Note: Awaaz, IIT Kharagpur has substantial evidences and proofs to justify each and every statement stated underneath.
Just when the potential candidates for the post of Vice President were gearing up, a sudden change in the rules for eligibility to contest upcoming elections shattered the ambitions and aspirations of two of them. The change in rules, having a substantial departure from the previous year’s rule, seemed tailor-made to suit vested interests as the changes made affected some particular candidates only. Since then, the accusations of foul play are in the air and speculations of the Vice President’s favoritism to a certain set of candidates have been rife. People have been questioning the timing and nature of changes in the rules. Awaaz, as a student media body, investigated into the issue. After making our best efforts to connect with the stakeholders involved, getting into the facts and turn of events, what follows next is our findings, observations, and situational analysis.
“He [Election officer] shall frame the rules of elections with the approval of the Executive Council.”
This sentence written under appendix B of the Gymkhana constitution stands in contradiction to the events that actually unfolded before the eyes of the General Body (read ‘the whole student community’) which is characterized by releasing of the modified rules in public domain before any executive council meeting following the constitutional procedures. The rules state three important changes, one of them to be implemented next year onward (CGPA criteria), while the other two changes seemed to be too essential to be implemented this year itself to the policy makers. Coincidentally or rather consequently, these two changes in rules cost two aspiring Vice President candidates to lose their candidature.
You must be surprised; who were the student representatives to propose/advise/approve such important modifications in front of the election officer or the other concerned stakeholders. Let us have a look at the sequence of events while reflecting over the same on ethical as well as constitutional grounds.
Vice President proposes the modifications
Before the rule modifications were announced through the public notice 2nd March, no executive council meeting was held as confirmed by some of the members of the executive council themselves. The modifications were proposed in the Election Committee Meeting held on 20th February 2019 where only one student representative namely the Vice President, TSG was present. (The Election Committee is nowhere mentioned in the constitution, hence we assume that it was called according to the discretionary powers granted to the Election Officer. This meeting can not be called an executive council meeting as its composition does not comply with that of the executive council as mentioned in the constitution.) The administrative stakeholders present in the meeting were conveyed that the Students’ Senate was of the opinion of bringing in the proposed modifications. When the secretary to the Students’ Senate came to know about the modification in the aftermath of the publishing the rules, his objection to it clearly points out the fact that the stakeholders were misled in the name of the Senate.
(This post does not concern itself with the third modification related to CGPA criteria here onward given it doesn’t get implemented this year and hence, not an immediate concern as of now).
Have a look at rule number 4, 5 and 6.
Ruckus over the term “nominated”
This year’s rule: “Those who have held an elected or nominated post at TSG, other than the post of secretary, will not be allowed to contest for any post in the TSG election for second time.”
Last year’s rule: “Those who have held an elected post at TSG, other than the post of secretary, will not be allowed to contest for any post in the TSG election for second time.”
Some people objected to this inclusion leading to a senate meeting where most of the Hall representatives were not in the favour of an abrupt change which could possibly lead to the invalidation of the candidature of an aspiring candidate. This meeting could not lead to any definite conclusion. This called for an executive council meeting where the modifications were to be discussed and approved democratically. The readers are urged to note that this was the first formal executive council meeting regarding the election rules which, ironically, was held 8 days after (on 10th March) the rules were signed by the election officer.
Given the meeting was being held in order to declare that the G. Sec. Students’ Welfare post is the same as that of other G. Secs, the General Secretaries, Students’ Welfare were not invited to be the part of the executive council meeting. According to the Gymkhana Constitution, the executive council should be composed of 6 General Secretaries (Kindly note that the constitution has not been updated since long and it is yet to include any information about the General Secretaries, Students’ Welfare), which gives a fair chance to all the general secretaries to be a part of the executive council unless otherwise stated. The meeting ended with 10 members voting in the favour of the modification against 8 opposing the same. Hence, we believe that the presence of the other two G. Secs. i.e., both G.Sec. Welfare was crucial for the mandate and completely constitutional in order to ensure fairness to all the G.Secs. But that didn’t happen. On one hand, it was argued that G. Sec. Welfare post is similar to other G. Sec. posts and hence, they shouldn’t be allowed to contest elections. On the other hand, they were not considered to be a part of the executive council (which they should have been if we consider the same reasoning of all G. Sec. posts being equal to each other). It’s evident that the concept of ‘equality of all G. Secs. as office bearers’ is applied in one case and not in the other. This inconsistency is shady.
“Unregistered”: an unconventional term?
This year’s rule: “Candidate who has repeated any academic year/any backlog/any unregistered subjects, will not be allowed to contest for any post of Gymkhana.”
Last year’s rule: “Candidate must not have a running backlog or a deregistration in this semester.”
The term is not used as frequently as the terms ‘backlog’ or ‘deregistration’ are, mainly because the students do not generally leave any subject unregistered unless it is very essential to do so, the circumstances being medical emergency or academic inability to cope up with too many credits (to be decided by the faculty advisor for the students having CGPA below 6.0). The students having CGPA below 6.0 are anyway not allowed to contest the Gymkhana elections, so any unregistered subject does not signify any academic weakness of the contestant. So, the term does not satisfy the purpose of its inclusion in a sentence which is meant to address the academic qualification of the candidates.
This inclusion, again, has cost an aspiring candidate his candidature. Surprisingly, his name was included in one of the official lists (dated 17th March) of candidates but was excluded in the final list (dated 17th March, 7:30 PM) in a dramatic sequence of events.
According to the concerned candidate himself, he succeeded in convincing the election officer about his candidature in the first place. His unregistered course happens to be Thermodynamics (ME22002), which was marred by controversies since there was an unusually high number of F grades given to the students in the Spring Semester 2017–18. The institute senate decided not to refer to this case as backlog so as to not deprive concerned students of any benefits.
The senate ruling said, “The students who have failed in the subject ‘Thermodynamics (ME22002)’ in the Spring semester 2017–18 be not debarred for academic and other benefit due to backlog of this particular subject.”
The candidate procured a letter signed by the competent academic authority stating that this course should be considered as ‘unregistered’. Regardless of the purpose of the procurement, it should be valid everywhere else in an academic institution. Following the exclusion of his name from the candidates’ list, the concerned candidate was told that the term ‘any benefits’ did not cater to elections since the senate’s jurisdiction should only lie in the academic domain. It comes to us as a surprise that in an election process, one can seek academic information of a candidate in an academic institution, but the stakeholders of the same process are refusing to accept the decision taken by the sole academic body of the institution.
Too much in hurry?
Rule 5 states that ‘from next year, CGPA criteria is proposed to be revised to 7.0’. That’s quite logical and pragmatic. Any rule changes which can have a severe impact on the candidature of the candidates should not be made in a hurry and people should be notified way earlier about the same. This is what we observe with respect to rule number 5. But when it comes to changes in rules 4 and 6, the same reasoning wasn’t followed. This certainly rings the bell so as to what’s the reason that these changes couldn’t be implemented (or proposed to be implemented) from next year (like rule 5), and why was it necessary to incorporate the changes this year itself, without prior notice. If the third modification about the CGPA cutoff could be proposed and approved for the elections from next year, we don’t find any apparent reason about the hurry in implementing the other two.
Evidently, the cancellation of candidature resulting from the two abrupt modifications just days before the election is totally uncalled for on ethical grounds. Also, the changes were made in haste without following proper procedures. And the nature of changes looks set to disfavor certain set of candidates.
An abrupt change in CGPA criteria for contesting elections was introduced two years ago, of similar nature, similar vested interests, under similar conditions. However, after the intentions becoming evident and drawing much flake, the changes were rolled back leading to all the candidates being able to contest the elections.
Lack of fairness in formulating election regulations is a threat to a democratic setup and we do not support any such kind of activity that puts the integrity of the student elected institutions in jeopardy.
– The election officer, when approached, refused to comment anything about the election process and directed us to follow the notices. This hinders us from getting any official statement on whatever has happened till now leaving some of our questions unanswered from the authority’s side. (The constitution says that the Election officer is the final authority in dealing with the elections).