Elections in Loyola

Once upon a time, the school leader was elected by students.

In the 1980s, when school reopened after summer vacation, class leaders and assistant class leaders were elected (or in some classes, selected by the teacher). A week later, students chose the school’s leaders. If the first was a class election, the second was a caste election.

Any student from the 10th could stand for School Leader, and anyone from the 9th could stand for the Assistant School Leader. All high-school students (8th to 10th) voted for both positions; representing 5th to 7th standard students, their class leaders and assistant class leaders voted.

The visible event was the school assembly, 50% of which formed the electorate. There were no campaign issues, and no student organisations; the candidates did not have to form opinions, or rally the audience’s support for any cause. Hence candidates’ “election speeches” were banal utterances on leaders and leadership, and vague, neta-like promises to “strive to the best of my ability”. Speakers relied on verbal pyrotechnics to spark applause, and tell tales “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Long before Abdul Nasser Maudny, Loyolites knew to hold the audience’s attention by acting breathless, and screaming and spitting into the microphone.

Once every few years, a candidate would come up with a gem quote. Like Suraj Jacob in 1988, who concluded with one from Abraham Lincoln: “I want you to vote for me if you will; but if not, then vote for my opponent, for he is a fine man.” (For an interesting anecdote, read the context in which Lincoln praised his opponent.)

The chief election commissioner was the school’s politico: V.C. Jacob. He led the candidates into each classroom, made them stand near the teacher’s platform, and asked the students to exercise their franchise. A candidate voted when the entourage was in his class.

The ballot paper did not have the candidates names printed on it; the school seal was stamped on it to prevent rigging.

Once the high school classes had voted, the election caravan wound its way down the stairs to the gents’ staff room. There, the class leaders and assistant class leaders of standards 5, 6 and 7 were called in to cast their votes.

V.C. Jacob explained the value of each vote. A vote from Std 10 fetched 3 points for the school leader candidate, and 2 points for the assistant school leader candidate (see Table). He then began counting the votes, in the presence of the candidates.

[TABLE=3]

After a class’s votes were done, he took a sheet of paper and — in his neat, firm and legible hand — jotted down the number of votes, and the values. Once all the votes were counted, the losing candidate congratulated the winner, and all walked back to their respective classes. The following week, the school leader and his assistant were sworn in, along with the general captain and house captains, who were selected (I assume) by the management as advised by C. T. Varkey, the physical education teacher.

Here, I’ve documented the election for only one reason: such school leader elections are no longer held in Loyola.

Since the mid-1990s, the school’s leaders have been elected in different ways, from different classes. Briefly, the present-day arrangement is as follows: There is one school leader (from the 12th), and two assistant school leaders (one each from the 10th and 9th). Only the 12th standard students vote for the school leader, and only the 10th and 9th standard students vote for the assistant school leader from their respective years. The teachers vote for all positions. The counting of votes is done in-camera (by the Principal or Vice-principal, it is believed), and the winner’s name is put up on the notice-board a few days later. There is no investiture ceremony even though the school diary carries a date for the imaginary event.

An amusing feature of elections in Loyola in the 1980s was the undercurrent of caste politics. I refer to the ICSE vs SSLC “war” of those days as caste politics because it was a battle over group identities based on which division you belonged to. As the ICSE was a tougher course in high school, the SSLC students were perceived as lower castes; on this blog and elsewhere, I have been told by recent ISC students that the discrimination turned more open in the 2000s. No wonder that the ISC vs HSC war continues in Loyola at the time of elections.

The only difference I see is the role of the teachers and the management — they did not play caste politics in the elections of the 1980s because they did not interfere with the electoral process. Now, with the election becoming less transparent, and less democratic (from the students’ angle), the teachers and the management too seem to be playing caste politics during elections. In the past, if their golden boy did not win the election, they gave him the Best Loyolite award later in the year. In contrast, these days, they have their way in electing the school leader too. It got exposed in the 2007 election. That year, for the school leader post, there were seven candidates from 12th ISC, and the caste’s votes got split, while the lone candidate from 12th HSC mopped up the votes in his vote bank. When the result was announced, students were surprised: an ISC student had been declared elected. For a moment, it seemed that caste — ISC or HSC — no longer mattered. On second thoughts, it showed that numbers did not matter, caste probably did.

Though the school leader election has thus lost its credibility as an exercise in student democracy, there have been a few positive developments.

One, the school leader nowadays has more responsibilities (not merely giving speeches and saying “Classes, Attention” in school assemblies). Hence election speeches are a bit more substantial, with the odd promise thrown in. Elected leaders try to fulfill their promise, even if they don’t succeed always. So, there seems to be greater authority for the school leader, even though he lacks legitimacy.

Two, there are more elections in Loyola. The general captain and the house captains are now elected, and in these elections, only the students vote (the teachers don’t).

The Principal and the teachers need to do one thing: they should stop interfering in the school leader election, and make the election as transparent as it was in the distant past. Giving the school leader more responsibilities has been a positive step. But to give more powers to one (the school leader) by taking away the powers of the many (the student electorate) can hardly be justified. The student leader derives his legitimacy from being elected by students. He is a leader; he should not look like a lackey.

Hat tip: Arun Sudarsan (2009)

13 Comments

  • Interesting information about how the votes were valued. Curious about what made the authorities worried about the old format. It can’t be explained merely by the increasing number of students

  • Yes, it’s not the increasing number of students — the electorate can be three grades (9th, 10th, 12th; the 11th joins a while later). The story is that not so long ago, following a student verdict in favour of an unlikely candidate (seemingly “unfit”), the teachers and the management felt that democracy had run amok.

    In times like these, I wish that LENS had faithfully recorded the change in voting system, the official explanation, and the unvarnished truth.

  • I agree to the fact that school leader elections should be conducted in a transparent fashion. But I believe the ‘caste’ politics started to influence decisions so much that what’s happening in real world started to mirror in school too, ie. people started getting votes based only on ‘caste’. This wasn’t helping any, ‘cuz questions weren’t raised whether candidates were worthy or not. I guess it were under such circumstances that teachers and principal decided to change it. The system should be changed back in my opinion and focus should be more on eliminating any caste differentiation.

    I do not deny to be a victim of caste politics and vote for candidate from my class. 🙂

  • ‘Democracy’, as is today in Loyola and elsewhere, is just a pseudo democracy emulation taking place under the dictatorship of a group of power capitalists,
    grouped under a socialistic emulation within the group that arises from the individualists’ capitalist need for influence and power, and from the knowledge that power amongst equals can be gained through (and only through) pseudo socialist distribution promises within that group, the result of all the deceit and deception involved being just CHAOS!

    Practical ‘Democracy’ is just a mask of politicos layer maintained by the demand of power by the lower power layers (majority of the population), and the ever feuding capitalists’ need to prevent that transition of lowers into their group.

    An idealistic solution may seem to be a distributive political framework, which is practical only in fantasy stories.

    Better would it be for the political structural framework to be entirely traceable to a single point of concentration of power, with an ‘Emperor’ at the centre, rather than the pseudo political ‘structure’ promised by ‘democracy’ or the very unpractical ‘parallel distributism’.

    The ‘Emperor’ may allow for the setting up of a multi-level distributism, as is exhibited by all of Nature’s natural obedients such an example being a humble tree (where the trunk is the ‘Emperor’) or the planets around the sun, the sun reigning over the rest.

    So knowingly or unknowingly (the latter seeming the most true), Loyola is teaching (or showing) the students the true condition of the political structure in the outer world, in a very adorable way!

    Hail Emperor Principal!

  • The “caste” war between ISC and HSC is all set to end in 3 years time after which Loyola will not have any class following the state syllabus. Currently, (i.e for Academic year 2009-2010) we have 3 state syllabus based classes – 10, 11 and 12. But when the current 10th reaches 12th, they will be the last HSC batch of Loyola.

    But caste wars will still continue… this time its gonna be one ISC class vs 2 CBSE classes. The school leader elections of the next few years are going to be some what like this….

    2009-10 ISC(1) vs CBSE(2) vs HSC(1)
    2010-11 ISC(1) vs CBSE(2) vs HSC(1)
    2011-12 ISC(1) vs CBSE(2) vs HSC(1)
    2012-13 ISC(1) vs CBSE(2) NO HSC CLASS
    .
    .
    .
    .
    and so on.

    Why the teachers and Principal now interfere in the election process may be because at some point of time some unworthy candidate might have become the school leader purely based on the so called caste votes..But for the last decade, Loyola has been getting some fine leaders…

    2001-02 Arun Andrews
    2002-03 Arun John
    2003-04 Rakesh V
    2004-05 Arun Mohan
    2005-06 Rakesh P
    2006-07 Aravind A Menon
    2007-08 Syamnath G S
    .
    .
    .
    .

  • Correction, the comment on the 2007 elections is quiet debatable but all i’ve got to say is that what is mentioned in this article is not true.

  • Joshua, would you like to tell us what is “true”? We’re all ears, and the truth rarely lies hidden forever in any case.

  • I belong to the 2007 ISC batch; I was one of the seven candidates( i don’t remember the exact number ; 7 if you say so). That was nothing but a poorly executed joke from our side.The idea was to make sure that the assembly went on till it was noon; so that we would ‘nt have to attend chemistry lab.I’m very confident that all the 7 candidates(that includes me as well) and the rest of my class voted for the same candidate; the one who eventually became the school leader.And about the existence of so called caste votes; the ISC batch had more number of students than the HSC batch; so nothing of that sort could have played a role in that particular election.
    So it could be that your source of information was wrong.

  • Ashik, thank you for clarifying. Amusing to read how students are using elections to avoid classes.

    In the 2007 batch, there were 47 students in ISC and 52 students in HSC. That’s the information I have. If you are confident that all guys in your ISC class voted for the ISC candidate, you are only adding more evidence to my observation that caste plays a role.

    If the elections were transparent, such doubts about the role of teachers, would not have arisen. And every candidate would know how many votes he got from each class. The ISC vs HSC caste voting was the norm, and by all reports, it still is.

  • Ok the seven candidate incident happened in 2006 not 2007. I would like to make that point clear.

  • Hey,

    Really disagree…….I was a candidate for School Leader Elections in1989-90.I was from SSLC and Mr.Ben George from ICSE.Do agree there was a competition between SSLC and ICSE but it was really healthy.

    I lost the elections by a Huge Marging of 4 Votes and I never felt any body was behind that, and to let you know, Mr.Issac Mathew was given the best Loyolite for that year, for his total academic performance.

    Its all a part of life…..Take it positive.

  • Harshan,

    I was your junior by four years at school. I remember your election speech from 20 years ago 🙂 . In the middle of your speech, you said something that the students found very amusing, so much so that they broke out into boisterous laughter. You didn’t see the humor in their overreaction and immediately admonished them, saying “There is no need to laugh so much” or something to that effect. Fr. Philip Thayyil, the Principal, who you may not have observed because he was seated behind your field of view, was very impressed by the way you put down the audience. He smiled and nodded his head in approval.

    Staying with the topic of elections, albeit from a national perspective, I also happen to remember you and Ashok (the owner of this blog) standing on the steps at the east side of the main football field, and engaged in a spirited impromptu argument about the future of Indian politics. You were predicting that a particular political party which at the point of time has less than 90 seats in the Lok Sabha, would come to power. Ashok was predicting that it would never happen. Your prediction came true 6 years later. I doubt whether you gentlemen still remember this incident, but I still remember the ferocity with which you both were arguing your respective cases. Nice to see you guys at it again, even after 20 years!

    Deepak

  • Harshan, wonder what your disagreement is on. I didn’t (and don’t) see anything healthy in an SSLC vs ICSE competition.

    Deepak, what amazing memory! Wish I could playback conversations like you! You guessed right — I don’t remember the incident, or any debate with Harshan.

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