The Curious Case of Blank Manifestos

Over the past few years, the number of nominations, for both Senate and Executive positions, have steadily decreased. During this general elections, the condition worsened, leaving the governance body short of volunteers in two major departments, FMC and the GnS. While there were no applicants for the position of GenSec, Films and Media, Mr. Tizil’s nomination for the GnS post was cancelled on grounds of violation of the Code of Conduct. Last year, the executive post in the Cultural Council was left vacant and Mayank Jain, the FMC GenSec, had to perform dual roles for half the term. With the by-elections being held for the vacant posts, there has still not been a nomination filed for the post of GenSec, Films and Media.

Surprisingly, this year, there was only one candidate who filed the nomination for the post of President, Student’s Gymkhana, which is often considered the most valuable POR in our institute.

Number of nominations received for executive positions in Gymkhana
2014 2015 2016 2017
President 3 2 2 1
GenSec, GnS 1 2 2 1
GenSec, Films and Media 1 2 1 1
GenSec, Cultural 3 1 0 2
GenSec, Films and Media 2 1 1 0
Overall 10 8 6 5

(Red – Nominations decreased from previous year, Green – Nominations increased from previous year)

This trend can be observed in Senate positions as well. The number of nominations for the first year UG batch decreased by a staggering 42%. The overall trend over the years can be seen in the graph below.

image01The graph clearly indicates the number of nominations have hit a new low  (data for 2013 was not available)

This stark decrease in enthusiasm for the nominations in senate may also be reflected in the constant fall in the number of votes over the years. Voter turnout had been around 45% till 2015 but has fallen even more in the last two years. This year’s turnout stood at a lowly 27.11%

image00

Not only has the number of candidates reduced, it has also spurred people less serious to contest, ultimately resulting in a below par Student Governance Body. This year, some candidates for a position in the Senate submitted blank manifestos because they were the only applicants.

List of senators who submitted blank manifestos
Batch Name Roll No.
B.Tech Y15 Pranav Sao 150504
B.Tech Y15 Shivam Gupta 150674
M.Tech Y16 Mahendra Kumar 16114016
M.Sc. Y15 Prahasrh M. Patel 151060

The process of election is supposed to be the way people choose from among themselves, representatives who voice their collective opinion and provide solutions to their problems. They present a manifesto, highlighting the major points of their candidacy, on which people may later hold them accountable. The submission of blank manifestos undermines this responsibility severely.

A few years ago, when elections were fought with fervour and charisma, it would have been inconceivable for a candidate to give in a blank manifesto. “When I contested in my first year, there were so many candidates from our own hall, that the HEC had to filter us based on our manifestos! This (submission of blank manifestos) is very surprising”, said Samarth Bansal, a Y11 graduate.

The rules, though, clearly state that a candidate must submit a manifesto. But they don’t impose any restriction on the content (or the lack thereof). Ayush Pathak, the Chief Election Officer, says that the only requirement for candidates is to not refer to anything outside of their manifesto while campaigning. Since the blank manifestos were submitted where there was to be no election, it caused no problem to the candidate.

In the face of reduced nominations, the fear of the candidate withdrawing his/her application kept the EC from forcing them to submit a well thought out manifesto. “We are doing everything we can to welcome more nominations. In the first Senate meeting this year, it was decided that the fees be reduced to a nominal amount and several other steps taken to ensure that there are more nominations in the future”

Vedant Goenka, Chairperson of the Senate, has a different perspective, one he derives from massive experience in the Senate. The manifesto, he feels, represents the candidate’s vision but the process of a proposal becoming a reality is long and tedious; and even when the reform does materialize, it is often difficult to trace the person responsible. “The criteria to hold a Senator accountable cannot be the manifesto, not belittling the importance of one”.

Perhaps, the only measurable parameter to judge a Senator’s performance, he feels, is his attendance and participation in Senate sub-committees that are formed for various agendas. “That is what a senator is supposed to do. Represent the views of the junta and work on suitable reforms.”

But the jarring reality is that most of the Senate’s time is spent on routine tasks instead of taking up reforms. A current Y15 Senator (who wished to remain anonymous) believes that the knowledge, of the way the Senate is forced to function, drives nominations away. The potential candidates start believing that their proposals cannot take shape from a Senator’s position. “At the end, you find yourself going to meetings that last hours just to discuss festivals, their finances and organisation.”  

It seems as if the junta has lost faith in the system. It’s the whole vicious cycle; fewer nominations, less serious Senators, below par Student Body, lack of measurable output, the disillusionment of the junta, lesser nominations still.

Either way, the situation is that currently there are Senators who have not gained their position by a well-fought election or by the clarity of their vision; but by the simple fact that no one else bothered to apply. Whether they do their job or not, we would definitely be watching them closely.

Given all that, the Senate does valuable work and cannot be abandoned. It is also important to note that there is an enormous power vested in this body. If we are able to achieve a fully functional Senate, it could bring a lot of positive changes. So, going forward, what is the role of the Senate? And how can it break free from this chain? These are questions that it should be asking of itself.

Written by Harshit Bhalla, Pratyush Garg, Sanket Anand

  • Varun Jindal

    It’s really disappointing that even Vox raised this point of blank manifesto after such time interval, it could have been really nice if raised earlier. Quiet careless to review election process with such delay.