It’s 4 AM on a nippy Saturday morning as this writer ventures into Chedis for a cup of tea. Huddled together in a corner are three Hall Presidents. A polite nod, batchmate to batchmate, is followed by a realization – Election season is here. Just like the three years before this one, I spend a moment seething over how the existence of a ‘pact system’ is an insult to the Kgpian’s intelligence.
At IIT Kharagpur, we’re some of the most fortunate, educated citizens of the world’s largest democracy. For the better or for worse, many in the country look up to us to be model citizens and good engineers, dedicated to the service of the nation. While the two-part irony of the latter expectation is entitled to another editorial, the former surely entails that we be rational, prudent and independent, especially when it comes to exercising our franchise in our mini-democratic setup. Not only do elections provide the average Kgpian his most direct chance to influence student policy, they speak to the unparalleled democratic nature of this unique, almost unlikely nation. Since IIT is such a hallowed institution, symbolic of a nation’s pride, it is reasonable to expect elections here to be untainted and its participants, candidates and voters, to be as ideally eligible and informed, respectively, as possible.
Enter the pact system.
At the fag end of every session, an often unconvincing process ‘elects’ each hall’s most loyal foot soldiers and lieutenants to HCM posts. While HPs and SSMs are, for the most part, concerned with general student welfare, GC performance and OP-timization, the weeks leading up to elections witness democracy subverted in an appalling way. Number of first years, personal relationships and ambitions are pitched with great bargaining and lobbying skill to come up with the best ‘deal’ for each ‘Hall’. Candidatures for all major posts are informally divided up amongst Halls to form two pacts, and nominees chosen via nepotistic intra-hall selection procedures. Efforts are expended to discourage independents from contesting and to win over the larger, comparatively pact-neutral PG populace. On Election Day, mails are sent out on hall Google Groups instructing people to vote for the right set of candidates. HCM patrol the area outside Election Booths, passing on reminder chits.
By the time results are announced, pacts are shelved – till next year. It’s each hall to its own.
It’s fundamentally flawed to divide Halls into pacts. Halls don’t represent ideologies, and hence cannot be compared to political parties. Moreover, hall assignment is arbitrary for most students. Even more whimsical is the formation of informal agreements which (for example) allow only one hall/pact to field a VP candidate. However, in this case, the whim is a personal fancy of a Hall President and his friend. Never mind that the post-holder is supposed to represent the student body as a whole. He sits in on your Disciplinary Committee hearing and tries to coax Dominoes Pizza to open an outlet on campus. Surely, you don’t want a capriciously chosen person to be in charge of student welfare for a whole year? How are candidates selected inside a particular hall? It’s a process with zero transparency, where charisma, popularity and achievements are considered, but equally important is the aspirant’s rapport with influential seniors. Does it even matter what hall an institute-level postholder lives in?
Delusions of hall pride in the minds of a few aside, a reason often given by GC-crazed junta for having a resident as a G.Sec is that he might just tilt the balance in that crucial sub-committee meeting, which could just result in so-and-so GC coming back to its rightful home. Not only is this a poor representation of the spirit of the GC, RK’s stellar show in this year’s soc-cult GC has shown that there’s nothing like solid, consistent performance to bag a GC. This outlook also overlooks the fact that G.Secs are vitally responsible for the smooth conduction of Kshitij, SF and Inter-IIT.
If it were not enough that candidates are allocated in an obscure, seemingly irrational manner, the strength of a particular pact is estimated by the total number of residents of all its Halls. If you sit back and think, the sole reason that pacts exist is the belief (of a few) that (most) free individuals can be counted upon to vote a particular way only because they live in a certain Hall. And hence the indignation referred to in the first paragraph. A happa’s personal ego is no cause for you to vote for an incompetent candidate belonging to the pact your hall was entered into without your consent or foreknowledge. And while we’re at it, it’s better to not vote at all than choosing a person randomly or because their nickname tickles you.
The only defense offered by proponents of the pact system is that there’s no better alternative. Any system that allows independent candidates to stand will result in an unmanageable number of candidates, they’ll have you believe. First off, that’s unproven. Contesting in elections is a time-consuming and tiring job. Measures like instating a cash deposit (which will only be returned if the candidate manages to secure a certain percentage of votes) and mandating interviews with the administration to establish credentials will help deter random people from contesting.
The fact is that the pact system is convenient to those who perceive themselves to be kingmakers, and since it’s all unofficial, will continue. At TSA, we can’t stop egoists from getting together, pre-counting and dividing up your votes. Our only hope is that you think before you tick. As responsible members of the student community, it is in our best interests to ensure that the most capable candidates are voted in. An informed choice can be made by assessing personality, poise under fire (during the SOP), past achievements, and objective reviews from those who have worked with the contestant. Use your judgment and vote right.
May the best candidate win!