My first month in college residence introduced me to the phenomena of college elections. If there is something in the college close to the SUS (Students Union Society) elections, it is perhaps the JCR (Junior Combination Room) elections. In a single week, I had witnessed JCR as well as Block Representative elections. In this swift period, I got to see politics unfolding first hand and got to hear opinions from candidates, campaigners and observers about events and outcomes. It may sound like an oxymoron, but despite being a student of Political Science, I stay at a distance from real politics. Nevertheless, I never miss a chance – as a voter – to exercise my right and responsibility, and – as a student – to analyze the events, their results and the reasons and factors at play. Here I share three conclusions I have arrived at from my experiences in the past week.
1. Showing up is important Each residential block has two block reps – one each from the second and third year. My block ran into these elections days before the JCR. Dr Mahesh Gopalan, our block tutor, came and instructed each one of us to put down names of two candidates – one from each year – on a ballot. Each of us was told to go to our rooms and do so in secrecy. Long story short – one of the candidates I voted for won, and one of them lost. The one who won managed to do so by a margin of just two votes. Back in my room once the whole business was over, the realization struck me: the candidate won by two votes, and I had voted in his favor. It meant that if I had voted for the other candidate, the final count of ballots would have ended up being equal for the two candidates. That would have resulted in a clearly different situation. This deciding vote need not be my vote – it could have been anyone’s. But just one vote on a different side, and the outcome would be different – like the final hair turning the scale! Two days later, I would find myself sitting in the mess during breakfast and listening to discussions about JCR among other mess-mates. Someone quipped, “There are so many of us! How much does my vote count?” I was quick to jump in, “Everything in this world!” Especially when there is no sweeping majority, our vote is really a deciding factor. Even otherwise.
2. When things get political, nothing remains isolated Discussions are not the only things that happen in the mess. I came to hear of some hushed argument that erupted in the mess a couple of days before the JCR elections. It led to certain differences between two groups. The argument in itself had nothing to do with the elections. The matter snowballed however, and seeped into elections. It ended up being a determinant issue, and the results that came were reflective of these differences. This has many parallels with the larger elections. An accident, a military misfire, a crime, a foreign visit, an unexpected calamity – whenever these and other such incidents happen during an election period, even though they could have otherwise been isolated events, end up being decisive for the elections. This is rooted in human weakness: we tend to remember and prioritize things on the basis of their recency, and end up ignoring both the larger picture and the past experiences. When things get political, there are no isolated events.
3. Zoon politikon: No exceptions? From February till a month ago, I was pretty much impressed by the coexistence of various groups in the college. I saw an almost absence of ‘political’ ambitions at the cost of someone else, and a mutual respect among members of all communities and geographies towards each other. JCR and Block Rep elections, sadly, did not conform to this incomplete ideal that I had cradled for two semesters. Elections brought out all forms of the politicisation of identities along with conscious discussions about who we are and where ought we to belong. As Prof Ayde reiterates Aristotle in his classes, man is zoon politikon. Unlike what I had wrongfully imagined, it is as true here at the melting pot that St. Stephen’s is, as anywhere else.