I, Dipankan

The Great Indian Electoral Tamasha

Governmental elections all over the world are quite important an affair in the sense that such elections satisfy the constitutional demand for a head of state, or that of a federal unit, to be elected on grounds of popular consensus. In India, electoral seasons are quite a spectacle to behold- from the campaigning process to the declaration of results, everything seems to be over very swiftly without noticeable friction. The caution, however, is that it so appears when examined from the wider lens. On panning into the depths of the electoral process in India, we find several anomalies in the entire activity.

In India, elections are held at the national level and at the state levels- called the General elections and the State elections, respectively. This entire polling process is conducted and monitored by a Constitutionally authorized independent body, the Central Election Commission, whose primary responsibility lies in the conduct of ‘free and fair elections’ on the basis of Universal Adult Franchise. Unfortunately, despite the best of efforts from the Commission in recent times, elections are hardly fair to the last vote. Elections nowadays are mostly associated with graphic displays of violence, bombings and intimidation cases. Saddest of them all, is perhaps the attempt to hijack the very process itself- through practice of rigging. It is an open secret that such attempts to deface the primary pillar of democracy is clandestinely supported by politicians themselves. The problem is, the evidence trail is cut off most of the times. Raking up religious sentiments looks to be the new norm of the day; and no one is batting an eyelid over it. Over thirty percent of the people’s representatives in the Lok Sabha have criminal cases stacked against them. Illiterate hordes with rich family backgrounds have also appeared in the foray: all these are cumulatively adding up to pull our entire democracy in the reverse gear.

Political funding in India is highly opaque. In 2014, a non-profit organisation Global Integrity, ranked India on 42nd position out of 54 countries, assessing each nation by their transparency metrics. In fact, India even ranks 6 ranks lower than its neighbour Pakistan. Despite introduction of a law by the Finance Minister to replace cash donations by electoral bonds, the cardinal loophole still exists- that of anonymous donations. While the cash limit has been decreased from Rs. 20,000/- to Rs. 2000/-, the very introduction of such anonymous electoral bond purchase defeats the purpose of the move to ensure transparency. This was reiterated by the former Chief Election Commissioner, O.P. Rawat, who demitted office on 1st December, 2018.

It would perhaps be a farce to write on the vices surrounding Indian elections without mentioning the criminal track records of candidates and elected legislators. A staggering figure of 34% of India’s Lok Sabha MPs have criminal cases lodged against their names- from rioting to murder- and everything in between (Vaishnav 2017). What is shocking is that candidates with criminal antecedents have an 18% chance of winning the poll than fresh and clean rivals- who stand a meek 6%. Muscle power and money, thereby, influences the election process in a big way. India’s elevation of lawbreakers to lawmakers is thus no short of an interesting story.

Literacy rates amongst legislators are alarming to say the least. The sixteenth Lok Sabha features six Members of Parliament who have not even completed their matriculation courses. Such a want for literacy at the highest levels of democracy effectively creates a void for constructive participation in debates that arise in the Lower House. This statistic is worse for the Vidhan Sabhas; where illiterate MLAs abound in considerable numbers. Among such states, Haryana, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh feature prominently. An absence of criteria outlining the basic educational qualifications of candidates is a major hurdle. There simply seems to be no political will in amending such a trend.

Ever since 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi ascended the chair of the Prime Minister, a wave of Hindutva nationalism has swept across the country. Religious minorities have been openly threatened and persecuted. Even caste held no bars as stories of oppression and humiliation of the Dalits poured in from every corner. This gave rise to violent clashes in Maharashtra, where the tensions ran high. Politicians from right-wing parties and members of the fringe outfits have found that religion is easily saleable to the masses to garner votes: and the trick has worked time and again. Inflammatory statements made by local politicians to gain votes in the short run bring about deep communal divides that are near impossible to repair. The Muzzafarpur riots is a good example for such a blatant promotion of religious hatred, which left in its aftermath 62 dead and a total of 50,000 people displaced.

Despite such a venomous electoral atmosphere, positive mends are being made, or at least, being sought for. In September, 2018, the Supreme Court hauled up the Central Government, asking the Union to frame adequate and necessary laws to ensure complete decriminalisation of politics. Earlier, the Election Commission had made it mandatory to declare the criminal antecedents before filing nomination for elections. There is also a general agreement on the fact that India needs to amend its academic qualification requirements for candidates contesting the elections. After all, a lawmaker who does not understand the subtle discourse of crucial agendas is no good to legislate in the first place. In Abhiram Singh v/s CD Commachen (2017) the judiciary also barred the use of religion, caste, and language as a means to appeal the voters. This was a positive and welcome move. There is also a constant pressure on the government to make the process of political funding open, and anonymous donations must not be entertained.

While steps are being taken to ensure the dream of realising free elections in the truest sense of the term; we are probably staring several decades away when the electoral process in India would be free of taint. For now, ensuring the clean up of the existing lot of mess is much more important than bringing in more candidates with questionable backgrounds.

Reflections on the 175th year of The Economist

In September of 1843, the much-cherished magazine of today, The Economist, was started. In 2018, it thus celebrates its one hundred and seventy-fifth year; an appreciably long way to go for any magazine of its kind. James Wilson, founder of The Economist, adhered by certain fundamental principles- such as the being champion of free trade, free markets and limited government. Thereby, he was in a way the pioneer of a new way of political thought in his time- that of liberalism. In fact, The Economist was founded to campaign for the repeal of the oppressive Corn Laws in Imperial Britain, which put high import taxes on food grains. Liberalism today can be defined as a way of political philosophy wherein individual and civil liberties, and rights of the individual are held sacred and of principal concern. It would thus only be fitting to explore how the concept of liberalism has evolved over the years from Wilson’s days to the present day we live in.

There are certainly a lot of positives to count on. Rapid globalisation has transformed the world in more ways than one: average global life expectancy rates have skyrocketed, while milllons have been uplifted from severe poverty. These trends are only expected to continue. All across the world, there is a general notion that civil liberties are inalienable to the man, and that has now become the cornerstone for a good number of nation states. There is a fantastic co-relation between the most developed countries today and the number of liberal governments it had at the helm. Over the period of the nineteenth and twentieth century, while isolationism, fascism and communism failed, liberalism stood out as the lone exception; perhaps a poetic ode to its core belief to evolve and sustain itself as it goes the way.

However, it would be foolish to assume that liberalism is still driving the world, and that it faces no crises at present. Over the last twelve years, civil liberties have lost ground in 71 countries, while only 35 made any gain (Freedom House Report, 2017). This is a worrying statistic. Liberalism has died an ideological death, perhaps, arising out of mere complacency. The liberal elite likes to dwell in an illusory world where everything is sugar-coated to their tastes. In actuality, it is not such a perfect scenario. Liberalism had its roots from humble starts, as a tool for change. True liberals contend that change is gradual, it cannot be enforced on somebody (thus, opposing revolutionaries). Unfortunately enough, this hunger for introduction of change has become non-existent. Liberals must remember that their founding principle remains civic respect for all. The centennial edition of The Economist, in 1943 chalked out two defining principles for liberalism: one being freedom, and the other being the idea that human society could ultimately be an association for the welfare of the multitude. Fast forward to now, and divisive forces have found significant traction across communities. Group identities defined by race, religion or sexual orientations are springing up, thus diffusing the entire idea of the second guiding principle of liberalism. What is worse, is the fact that even liberals have grown conservative- unable to accept the risk that comes with upsetting a stable system that keeps them doing better than the rest.

Today, liberalism looks disillusioned and without a proper direction. The young generation is the engine of change; and true liberals from among them must be pragmatic in their approach and adaptable to any situation that may arise. In the advent of passionate nationalistic governments and their associated propaganda, the liberals must find an opportunity to display their brand of nationalism- harping on inclusivity- and embrace it as their own. Criticism and dissent must be welcomed and not suppressed- which is something key to liberalism. Liberalism has always been tagged with reform, but reform cannot sustain itself where stagnation settles. Thus, the complexities of the twenty first century can only be dealt with gusto and vivacity– which is, precisely, the need of the hour for liberalism to revive itself from the archaism it has subjected itself to.

Preparing for a freshman year

KIIT Central Library

All over the world, the seasons at the start of the year, spanning from February to May, is somewhat mundane. In India, however, this is the time for the exam season- flooding overwhelmingly with undergraduate admission processes pan-India. Millions of students apply for colleges and everyone is made to undergo the heat through various competitive examinations held to determine the merit of the student. It has been a hectic season so far for me, but I’ve secured admission in one of the premier private colleges of Eastern India, KIIT- Bhubaneswar.

 

I’ve always wanted to fiddle with the radios, explore how devices really worked, and from my childhood it was my unfortunate habit to tweak with the setup. This is why I’ve taken up electronics engineering at the institute. I expect the next four years to be a rollercoster of a ride- bringing in new experiences, knowledge, internship opportunities, and a plethora of other similar activities. I would for sure, miss home- as they say, home is where the heart is!

While most of my friends have already been through with the packing and planning, I’ve checked only one of the boxes so far- that of planning. My packing is in shambles; I will need to go and get it done at the earliest. Considering the fact that I do not have much time left for my stay in my home state (West Bengal), I had a pretty busy schedule last week- meeting people, getting together, birthday parties, and the list is unending!

Wish me luck as I step out for a new venture ahead.

Why this revamp?

For people who followed my earlier blogs, this is definitely a marked change. IIS-India was my very first blog, the one which I had started in 2012. It has grown exponentially now and has a staggering view counter of nearly 260,000 viewers. This is definitely a big number on all fronts. However, IIS-India lacked a key ingredient: finesse. As I had initially started out with Google’s own in-bred platform Blogger, which offered very limited templates and customisation abilities- I was to say, constrained at best. I, being the person I am, would prefer professionalism over profit any day!

And thus I took the leap to professionalism.

This revamped look which offers a minimalist theme has been curated to exclusively focus only on the content. Content, as they say, reigns supreme. I, Dipankan- the blog- will be my personal forum where I would blog on a lot of topics that interest me. If you are here because you would like to read my articles on politics and the associated conundrum- it is located at Politics Now.

I sincerely welcome you aboard the journey to discovering the everyday, once again!