The General Elections ‘19 for various positions in the Students’ Gymkhana for the 2019-20 tenure are over and so are the unfortunate incidents that took place along with it. The voting took place on 20th January and the code of conduct for the same was enforced from 11th January. The posts for which candidates contested namely are – President, Students’ Gymkhana; General Secretaries for Media and Cultural, Science and Technology, Games and Sports Councils; UG and PG Secretaries for the Academics and Career Council, and multiple Senator positions for different programmes and batches.
These elections witnessed numerous electoral malpractices and unfortunate offences, which brought the dark side of student politics in campus into the light. Vox Populi, IIT Kanpur brings you a piece about how General Elections, 2019 was harrowed and how it went on to bring forward issues no one would have imagined of. We have avoided naming people in this article. Our aim is not to start a name-blame debate, rather point out the underlying issues that made this year’s elections one of the most saddening ones in the recent past.
Communal and divisive politics, a widely discussed topic in the Indian political context, cast its dark shadows on our campus. In an audio recording acquired by Vox a Presidential candidate can be heard mentioning how the assistance of a PG student of IIT Kanpur was taken in order to connect to Haryanvi, Punjabi and Odia communities. In addition, there was an attempt to tap into the votes of the Muslim community via an influential member for another Presidential candidate, the offer for which was declined by the said member. A UG Y18 student (who confided in us) was approached too, for the purpose of soliciting the support of the Marathi community.
Nepotism, an act of using power (in this case a position of Students’ Gymkhana) to favour or support an individual is a violation of the code of conduct enforced by the Election Commission of Students’ Gymkhana. It paves the path for personal biases and favouritism in a democratic system like ours. According to our sources, nepotism was observed in the process of acquiring campaigners by a certain Presidential candidate. The said candidate promised positions in the Senate subcommittees and the President’s Office in exchange of support in the General Elections. Two sitting General Secretaries were also found expressing support publicly and privately for a certain Presidential Candidate and a General Secretary candidate for Games and Sports.
The electoral process, unfortunately, found its way into the academic arena of IIT Kanpur as well. A certain Presidential candidate collaborated with two teaching assistants of a first year laboratory course, who in turn called up their allotted students asking them to vote for the said candidate. In a statement given to us, a Y18 said, “The TA informed me **** is contesting for presidential elections. **** has done very good work for his (the TA’s) Hall, and further asked me to vote for ****”. Also, another General Secretary candidate for Games and Sports Council was found engaging in electoral discussions in the academic area against the Code of Conduct.
The elections this year saw multiple instances where addictive substances have been offered to channelise votes in favour of some particular candidates. One of the General Secretary candidates for Games and Sports Council was found distributing cigarettes in a particular hall on the day of voting itself. A UG Y16 student reported to us that he was offered drugs in exchange of support for a certain Presidential candidate. One of the Presidential candidates was seen consuming alcohol with campaigners in the hostel premises. Despite administrative measures to tackle the problem of substance abuse including the establishment of the Deaddiction Clinic, the unholy nexus of student elections with these substances throws everything in a jeopardy.
The extent to which propaganda politics was involved this year was really unfortunate, and for Y18 students to be the face of it all is pitiful. When the names of first year students come up in cases involving liquor, drugs distribution and power politics, a natural question of what went wrong comes up to our mind. Is it the misguidance or the hunger of power that the stakeholders of Gymkhana propagate?
An incoming Y18 UG Senator provided certain undue favours to garner support for a Presidential candidate. The said person offered support to another batchmate for future elections to the HEC positions of a particular hall. In addition, the person influenced the hall allocation policy during winters where certain influential hall members were provided single rooms whereas other residents were stuffed into four per room. Another rumour that did rounds during the election period was the distribution of alcohol in some first year wings. The Y18 who was rumoured to be the one distributing alcohol told us, “Mujhe jitne leads mile unhe traceback krne pe do hi naam saamne aye, yeh do Y18 doosre presidential candidate ko support kar rhe the and main doosre ko. Yeh poora propaganda sirf mujhe aur jise mai support kar raha unhe defame karne ke liye failaya gaya tha.”
Booth capturing is a word heard often in the context of Indian politics and sadly, IIT Kanpur witnessed an attempt to do the same. A sympathiser of a candidate for General Secretary, Media and Culture attempted to convince an Election Officer in Hall 5 to leave the polling station assigned and allow him to carry out the polling procedure.
Image Credits – A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Besides these, some other electoral malpractices which we found were as follows:
i) The posts of Y18 UG senators weren’t up for voting this year because the number of candidates was equal to the number of required positions. In this context, an incoming Y18 Senator tried to convince another incoming Y18 Senator to divert all campaigners towards canvassing for a presidential candidate.
ii) A supporter of one of the candidates for General Secretary, Media and Culture had a list of contacts including previous project group members and called them up to solicit votes on the night before voting.
iii) An incoming Y17 senator insisted wing mates and other batchmates to go and vote for certain Presidential and General Secretary Candidates on the day of voting.
iv) Two Presidential candidates were found engaging in electoral discussions with other candidates.
v) An incoming Y16 Senator summoned students of entire wings of a certain Hall of residence and tried to coax them into campaigning for a candidate for General Secretary, Media and Culture, who was also present at the venue.
Also, in a freak incident on the morning of 18th January, a sitting General Secretary engaged in acts of vandalism, enraged at the chance of the verdict of the Grievance Redressal Committee going against his expectations. (The meeting began at 9:30 PM on 17th January and continued till 4:30 AM in the morning). He smashed the glass panel of the notice board outside the office of the Dean of Students’ Affairs and flung the cycles of the student members of the committee.
One of the members of the GRC said- “I really felt blank for a while and then unsafe. I did not know what to expect next from a person who had already smashed the glass of the Notice Board near the DoSA office and damaged our cycles. Some of us were shivering out of the fear of being harmed by him. One of us called the SIS office from the Academic Area main gate expressing our concerns to which they replied, “Hamari gadiyan ghumti rehti hain, jawan tainat hain. Aap jake room pe sojaiye.” They also asked the details of the caller and whereabouts of ***. We thought it was not safe to return to our rooms and slept at a common place outside our hostels. We have been doing this voluntarily out of our sense of dedication to the campus. If our personal security isn’t being guaranteed by the institute, why should we do anything at all? I would not have had any fear revealing my identity, but I do not have the sense of security in this campus that I used to have before Thursday. Although, I have been ensured by the authorities that action will be taken, I want the student community to know of it.”
The presence of room for activities ranging from bribery, nepotism, power play to a form of booth capturing to subvert due democratic process at every stage of election procedure entrap us more into the bubble of ignorance. Our electoral integrity is under danger and this is the time we realise how serious that is. What is sad is that these practices involve people who decide the future of this institute, who have a responsibility to take adequate steps towards progress and not of converting personal interests and grudges into a shared opinion. Distribution based on communities, substance abuse, threats, lack of transparency in the electoral framework, executive interference, and constant ways to abuse and mend rules is something that is never going to help the institute improve or the Gymkhana take constructive changes. We feel very sad, as the journalistic body of the institute, to inform you all of something like this, and hope that eventually, the message and the intensity of this unfortunate time reaches you all.
Note: This article is an outcome of an effort of investigative journalism carried out by some members of Vox Populi. The reports of such incidents have not been formally shared with us by anybody or committee of the Students’ Gymkhana. This, being a journalistic effort, should not be regarded as a judicial document. Reporting has been done to the best of the abilities of the Vox Populi team. Readers are requested to note this before making any further judgements.