be appointed in advance so it provides an easier method of accountability. A member of the current cabinet of ministers further asked the Syndicate’s plans for the cabinet and why they hadn’t consulted the ministries before listing their reforms. She clearly pointed out how all ideas listed in the party’s manifesto (for her ministry at least) have been under work or been dismissed after valid deliberation. The Syndicate acknowledged their shortcomings but also defended themselves by stating it was better to come up with recommendations rather than simply ignoring the situation. A member of the Edict posed another question to the floor enquiring about the candidates respective visions in working alongside the cabinet. Susan elaborated on how both the HoR and the cabinet should be accountable to one another while ASS too hopes to counter this conflict of interest. Another audience member questioned the functioning and legitimacy of the proposed Senate with respect to confidentiality of issues that are brought up within the Student Government, considering the fact that these members will be on rotation every two months. ASS clarified that senators will be legislators, thus having the right to vote, and regarding confidentiality, assured that as one places trust in the HoR, one should similarly extend their faith to the Senate. Both are legislative bodies and will fulfill their duties for the same. The last question brought up whether the candidates believe there should be a student-body-wide referendum for changing the parliamentary system or voting system. The candidates acknowledged a lot of this jurisdiction falls under the AUEC but went on to assure that no major changes will be taken without consulting the student body.