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The real poriborton Bengal needs is freeing grassroots politics from party grip – Economic Times

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Uday Deb
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While pollsters and political pundits are busy speculating about various electoral outcomes in Bengal, there seems to be one thing they all seem to agree on — the colossal weakening of the incumbent Trinamool Congress in recent years.

​The argument that pro-Trinamool analysts are employing is that the residual charisma of Mamata Banerjee may spring a surprise on May 2, the overall decline of the TMC and an intense level of anti-incumbency notwithstanding. On the other hand, there are concerns that even if the BJP wins, it may end up endorsing the same politics of fear and revenge that has put the Trinamool on the back foot.

In the fast-changing political dynamics of the state, there is a consensus that the systematic rigging and violence during the 2018 panchayat election was a watershed moment that triggered political change. It was after this that the thick social base of the Left decided to shift over to the BJP as the former was considered incapable of taking on the repressive power of the incumbent regime.

In this backdrop, it is pertinent to delineate the reasons for this repressive political culture in Bengal.

As per the Bengal model of ‘party society’, as political scientist Prof Dwaipayan Bhattacharya called it, every aspect of life up to the village level remains under the suffocating gaze of the ruling party. The genesis of the system lies in the decision of the Left government to introduce party symbols for the panchayat elections in 1977. This had triggered a debate not only in Bengal but at the national level.

The Congress opposed the introduction of party-based elections at panchayat level under the normative plank of Dalhin Ganatantra (party-less democracy), something veteran communist turned radical humanist M N Roy had advocated earlier.

However, Promode Dasgupta, the first chairman of the Left Front, fiercely supported such a measure, arguing that it was needed to establish the rights of poor peasants, agricultural labourers, village craftsmen etc against the vested interest and exploiting classes in the village.

The combine of the village poor and the Left, he argued, was needed to implement progressive legislation at the grassroot levels. Consequently, with the right intent, the Left laid down the roots of an ironical polity wherein decentralisation of political power was sought under the larger framework of a centralised party which ended up consuming all spheres of civil society.

In due course, the progressive legislation came to a standstill after Operation Barga (1977-1980) — which legalised the right of the sharecroppers as the landowner — and the panchayat elections emerged as an instrument of maintaining the hegemony of incumbent regimes wherein the elected panchayat representatives started acting as the new feudal lords.

Much before the Trinamool captured power in 2011, there were instances of the Left winning many seats at the panchayat level unopposed, a bad indicator for democracy.

Under the Trinamool, which was not bound by any ideological worldview but was determined to decimate the Left, the structure of party society underwent a blatant criminalisation. Starting from the gram panchayat level, dominant sections with not so bona fide backgrounds acquired a new prominence on account of their claim of ensuring wins for the incumbent party.

The number of seats that Trinamool won at the panchayat level unopposed increased with the level of violence. However, it was the 2018 panchayat election when the systematic violence, allegedly orchestrated by the Trinamool, touched its peak wherein the party won more than one-third of seats unopposed and wherein the common people, cadres and leaders of the opposition parties were beaten systematically across the state.

Even the nine-time MP from Purulia and senior CPM leader, Basudeb Acharia, was not spared. Consumed by hubris, the party ended up compounding people’s pent up anger manifold and intensifying their search for a new alternative.

Now, Bengal’s political arena is in desperate need of loosening the party grip. The first step in this regard could be the restoration of the system of a party-less panchayat election. The model of party society which has gripped Bengal suffocatingly needs to be abandoned. That would lead to the emergence of a more autonomous civil society.

In fact, the cracks in the party society model are already visible. For the first time along with the party, individual leaders and personalities have acquired centrality in the electoral game. The silver lining, amidst this charged political process, is the conducive atmosphere for reducing the hold of political parties at the grassroot level. A move in this direction will be a real change against the prevailing culture of the politics of fear and revenge rather than merely replacing Trinamool faces with those from the BJP.

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Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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Mail-in delays and recounts: Canada’s election tallying drags on.

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Three days after Canada‘s federal election, the final tally of seats remained unclear on Thursday, with mail-in ballots still being counted in some regions and at least one electoral district facing an automatic recount.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals were handed another minority mandate late on Monday, in an election that ended with all the major parties holding virtually the same number of seats they had before the vote was called.

A handful of seats remain too close to call, as election workers across the country continue to count ballots. Those tight races will not meaningfully impact the overall outcome.

“We’re on pace to have all results within five days of polling day, and the majority should be in by the end of today,” said Natasha Gauthier, an Elections Canada spokesperson.

The count is taking time due to both coronavirus protocols and the fact that votes are being counted locally while being monitored by political party representatives.

Trudeau will not speak to media until the results are all in, a Liberal spokesman said.

As of 1:30 p.m. EDT on Thursday (1730 GMT), the Liberals were elected or leading in 158 of the 338 seats. The official opposition Conservatives were leading in 119, the left-leaning New Democrats in 25 and the Greens holding just two. The Quebec-focused Bloc Quebecois looked set to take 34.

Graphic: Canada‘s provisional election results:

One electoral district faces an automatic recount, which occurs when the race is decided by less than 0.001% of all votes cast. Parties can also request recounts in very close races after the count is finalized.

(Reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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Ocean politics, DNA history and the climate experiment: Books in brief – Nature.com

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To Rule the Waves

Bruce D. Jones Scribner (2021)

The oceans are the key zone for potential military confrontation; some 85% of global commerce relies on them; around 90% of global data flows along undersea cables; oceans are central in the global fight over climate change. Those four simple facts are analysed in this penetrating historical and political study. Author Bruce Jones, director of the project on international order at Washington DC think tank the Brookings Institution, fears future oceanic conflict, especially now that COVID-19 has amplified existing international tensions.

The Secret of Life

Howard Markel Norton (2021)

The 1953 discovery of DNA’s double-helix structure might be one of science’s most fascinating and oft-told stories. Yet much about it is still contentious — even who termed it “the secret of life”. Historian of medicine Howard Markel’s fine book focuses on the role of Rosalind Franklin, whose X-ray crystallography image of DNA — crucial to Francis Crick and James Watson’s breakthrough — was used without her permission. A hesitant Watson tells Markel that he was “honest but … you wouldn’t say I was exactly honorable”.

A Biography of the Pixel

Alvy Ray Smith MIT Press (2021)

Pixel is short for ‘picture element’: a misleading etymology, writes computer scientist Alvy Smith, who co-founded Pixar Animation Studios in 1979. Pixels are invisible, like computer bits, and not to be confused with “the little glowing areas on a screen, called display elements”. Hence this book’s technical core: how the former is converted to the latter, and the thinkers who paved the way. These range from Alan Turing to the undersung graphics mathematicians involved in the films Monsters, Inc., Toy Story, Finding Nemo and more.

Our Biggest Experiment

Alice Bell Bloomsbury Sigma (2021)

Climate campaigner and science writer Alice Bell’s nuanced and accessible history of the climate crisis describes the legacy of scientists including Eunice Foote, the first to warn that increasing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide would affect global temperatures, at an 1856 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. By ignoring Foote’s insight for so long, “we’ve inherited an almighty mess”, concludes Bell. But “a lot of tools” can alleviate the effects of global warming, if used wisely.

Being a Human

Charles Foster Profile (2021)

Vet and barrister Charles Foster won an Ig Nobel Prize for living in the wild as various animals, as described in Being a Beast (2016). In his latest book — controversial, yet oddly compelling — he lives as if in the upper Palaeolithic, Neolithic and Enlightenment periods, and compares human consciousness in each. Ancient hunter-gatherers, he argues, were superior to modern urban-dwellers for their “cosmopolitanism” and “motion”. He savages written language, invented post-Neolithic, for its “wholly spurious authority” over experience.

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An anti-green backlash could reshape British politics – The Economist

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WHATEVER A British voter’s natural political hue—Tory blue, Labour red or Liberal Democrat orange—these days it ends up green-tinged. The Tory government talks effusively about “building back greener”. Labour wants a “green industrial revolution”. Liberal Democrats have used their position as the third party to argue for everybody to go further and faster. And then there are all the people who want to raze the carbon economy to the ground the day after tomorrow: not just the Green Party but also extremist groupuscules such as Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain.

Which leaves a gap in the market for something different: anti-green politics. Brexit transformed Britain by tapping into ordinary people’s resentment of distant elites, and anti-greenery could do the same. Environmentalism is driven by populists’ two big bogeymen, scientific experts and multilateral institutions. Green campaigners vie to befuddle the public with acronyms and jargon. Multilateral institutions override democratic legislatures in order to co-ordinate global action. In the public mind, greenery is coming to mean global confabs that produce yet more directives, and protesters who block city centres and motorways.

Greenery suffers from the classic problems of technocratic policymaking, namely offering distant rewards in return for immediate sacrifices and imposing uneven costs. Over-50s, the most reliable voters, won’t be around to see the world boil. Poorer people are likely to suffer more than richer ones from the green transition, not just because they have less disposable income but also because they are more likely to work in the dirty economy. The impression of injustice is reinforced by the fact that many of the most vocal green activists have a material interest in the green economy as bureaucrats, lobbyists and entrepreneurs.

A fuel-price rise in 2018 inspired France’s gilets jaunes; Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland and Finland’s Finns Party have lambasted green hysteria. In Britain, by contrast, anti-greenery is still nascent. Some on the Tory right have complained that their party is in the grip of the green lobby. A few MPs in the “red wall”—once-safe Labour seats in northern England that turned Tory over Brexit—have warned that green levies on driving could see those voters switch back again. The closure of some London streets to through-traffic has sparked protests.

But such rows are about to get a lot louder. Turbulence on the global energy market is drawing unflattering attention to British energy suppliers, which are struggling with the transition from coal- and gas-fired plants to renewables. The more the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, says about there being “absolutely no question of the lights going out”, the more consumers will worry. And other environmental policies on the horizon will also hit them hard. From 2030 the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned. The electric cars that will replace them are rapidly improving, but not yet as cheap or as convenient. For city-dwellers it is hard enough to find parking without having to look for a charging-point too, and long journeys require planning.

Since the discovery of gas in the North Sea in 1965, most British homes have used the fuel to heat their homes. But the government plans to take gas-fired boilers off the market in the coming years, to be replaced by hydrogen boilers or heat pumps. The date for the switchover is slipping, since neither technology is ready for mass roll-out. Air-source heat pumps are larger than gas boilers, produce lower temperatures and cost much more. People’s enthusiasm for greenery may reach its limits if familiar, well-functioning products are replaced by more expensive, inferior ones.

In the past decade climate-change denialism has given way to something cannier and harder to pin down. Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party and a major force behind Brexit, claims that he is as green as the next man—indeed that he voted for the Green Party back in the 1980s—but that he’s in favour of “sensible environmentalism” rather than the establishment kind that taxes “poor people to give money to rich people and big corporations while China’s going to ignore it all”.

Anti-greens are also seeking to reshape politics indirectly: not just by creating new parties, but by changing the hue of the established ones from inside. For neither of Britain’s biggest parties is as deep-dyed green as they appear to onlookers. The Conservative Party certainly has big names who preach environmentalism, like Zac Goldsmith, an aristocratic Brexiteer. But it has always also been the party of homeowners who care about their energy bills, motorists who want to get the last mile from every gallon and older people who don’t want to change their ways. More recently, they have been joined by red wall voters with little spare cash. Labour, for its part, is an uneasy coalition of graduates, who cheer every green initiative, and lower-paid workers, who are nostalgic for the days of well-paid jobs in heavy industry and primarily concerned with making ends meet.

Hot air emissions
How to avert an anti-green backlash? Politicians need to avoid unforced errors, such as making everyone rip out perfectly good boilers before replacements are ready. They need to shield vulnerable groups from the costs of the energy transition, remembering how the mood turned against globalisation when politicians failed to honour promises to compensate the losers. They need to see the world through the eyes of people who accept that climate change is a problem but must ceaselessly struggle to get by in the here and now. The prime minister, Boris Johnson, won easy applause at a UN round table on climate action this week by expressing frustration that the “something” the world is doing to limit global warming is “not enough”. The audience he really needs to convince is the one that laughed along to his provocations before he re-entered Parliament in 2015, such as mocking wind power as too weak to pull the skin off a rice pudding.

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