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Why development can’t be above politics – The Tribune India

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Neera Chandhoke

Political Scientist

WHILE flagging off the first train run on the 351-km New Delhi-New Khurja section of the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor, PM Narendra Modi demanded that political parties should put development above politics. The turn of phrase — development above politics — is significant. In 1994, development had been typed as the quintessential ‘anti-politics machine’ by noted anthropologist James Ferguson. Leaders across the postcolonial world continue to flag the political vocabulary of development as value-free and apolitical, as a binary opposite to politics as contestation over power.

Politics is not only about the accumulation of power by elites. Politics is about the way people, inexorably stripped of the capacity to make their own lives, speak back to power. What we call the political is contested, challenged, mediated, modified, curtailed and expanded. It is a battlefield of disputed ideas, beliefs, worldviews, perspectives, ideologies and even mere opinions. Some ideologies win, but for the moment. Others loom on the margins sometimes as alternatives, sometimes as affirmation, and sometimes as critique.

The idea of the political as contestation allows political theorists to dream of a democratic state as one that intends to better the lives of people. If philosophy tells us how to lead a good life, political theory tells us that a good life cannot be lived unless we live in a good society. But a good society can only be institutionalised if the holders of power set out to create the preconditions of such a life by respecting rights to freedom, equality, justice, citizenship, dignity and social goods. Importantly, the democratic state must do so under the watchful and critical eye of the political public. Politics is by its very nature contested, even if the state of politics in the country is heavily dependent upon the politics of the state.

What then of development that is positioned against the notion of politics as contestation? Is development apolitical? Since Independence, thousands of Indians have been displaced from their habitats, their workplaces and their hearths by so-called development projects. These may be railroads, pollution-spewing power plants, toxic nuclear installations, environmentally unsound big dams, luxury hotels, malls and farm houses. The belief of the political elite that nothing should stop the juggernaut of development has led to the suspension of civil liberties and the right to hold the holders of state power responsible and accountable. How can we then abstract development from politics as contestation?

The depoliticisation of development accomplishes a major political objective: that of de-legitimising protest against big projects. This diminishes the political status of citizens. From agents who have the political competence to hold elected governments accountable, the people of India are reduced to consumers of opaque decisions arrived at in insulated corridors of power. But development is not above politics, it cannot be. For the living, breathing, pulsating right of citizens to a life worth living is neutralised by the anti-politics machine of development.

Consider the political tragedies wrought by this machine. Two to three generations of farmers in Punjab and Haryana have worked overtime to develop agricultural productivity and transform these two states into the celebrated grain bowl of India. Today, when farmers agitate against discriminatory laws, they are dismissed and denigrated in peculiarly uncivil terms. In August 2019, the Home Minister of India piloted two special resolutions and a Bill in the Rajya Sabha. Together, these hollowed out the constitutional status of Article 370, and carved up the state of Jammu and Kashmir into the two Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh. Terrorism, said Shah, cannot end in the state as long as Articles 370 and 35A endure. These two articles, he further stated, are an obstacle to development. In the aftermath of the terrible Hathras tragedy earlier this year, when a young woman was brutally raped and murdered, the Uttar Pradesh government hardly spoke of arresting rapists and bringing them to justice. It preferred to set up a probe into a mythical international conspiracy hatched in foreign climes to defame the government and instigate caste violence. The chief minister alleged that those who do not ‘like’ development want to incite caste and communal riots in the state.

Discourses of development in independent India bear an uncanny resemblance to offensive slogans adopted by the colonial government. The legitimising refrain of colonialism was the ‘civilising mission’, the legitimising mantra of post-independence governments is development. The first slogan assumed that the colonised were savages and needed to be civilised. The second presumes that citizens are passive and inert subjects of a merciless process called development. Both slogans embody absolute power. Both are contemptuous of human beings.

The postcolonial discourse on development is a little more sophisticated. It narrates wishful stories of how societies can move in a linear fashion towards progress only if governments harness natural resources, build infrastructure, and ensure economic growth. People are told that they will find development instead of un-development or under-development only vide reductionist beliefs in simple-minded economic theories. The naïve belief in development persists despite the truths of history, and the lesson of mythology that societies regress. By now, we know that societies follow the path set by the figure in Greek mythology, Sisyphus.

Sisyphus, the cunning and deceitful ruler of Corinth, was sentenced by the Greek god Zeus to roll a boulder up the hill in the underworld. Each time he reached the top of the hill, the boulder would roll down, forcing Sisyphus to begin his labour all over again. Similarly, societies progress and regress, become independent and are colonised once again, institutionalise democracy but democracy continues to elude them.

In the 2020 Global Democracy Index Report compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, India slipped 10 places from the 2019 ranking to 51st place. The report attributed the primary cause of democratic regression to the erosion of civil liberties in the country, downgrading of Article 370, deployment of massive troops in Jammu and Kashmir, arrest of Kashmiri leaders, ban on the internet, and security related measures. The National Register of Citizens exercise in Assam led to the identification of 1.9 million citizens as aliens. Above all, the decline in India’s democratic status is attributed to the infamous Citizenship Amendment Act. Admittedly, the government focuses on building infrastructure. This is necessary, but is it enough? Does it make people’s lives better? Hardly! India has slipped one position to 131 out of 189 countries in the 2020 Human Development Index of the UN Human Development Report.

The political paradox: Development but unsteady democracy gives us the right to ask disruptive questions. What exactly is it that development achieves? Who benefits? Who loses out? Splitting development from politics obfuscates its profoundly political role, of garnering power for elites at the expense of the people. Very few processes that affect the lives of Indians, often adversely, at rare times beneficially, are apolitical. They cannot be. Every practice, every institution, every word in the vocabulary of development, has to be contested. We have to bring back development into our understanding of politics as contestation every time a tribal community is alienated from its habitat, and every time a poor person’s hut or shanty town is demolished in the name of development.

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Essential Politics: Remaking California's political maps – Los Angeles Times

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This is the July 26, 2021, edition of the Essential Politics newsletter. Like what you’re reading? Sign up to get it in your inbox three times a week.

In a summer filled with public health worries, a state budget surplus and a historic gubernatorial recall election, there’s been little time to talk about what might end up being California’s most consequential political news of 2021.

That’s redistricting, the once-a-decade requirement to draw new maps for congressional, state and local representation — a process that itself is being dramatically reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With big developments on the horizon, let’s set the stage for what to watch.

The census delay’s domino effect

California’s embrace of independent redistricting — wherein maps are drawn by citizen commissioners rather than the elected officials who serve in those jurisdictions — has relied on robust public input and timely access to accurate, comprehensive data about the number and location of the state’s residents.

An unprecedented delay in obtaining census data has thrown everyone a curveball. Federal officials are delivering the information more than four months late, sparking demand for changes to the established timelines for local redistricting efforts and the maps to be drawn by the 14-member California Citizens Redistricting Commission. Census officials have now promised a full set of data, though not in a user-friendly format, on Aug. 16.

California uses a statewide repository for organizing the needed census data and adding additional information on voters and elections, thus producing the information the statewide citizens panel needs to revise congressional, legislative and state Board of Equalization maps. Local commissions in a number of California communities draw maps for city councils, boards of supervisors, school districts and more.

So the question is this: How long do the state and local panels need to pull this off? And is the delayed process a legitimate threat to holding California’s primary election on June 7, 2022?

The debate over the deadline

Almost two weeks ago, the state citizens redistricting commission decided it wants to move its deadline for producing the final maps to Jan. 14, 2022 — a time frame that would probably be longer than the one given to the 2011 commission, the state’s first independent panel after voters stripped legislators of their power to draw the districts.

The argument, over a series of meetings, was that community groups would struggle to offer thoughtful input if the redistricting deadline is during the end-of-the-year holidays. But the state association of elections officers quickly sounded an alarm, noting that candidates and local officials could be left scrambling. One notable concern is that the maps could be challenged in court — as they were in 2011 — and lead to even further delays in preparing for the primary.

But moving the June 7 primary also presents problems, given the way election returns often take weeks to complete, and planning for the November general election would also be affected if the primary election is moved into late June.

Redistricting: What to watch for

The California Supreme Court, which extended the timeline for statewide redistricting last year once the census delays became apparent, now must consider the request from the state commission to allow them an extra two weeks to draw the maps, until Jan. 14, 2022. There’s no sign on when the justices might act, though sooner would be better.

Officials who oversee the statewide redistricting database have said initial census data will be made public as soon as Aug. 23 — this will allow anyone who wants to tinker with population and geography to do so. But the data needed to draw the official maps probably won’t be ready until late September, due to a 2011 law that requires California prison inmates to be counted in the communities where they last lived and not as residents of the communities where their prisons are located.

When the California Legislature reconvenes in mid-August, lawmakers may want to modify election deadlines to account for the delayed maps. They also will be asked to extend the deadline for local redistricting commissions to produce maps. Those panels, under existing rules, will have even less time unless the Legislature intervenes.

We know the maps will change, in some cases, quite a lot from those drawn a decade ago. And we know California will lose one seat in the House of Representatives, the first rollback in history of the state’s delegation in Washington.

Voters, of course, simply want to know that the elections for those posts are fair, conducted under well-established procedures and using political maps that have been smartly — and fairly — laid out.

‘California Politics’ launches Aug. 13

As the state’s redistricting challenges come into focus, the gubernatorial recall moves into full campaign mode and the Legislature heads into the home stretch for its work this year, we’ll be launching The Times’ newsletter devoted solely to California politics.

This is my final edition of Essential Politics. I look forward to joining the ranks of its readers to catch weekly updates from David Lauter, Noah Bierman and Laura Blasey, my colleagues in our Washington, D.C., bureau.

If you want to keep track of the political ups and downs of the Golden State, sign up for the new newsletter here.

Enjoying this newsletter? Consider subscribing to the Los Angeles Times

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Become a subscriber.

National lightning round

— Lawmakers racing to seal a bipartisan infrastructure deal early this week are hitting a major roadblock over how much money should go to public transit, the group’s lead Republican negotiator said Sunday.

— House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday named a second Republican critic of Donald Trump, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, to a special committee investigating the Capitol riot and pledged that the Democratic-majority panel would “get to the truth.”

Former President Trump, again upending American political norms, is moving to remake Congress and the Republican Party in his own image.

— The Border Patrol’s approach to missing migrants has evolved amid an increase in migration and deaths.

Thomas Barrack, a prominent L.A. investor, awaits trial on charges of obstruction of justice and acting as an agent of the United Arab Emirates.

Today’s essential California politics

— Conservative talk radio host Larry Elder will appear on the recall election ballot, while Kevin Faulconer will not be described as a “former San Diego mayor” on official election paperwork, two California Superior Court judges ruled last week.

— Facing criticism from recall supporters for California’s rise in gun violence and retail theft, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday called for more accountability and enforcement but insisted the state is on the right path on criminal justice.

— With the renewed spread of COVID-19, Newsom faces a delicate decision over whether to again impose statewide mask requirements in indoor public places and risk upsetting Californians just weeks before they decide if he should be recalled from office.

— An appeals court Friday ruled that state leaders violated the rights of parents by forcing private schools to stay closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stay in touch

Keep up with breaking news on our Politics page. And are you following us on Twitter at @latimespolitics?

Did someone forward you this? Sign up here to get Essential Politics in your inbox.

Until next time, send your comments, suggestions and news tips to politics@latimes.com.

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Analysis: Politics might not be a sport, but Texas sports are political – The Texas Tribune

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Kais Saied: The political outsider accused of a coup – Al Jazeera English

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President accused of attack on Tunisian democracy after sacking the country’s prime minister and suspending parliament.

Tunisia’s president described his election victory in 2019 as ‘like a new revolution’ – and on Sunday night he brought huge crowds of supporters onto the streets by sacking the government and freezing parliament in a move his foes called a coup.

Kais Saied, a 63-year-old political independent and former constitutional lawyer with an awkward public manner and a preference for an ultra formal speaking style of classical Arabic, is now at the undisputed centre of Tunisian politics.

Nearly two years after his election and a separate vote that created a deeply divided parliament, he has sidelined both the prime minister and parliament speaker with a move seen by critics as an unconstitutional power grab.

However, as tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of major cities to celebrate, Saied appeared to be riding a wave of popular anger against a political elite that has for years failed to deliver the promised fruits of democracy.

While the parliament speaker, Rached Ghannouchi, has been tainted with the messy compromises of a decade of democratic politics since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, Saied entered the scene in 2019 as a comparative newcomer.

Presenting himself in his campaign as an ordinary man taking on a corrupt system, he fought the election without spending money and with a bare-bones team of advisers and volunteers – winning the backing of leftists, Islamists and youths alike.

His supporters said he spent so little on the election that it cost only the price of the coffee and cigarettes he consumed meeting Tunisians and presented him as a paragon of personal integrity.

People celebrated in the street after Tunisian President Kais Saied announced the dissolution of parliament and Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi’s government [Fethi Belaid/AFP]

Once elected, he appeared for a while shackled by a constitution that gives the president direct power over only the military and foreign affairs while daily administration is left to a government that is more answerable to parliament.

Saied has made no secret of his desire for a new constitution that puts the president at centre stage – prompting critics to accuse him of wanting to emulate Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in stripping his foes of power.

Power struggle

As president, Saied quickly feuded with the two prime ministers who eventually emerged from the complex process of coalition building – first Elyes Fakhfakh and then Hichem Mechichi.

However, the biggest dispute has been with the moderate Islamist Ennahda party and its veteran leader Ghannouchi, a former political prisoner and exile who returned to Tunisia in 2011.

Over the past year, Saied and Mechichi, backed by Ghannouchi, have squabbled over Cabinet reshuffles and control over the security forces, complicating efforts to handle the pandemic and address a looming fiscal crisis.

As protests erupted in January, however, it was the government and the old parties of parliament who faced the public’s wrath – a wave of anger that finally broke last week as COVID-19 cases spiked.

A failed effort to set up walk-in vaccination centres led Saied to announce last week that the army would take over the pandemic response – a move seen by his critics as the latest step in his power struggle with the government.

It set the stage for his announcement on Sunday following protests targeting Ennahda in cities around the country.

People came out on the streets to celebrate the government’s removal but mahy demonstrators also want social and economic reform [Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters]

During the 2011 revolution, his students and friends said, he used to walk the narrow streets of Tunis’ old city and the grand colonial boulevards downtown late at night, discussing politics with his students.

Saied was one of the legal advisers who helped draft Tunisia’s 2014 democratic constitution, though he soon spoke out against elements of the document.

Now, some of the main political inheritors of Tunisia’s revolution are casting him as its executioner – saying his dismissal of government and freezing of parliament are an attack on democracy.

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