Archives  >  2019  >  November  >  29th

West Bengal, Turning

1. What’s the story?

In an unexpected shift of voter opinions, West Bengal’s ruling party — Trinamool Congress — has swept the first set of by-elections in the state. This is a marked departure from the Lok Sabha elections held earlier this year, when BJP had won a large number of seats — sweeping into power at the Centre. The possible reasons behind the Bengali voter’s sharp U-turn might be worth delving into.

Tell me more.

According to experts, Bengal’s voters are not happy with the NRC, and that may have been a major reason behind these surprising results. (Quick recap: The National Register of Citizens or NRC is a register maintained by the Government of India containing names & certain relevant information for identification of all genuine Indian citizens.) 

“Since the Lok Sabha election campaign earlier this year, the Bharatiya Janata Party has attempted to make inroads into West Bengal by pushing hard on its promise to institute a citizen’s register. Like the National Register of Citizens in Assam, the proposed register in West Bengal would identify undocumented migrants from India’s eastern neighbour Bangladesh.

This initiative was the key factor that determined the results of the first set of bye-elections in West Bengal, as the Trinamool Congress swept all three Assembly seats: Kharagpur, Karimpur and Kaliaganj. With the BIP registering a substantial fall in vote share since the Lok Sabha elections, the result is being seen as a vote of no confidence in its NRC plans. Two of the seats that went to the polls – Kaliaganj and Karimpur – are on the West Bengal-Bangladesh border. They have substantial populations of Muslims as well as Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, two groups that are apprehensive of an NRC.

In Kaliaganj, the BJP’s candidate Kamal Chandra Sarkar was clear that the NRC had led to his defeat. “I admit that that National Register of Citizens is the reason behind my defeat,” he said. “There was fear among the people regarding NRC. We failed to make people understand that NRC in Assam was different. The NRC is implemented by the Centre and not the BJP as a party. People thought the BJP was implementing NRC and this went against us.” ”

There were other reasons behind this win too.

“A mix of the scare around a countrywide National Register of Citizens (NRC), a rejuvenated party, successful election strategising by Prashant Kishor, and party leaders going door to door conceding that excesses had indeed been committed by a section of the local leadership, helped the Trinamool.”

West Bengal’s Chief Minister, TMC’s Mamata Banerjee, is, of course, quite relieved

“Trinamool supremo and Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee described it as a victory of the people and added that it was also a victory for development.

“Politics of arrogance of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was rejected by the people…This is the first time we are winning the seats in Kharagpur and Kaliaganj. Everyone voted for us — minorities, Adivasis and   Rajbanshis.” ”

So, what now?

West Bengal’s BJP Chief Dilip Ghosh now claims that NRC is a non-issue for them at the state

“From going on the attack with respect to the NRC – the BJP’s Lok Sabha manifesto promised to “implement the NRC in a phased manner in other parts of the country” – to claiming that the NRC was never an issue for the BJP in West Bengal, it is clear that the Trinamool’s attacks have had an effect.

Thursday’s by-polls result further corroborates that at least in West Bengal, the NRC is volatile topic for the BJP, which has as much chance of harming the saffron party itself as it has of helping it electorally.”

Keep your eyes on this space. We’ll keep you updated.

2. Where else should I be keeping my eyes on?

Maharashtra, that’s where. After more than a month of dramatic developments and deliberations (as 6 Things had earlier covered here and here), Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackarey was sworn in as the Chief Minister of the state — at the helm of an unlikely Congress-NCP-Shiv Sena alliance. 

“The 59-year-old is the third Sena leader and first from the Thackarey family to occupy the post. His father Bal Thackarey wielded the “remote control” over the first Sena-BJP government during 1995-99 but never assumed a position in the government.”

Many people, however, have expressed their concern over the longevity of a cobbled-together coalition — especially in the wake of neighbouring Karnataka’s failure to sustain its coalition Government against BJP.

“It was the rebellion of the MLAs which resulted in the downfall of the alliance in Karnataka. However, even before the BJP approached them with the offer to change camps, the MLAs in question had expressed displeasure over HD Kumaraswamy’s functioning as chief minister.

Uddhav Thackarey might make the same mistakes. Uddhav has never been a part of electoral politics or run a government. As a leader accustomed to giving commands to his party workers, he might lack the diplomatic skill needed to run a coalition government.

If Uddhav adopts his iron-hand methods to run the coalition government, Maharashtra might see the same fate as Karnataka.

In this context, the role of senior leaders like Sharad Pawar becomes important. In Karnataka, Congress veteran Siddaramaiah is alleged to have attempted to break the alliance behind the scenes. But, if a maestro like Pawar plays the role of keeping the House together, the coalition may sustain for five years.”

3. What more?

Sharad Arvind Bobde became India’s newest Chief Justice last week. He assumes the position during interesting times — taking over when the post is more powerful than ever. (Quick recap: The Chief Justice of India is the head of the judiciary of India and the Supreme Court of India. The CJI also heads their administrative functions.)

“Four Supreme Court judges went public about their concerns on the institution’s functioning in January 2018. Six months later, the apex court had upheld that the Chief Justice of India (CJI) was ‘Master of Roster’. By the time Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde took charge as India’s 47th CJI on November 18th, the position had become mightier than ever.

For the judge who rode a borrowed Harley-Davidson, an episode which came to light because he had an accident fracturing his ankle that kept him away from the bench for a few days earlier this year, the professional mantra is justice, much like the Norwegian proverb ‘It is the law that judges, not the judge.’ Between his passion for motorbikes and a non-controversial career, he is seen as a liberal and conventional judge—someone of whom expectations are running high.

Bobde, 63, took oath at the Durbar Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan on a bright sunny morning, incidentally coinciding with the beginning of the Winter Session of Parliament, in a black judicial robe, a white, stiff wing-collared shirt and a neatly trimmed, short-boxed grey beard. In his tenure as a Supreme Court judge since April 2013, he has seen more than just black-and-white.”

4. Anything else?

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is an optimistic woman. Even though indicators strongly say the opposite (as 6 Things had lastly covered here), she is determined to prove that India is not going through a recession. “It is not a recession. It will never be recession…” she claimed in the Rajya Sabha this Wednesday, provoking a strong response from around the nation.
“Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharam on Wednesday dismissed talks of recession and claimed that the Indian economy could have slowed down but there was no threat of a recession.
Sitharaman made the remarks during a debate about the economy in the Rajya Sabha. She compared India’s GDP to the last five years of the Manmohan Singh-led UPA rule saying, “India’s real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth was at 6.4% at the end of 2009-2014, whereas between 2014-2019 it was at 7.5%.”

ANI quoted her as saying, “If you are looking at the economy with a discerning view, you see that growth may have come down but it is not a recession yet, it will not be a recession ever.”

Black economy expert Arun Kumar had told Huffpost India’s Akshay Deshmane in an interview that this was not a slowdown, but a full-blown recession, and that this was directly linked to demonetisation. 

Kumar had said, “If you take the unorganised sector into account, our rate of growth became negative during that period of demonetisation and for months after that. And it has remained zero or negative right through. If you take only the organised sector into account, then there is a slowdown. But if you take the unorganised plus organised sector into account and look at alternate data, then we have been in a recession for the last three years, not a slowdown.” ”

5. Is that all?

It was the great American holiday of Thanksgiving this Thursday. Surprisingly enough, almost all of the traditional knowledge about it seems to have been fabricated. Here’s a quick history of the “massacres, myths, and the making of the great November holiday.”

“Americans have been celebrating Thanksgiving for nearly four centuries, commemorating that solemn dinner in November, 1621. We know the story well, or think we do. Adorned in funny hats, large belt buckles, and clunky black shoes, the Pilgrims of Plymouth gave thanks to God for his blessings, demonstrated by the survival of their fragile settlement. The local Indians, supporting characters who generously pulled the Pilgrims through the first winter and taught them how to plant corn, joined the feast with gifts of venison. A good time was had by all, before things quietly took their natural course: the American colonies expanded, the Indians gave up their lands and faded from history, and the germ of collective governance found in the Mayflower Compact blossomed into American democracy.

Almost none of this is true, as David Silverman points out in “This Land Is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving” (Bloomsbury). The first Thanksgiving was not a “thanksgiving,” in Pilgrim terms, but a “rejoicing.” An actual giving of thanks required fasting and quiet contemplation; a rejoicing featured feasting, drinking, militia drills, target practice, and contests of strength and speed. It was a party, not a prayer, and was full of people shooting at things. The Indians were Wampanoags, led by Ousamequin (often called Massasoit, which was a leadership title rather than a name). An experienced diplomat, he was engaged in a challenging game of regional geopolitics, of which the Pilgrims were only a part. While the celebrants might well have feasted on wild turkey, the local diet also included fish, eels, shellfish, and a Wampanoag dish called nasaump, which the Pilgrims had adopted: boiled cornmeal mixed with vegetables and meats. There were no potatoes (an indigenous South American food not yet introduced into the global food system) and no pies (because there was no butter, wheat flour, or sugar).”

6. Before you leave…

Take a look at how the early internet is breaking down — and how these people are saving it

“The early web looked different than it does today. In the 1990s, the internet was intimate and a bit amateur. Websites were made by everyday people on their personal computers, desktops, with very minimal knowledge of coding or HTML needed.

The internet is not forever, it can break and disappear. 
Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied are part of a growing group of people who preserve and archive our online digital history. They see the web from the 90s and 2000s as an artifact, at times, even, Net Art.”

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