Introspecting into The Online 'SAC'red Elections 2021
Will the SAC elections be cancelled this year yet again? If the administration decides to hold an election in online mode, then what will be its procedure? Will an online election be as legitimate, fair, and transparent as an offline election? What steps are being taken to guarantee that the election is a success? These were some of the questions that loomed large over almost every NITR student from the day the news of the election was heard. The SAC eventually presented a well-structured election strategy in the face of countless doubts, uneasiness, and uncertainty. These decisions and procedures elicited a wide range of reactions and outcomes. The last several days have flown by for us, with so much occurring in such a short period that we hardly had time to think and absorb the entire process. Here's an article that effectively summarizes the whole spectrum of the SAC election 2021.
This was the first time in the entire history of SAC that the elections were held entirely online. The election was to be held on October 6, 2021. The nomination process was to begin at 19:00 hrs on September 29, 2021. The interested nominees had to complete the process by 23:59 hrs on September 30, 2021, through the NITRis portal.
The 2021 SAC election was conducted unusually late this year. Often SAC Elections used to happen at the end of the previous academic year or the start of the academic year, thus providing ample time for the conduction of fests in a grand manner. It will be a good watch on how our "elected" representatives will make the most of the time they have got and deliver the tall promises (hopefully) they had sworn during campaigning.
Nominees had to name a single society/fest that they wanted to compete for. They also had to write out a brief bio about themselves that included their accomplishments and qualifications. They were then required to submit a 100-word proposal outlining their plans of action for the student community. Finally, a short video was to be made, and a link to it was provided. The video was supposed to feature the student's general introduction and their ideas, plans, and a manifesto for the position they were campaigning for.
The eligibility requirements to stand for the SAC election are as follows: A student who wishes to run for election must have a cumulative grade point average of 6.50 from the preceding semester. Suppose a student is penalized by the Institute's disciplinary committee or has pending charges in the ISDC or Hall, or is found guilty of examination misconduct. In that case, their candidature will be denied. In addition, if a fact is omitted from the qualifying requirements, the candidature will be cancelled even after the final list is announced.
The nominations for the four constituencies and Fest convenors were invited as follows-
The final list of contesting candidates was announced by Monday Morning via their info tab on October 2nd evening, with names and links to their SOPs attached. The link can be found here (Link).
The absence of sufficient nominations in some societies was a significant subject of concern. Several societies had only one or two candidates contesting, securing an unfought victory for them. The lack of competition in some constituencies was one of the demeaning factors of online SAC Elections, with no competition questioning the validity and ability of candidates. On the other hand, instances of votes being directed from certain constituencies to others with more nominees gave birth to a new term – negative campaigning.
All students were encouraged to participate in a mock election on October 4, 2021, two days before D-Day. The mock election was a great initiative as it proved instrumental in rectifying the errors so that the voting process was hassle-free on the D day.
CAMPAIGNING THROUGH THE VIRTUAL MODE
With the pandemic struck the world, this was the first time the nominees were doing entire campaigning online. From eye-catching, vibrant posters to memes made to promote the nominees, the candidates have tried every possible way to increase the vote count. Calling out juniors to approaching the seniors, the people have put the rigorous effort in promoting themselves. Even zonal Google meets were conducted in which the nominees amplifies the ecstasy of zonism to make sure that the zone votes fall on their side, without any fail.
Absence of Credibility? – No SOAPBOX
The SoapBox was started by Monday Morning in 2017, under the supervision of SAC, to extend a platform for candidates contesting SAC elections to highlight their agenda. The event is usually conducted at BBA Hall, in which the candidates spoke briefly about their vision. The then Dean Student Welfare, SAC President, the VPs of the four societies, and the students confronted the candidates about the same with an extensive Q/A session. A majority of the NITR populace has conveyed that this helped a lot to get a clear idea regarding the candidate's potential and his vision for the upcoming elections.
Though conducting SAC Elections after one year is a commendable decision taken by the administration, they were not put to debates and discussions where the students could have had a Q/A session. Despite several attempts from Team Monday Morning to conduct a virtual SoapBox, the plan of action was avoided by officials pointing out the credibility of an online discussion. With no apparent prospect of campus reopening, any chance of the offline fests is a fairy tale. So if there are no offline fests, students would expect at the very least a clear-cut plan of conduction of these highly demanded fests online. The events that resulted were the conventional propaganda creeping into the voting process accompanied by pop-culture memes and references.
Source- A concerned NITR student.
Ishaan Desai, one of the winning candidates, shared his opinion about the voting process-
“Well, the prepartion and campaign for this year's election were comparatively tougher because firstly new election rules allowed every student to vote for any candidate which made things tricky as the current second years apart from my club and mentees didn't know me that well. So reaching out to all of them in an online mode was tricky. But I am so lucky to have such wonderful friends and juniors who helped throughout my campaign helping me win.”
Thanmayee Ananth Iyer, the elected Convener of NITRUTSAV, said
Online campaigning had its merits but it was difficult to reach out to people. If it was offline, we have the personal touch, we can talk to them, tell them. But online, that is a huge disadvantage. But still, somehow i managed to do it. It was very intimidating initially but at the same time exciting as well.
The voting process was conducted entirely online on NITRis. Every student was allowed to vote for a single candidate from each society irrespective of year. The process was similar for conveners election, where each student had to submit a vote for one convener of the respective Fests. With the voter turnout around one-third of the total strength, the voting process ended seamlessly with some bigger questions left behind.
When questioned about the voting process Ishan Desai, fourth-year representative of the Literary and Cultural Society for this year, shared that:
“Frankly speaking, I couldn't make much sense of the voting system that was used this year, specifically, the constraint that a student can vote for only one candidate from each society irrespective of which year the candidate is even when there are 4 posts that need to be filled. Apart from this issue, I think this election was conducted as it should have been.”
Sharing his thoughts about the SAC Elections, 2021, Amlan Abhilash Mishra, a second-year student, said:
Every election decides the fate of the code and conduct of an organisation. So was the SAC Election of NITR. Personally, I felt as if the election took its stance in hodge-podge out of nowhere amidst the pandemic whilst we loaded with assignments and having no proper know-how regarding what the election actually is in this context, and to boot, also its purpose was quite unclear. However, with the time and guidance of seniors, the purpose gradually seemed clear. And those who yearned to stand in the election and wished to be the voice of the public started off their campaign with enthusiasm. And after the deadline, sharing of posters was everyone's soul task. Whatsapp chats and statuses seemed as if a poster wall. Honestly, I was kinda missing those days when WhatsApp was not meant to be a poster wall. Nonetheless, amidst all these stuff the fight was real. Everyone did put their ultimate efforts to make their keens win this race, be it publicising via posters, or even stickers. And of course, it would be unfair if I won't mention those hundreds of memes circulating each day in every group. Whatsapp and telegram became the replica of meme cell. And on the day of the election; apart from the nominees, even their supporters were endured enough to support their keens in the best way they could. Zonism certainly did play a major role in deciding the fate of the candidates, but there can be no check on it. Whilst we eagerly waiting for the results with spark, intruders occultly oozed into our naive party. So some candidates whose winning seemed clear in the virtues of what they deserved, even did lose for the cost of intruders, named zones. Anyhow, it was not illegal, rather immoral. So the presence of intruders is also encouraged. All in all, it seemed like a real election.
October 6 2021, 12:00 PM
The hard work, rigorous online campaigning, and appeasement, everything boiled down to October 6 2021, the day of voting. While the day started with normal class, the WhatsApp groups were filled with one last time campaigning by the nominees, trying to gather the last few precious votes. The voting was scheduled to be held from 12 PM to 6 PM on the NITRis website. Students had to log in through their NITRis credentials and cast their vote for their favourite candidates.
The system arrangement was as follows: NITRis--> Academic --> SAC election --> Voting --> SAC/Fest Election --> Select one candidate for one position --> Submit.
The results were declared by Team Monday Morning by 7:00 PM on the same day. Here is a list of all the candidates who emerged victoriously.
To get an idea of the ecstasy of the victory, we reached out to Mihir Panda, the newly elected secretary of Film and Music society from the 3rd-year constituency, who said:
After winning the hostel elections with a record-breaking margin in my first year, I always dreamt of contesting in the SAC. Unfortunately, The SAC election couldn't happen during our sophomore year because of the pandemic. This year, when SAC announced the conduction of elections through NITRis, many students including me were excited to contest. During my first year, I worked as a coordinator in the Cosmopolitan fest & got to know about the functioning of the Film & Music Society which fascinated me a lot. So I filled nomination for the post of secretary of Film & Music society(3rd yr constituency). Coincidentally, no one from our batch applied for FMS, I became the uncontested winner of 3rd yr constituency FMS secretary. This online election was a whole new thing for the candidates as campaigning solely through WhatsApp, Instagram was introduced for the time.
There is so much more to an election than just winning or losing. What lies ahead is what really counts. With this noble purpose in mind, I'd strive to reach all the glorious heights in my tenure.
The Never-Ending Problem of ZONISM
Zonism, an abstract concept that is probably the most profoundly imbued idea in the NIT Rourkela culture. It's been more than a year since the batch shifted to the virtual mode of education, and one might think that Zonism has been suppressed and vanished down the year, but the reality hasn't changed yet. Zonism, being inevitable and omnipresent on the campus, and the current SAC elections results prove that the online batch is no less than the previous batches and has a similar thought process. With mixed opinions over the NITR Junta, some appreciated Zonism, depreciated by rest, and conceded by all. The influence of the zone might not concern many, but this culture has been detrimental in producing responsible and efficient leaders and blocked the roads of various potential representatives.
There were instances where the supporters were made for sharing WhatsApp messages enlisted with the names of candidates from a particular region and persuaded the people to cast their votes for that specific group of candidates. There was evidence of digital posters with similar designs that reflected the coalition among the candidates who desired to see those particular sets of candidates emerging victorious, thus defeating the true essence of elections. With extremely sensitive issues being used as propaganda by some candidates to corner out the competitors, just for the sake of gathering popularity and strength in those Whatsapp groups; situations have become toxic rather than being competitive.
The Paradoxical Ballot Box
Team Monday Morning had to talk with Innovision elected convenor Nagalla Hemanth regarding his plans to conduct Innovision. This is what he had to say:
So the first thing would be discussing with my friend Rahul Malik regarding what theme the fest would be held on and next would be collecting all the necessary information regarding the fest like the dates, whether it is going to be conducted online or offline. Based on this we will be making the teams required and we will be starting the inductions of the team members and proceed with the work. I cannot do this individually but with an efficient core team we can do it.
But taking into account the lack of time for innovision, the whole hassle of election seems a tokenistic approach towards preserving the existing ways. If online fests are what the administration had in mind, why weren't the elections conducted last year? If this year also goes completely online, how is the administration going to conduct any events? Awaaz-E-SAC was one of the procedures that kept the election procedure transparent and ensured accountability from the candidates. And surprisingly, it was not conducted during recent elections. This year, no discussions and healthy arguments were in the picture, leaving the candidates' opinions and vision in their safe watch, which does no good to the NITR students. How will the administration account for this?
With more questions than answers, the administration has put a period on all those hopes and promises that the candidates emphasized in their run for these coveted posts.
Regarding the conduction of elections this year, Armandev Puhan, the ex-second year representative from the games and sports society, said:
Starting from the technical glitches at NITRIS to extending the deadline it was not a favourable move by the administration. The idea of Constituency in Secretary of Societies was completely discarded by allowing students of any random year to vote for a candidate of any year and thus a secretary of a particular constituency may not be the voice of the actual students of that constituency. I hope that these unintentional errors should be amended in the upcoming years. I heartily congratulate all the elected candidates and wish them luck to successfully handle their respective duties.
Lack of Female Candidates
While you take a sneak peek at the nominations, it won't take much time to discover that male candidates dominate the ballot. It's alarming that the Masculinity Traps the Electoral Positions, and meanwhile, only one female candidate stood and won the SAC election despite the increase in the female seats in the Institute.
When asked about the lack of female candidates, Thanmayee Ananth Iyer, the elected Convener of NITRUTSAV, said the following:
I think the gender parity created in this situation is very unfortunate. It’s evident that the problem is not of surface level and stems deeper into the mindset of people. But it’s my ardent request to every girl/woman out there to give themselves a chance at meaningful and healthy participation at leadership roles. To rid themselves of fear and exercise their free will and voice their reasons and opinions.
Rishika Shah, a second-year student who withdrew her decision to apply for the SAC elections, said:
Initially, I wanted to apply for the post of one of the fest convenors as I thought it would better my management skills. However, after a while when I looked at the situation closely I realized since I hadn't attended any fests I didn't exactly know what am I signing up for and that made me re-question my decision and eventually withdraw. I had also heard the fact that the female candidates rarely contest or win. Though that put me on an edge, but was never a reason for my withdrawl.
Opinion from SAC Election Officers
Introspecting deeper into the recently concluded SAC Elections, SAC Election officer Dr Madhuresh Dwivedi said-
We thought it would be better if we conduct the elections because the people who are attached to SAC will get motivated again. It was an attempt to keep that connection strong. It wasn’t easy at all given the fact that the whole process had to be conducted online but thanks to the automation team it was a great success. With constant help from Prof. Siddharth S. Jena(Dean student welfare), Prof. Poonam Singh(president, SAC), Sudipta Maiti sir, and Manas Pattnaik sir we were able to pull it off. When we saw the positive response from the students side in the poll on the MM website we decided to go ahead and plan everything. We completed the whole thing before puja vacations so that students get some time to work on the proposals when they come back to the campus. The nomination, except the PG students and the turnout, were on the higher side which speaks of the success. With cooperation from the SAC fraternity and the students, we were able to conduct the elections completely online successfully. said
Team MM also talked to Prof Arnab Ghosh, who has been the election officer for SAC elections. While speaking to MM, he said
There were a lot of issues at the beginning like setting up the modalities and finalizing the process. But due to the ample support from everyone it went hassle-free. I would like to especially thank the automation cell for their contribution which was crucial. Campaigning in the online medium was an issue because the candidates couldn’t reach all the students in the right manner. And the lack of participation from the PG students was surprising as well. We can work and improve on these in the next election.
NIT Rourkela, being an institute of national repute, is cosmopolitan in every other way as it harbours a diversified group of people from all around the globe. With the people always preferring their community which is equally presented in the social mainstream, questions the equal opportunities to the potential representatives. The inevitable zonism lies every time, no matter whether it is an online semester or offline. The absence of Soapbox does leave a big creditability question unanswered. With many inquiries unanswered by the administration, unquestioned nominees' vision and agenda, the administration and nominees have put a void on all those expectations and obligations that the candidates emphasized in their run. Down the lane, we wish that the newly elected representatives and the administration take reasonable actions and measures to tackle the concerning indelible dilemmas.
Team MM wishes the newly elected representatives the best of luck for their new journey and hopes they'll make the upcoming year a grand year for the NITR Junta.