New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel

വായന

26 June, 2007

Lure of Office

How sad that President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam almost walked into the trap laid by some scheming politicians!

The leaders of regional parties, who made a last-minute bid to give Kalam a second term, were only seeking to reinforce their claim to maintain equidistance from the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance had already nominated Pratibha Patil as its candidate and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance had made it known that it favoured Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat’s elevation.

Kalam has no doubt been a popular President. Although a newcomer to public office, he conducted himself with dignity and won many admirers, especially among those sections which were disgusted with the deteriorating standards of politicians. As his term was drawing to a close the metro-centric television channels made an attempt to whip up a campaign to give him a second term. His mailbox was choked by messages urging him to seek re-election. Enthused by the affection shown by the public, he expressed willingness to make himself available if there was a consensus.

When the Third Front leaders met him, Kalam told them he was willing to contest if there was certainty of victory.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati having endorsed Pratibha Patil’s candidature, the numbers were against Kalam. His only chance of victory lay in organizing massive defections from the political parties and combinations that had already announced their candidates. It would have been out of character with the kind of image he had projected during the past five years if he had allowed opportunists to use him as a tool to organize defections. Fortunately, he stepped back just in time.

P.S.
On June 23, the media quoted Kalam as saying he decided against running for a second term as he did not want to be "party" to a political process. Surely he cannot be so naive as to not realize that he became a party to a political process on at least three occasions: first, when he accepted the offer of political parties in 2002 to be a candidate for the office of the President; then, when he said he was willing to stay on if there was a consensus in his favour among political parties; and then again when he told the Third Front leaders that he was ready to run if there was certainty of victory.

15 June, 2007

Woman President: An occasion to celebrate

India can look forward to having its first woman President in the 60th year of Independence.

Barring unforeseen developments, Pratibha Patil, whom the ruling United Progressive Alliance and its Left allies have nominated for the top post, will be elected President next month as she has enough support in the electoral college to sail through.

Pratibha Patil emerged as consensus candidate after the Left parties rejected three other names proposed by the Congress party. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, whose Bahujan Samaj Party has significant strength in the electoral college, had said earlier that her party would support the UPA nominee.

The chances of the National Democratic Alliance, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, putting up a candidate of its own cannot be ruled out. Although the ruling party/alliance customarily appeals to the opposition to support to its candidate to facilitate unanimous choice, there has been only one uncontested presidential election so far.

Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, the Janata Party candidate, was elected unopposed in 1977. He is also the only one who became President after tasting defeat in an earlier election. Nominated by the Congress party for the post in 1969, he lost to V.V.Giri, who had resigned the Vice-President’s post and contested as an Independent with the tacit support of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

A lady tenant in Rashtrapati Bhavan will not, of course, make any material difference to the polity or the position of women in Indian society. Nevertheless, Pratibha Patil’s election is an occasion for celebration since it is in tune with the nation’s commitment to gender justice.

03 June, 2007

War against caste in academia

Students and professionals have formed a group to fight casteist practices in Indian educational institutions. Those interested may visit the group’s blogspotsite.
The group has asked SC/ST students who have been subjected to harassment in their institutions to report to it at end.casteism@gmail.com

01 June, 2007

A two-party system in the making

President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam recently invited criticism from some political parties by commending the two-party system.

Kalam was voicing the sentiments of the English-educated middle class, which believes-- erroneously, of course -- that the British and American models are perfect. Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami says it will be very difficult to evolve a two-party system in India, where votes get scattered in multi-cornered contests. He provides statistical data to support this view.

According to him, in this year’s Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, only 3.47% of the winning candidates got more than 50% of the votes polled. The situation was a little better in Jharkhand: in the 2005 Assembly elections in that State, 6.10% of the successful candidates had polled more than 50% votes. In the last two years, only in Kerala and Puducherry, more than 50% of those elected received more than half of the votes polled.

The Bahujan Samaj Party, which secured an absolute majority in the 403-member UP Assembly, polled between 30% and 35% (actual figures are not available at the Election Commission’s website yet), as against 23.06% in the 2002 elections.

Kerala’s largest parties, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress, have a smaller vote share than what the BSP now has in UP. Many candidates get elected with a clear majority in the State because they contest as nominees of a front, not of a single party. The CPI (M)-led Left Democratic Front and the Congress-led United Democratic Front include a number of smaller parties, whose support enable the big brothers to boost their vote share and grab power in alternate elections.

Coalition politics, which originated in Kerala, has now travelled to most other States and to the Centre. Its success has tended to cloud the fact that a two-party system has emerged or is emerging in many States.

Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Delhi are already two-party States. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party are the only parties that matter in these States. Maharashtra is qualified to graduate to two-party status. What stands in the way is the division of the Congress camp into the Indian National Congress and the National Congress Party and of the Hindutva camp into Shiv Sena and the BJP.

Andhra Pradesh and Orissa are also, in effect, two-party States. While the Congress is one of the two parties in contention in these States, the other is a regional party -- Telugu Desam in AP and Biju Janata Dal in Orissa. Tamil Nadu, too, has developed a two-party system. It differs from the other States in that the two parties involved are both regional ones, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All-India Anna DMK.

But for recurrent splits and opportunistic alliances, Kerala may well have developed a two-party system by now with the Congress and the CPI (M) as the sole contenders for power. Karnataka, where three parties are holding the ground, is not able to move into the two-party system only because coalition politics is keeping alive one that is set to wither away. West Bengal is unique: it is a virtual one-party State now. The Congress or the breakaway Trinamool Congress has to gain strength before it can have a semblance of a two-party system.

The large, heartland States of UP and Bihar appear to stand farthest from the two-party system at present. However, the latest election results show that UP can emerge as a two-party State sooner than later. The BSP will be one of the two parties in the reckoning. Who will be the other – the BJP or the Samajwadi Party? The next elections will probably yield the answer to this question. If UP takes to two-party system, can Bihar be far behind?

Since the same two parties are not emerging on the top in all the States, a two-party system at the Centre is not on the cards for the time being.