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Issue 10

New Beginning for Humanity or Anarchy?- A look into Space Laws

On the occasion of SpaceX’s Texas facility launch in 2019, CEO Elon Musk described how life on Mars would be and spoke of Mars’ city sustenance and the idea of democracy in International space —-all of which was seen as a precursor to Musk’s plan for Martian residence. While Elon Musk at the time described SpaceX’s Mars plan as part of a mission to democratise Mars, create self-sustaining cities on the planet and carry “maybe around 100k people per Earth-Mars orbital sync,” which he mentioned in his tweet. Following these claims Musk also spoke about governance on Mars and the way social structures would function on the red planet. Claiming to land humans on Mars by 2024-26, Elon Musk’s proposed Martian idea stands in conflict with the United Nations’ Outer Space Treaty signed in 1967. While the signatories of the Treaty include the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States, a closer look at the clauses makes one question whether Musk’s dream could actually turn into reality. A look at the treaty makes one question, whether a private company and its employees along with billionaires seeking to pay for Martian travel and accommodation, actually set up and sustain a city with its own government on the planet, as Musk claimed on Twitter and his speech. The Treaty states that “ the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind”, and Musk’s proposed idea for the planet does not yet describe how potential Martians will be selected. Will these be billionaires paying their way to the “fixer-upper of a planet” as Musk calls it, or will they people randomly selected on a lottery?

Further, how the society and governance have to be structured on Mars seems to be out of the hand of the technocrat billionaire, despite his plans and claims for the planet. One of the clauses of the Treaty states that “outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means”, which stands in contradiction to Musk’s plans wherein he claims sovereignty over the red planet and its resources. Another idea that seems to be a conundrum with regards to space travel, SpaceX’s plans as well as Musk’s aspirations is the Treaty’s explicit mention of state entities, state laws and international laws holding true even in outer space. 

An analysis of Musk’s space plans and the UN’s Space Treaty makes one question the future of Martian colonisation, the government therein and the role of private companies like SpaceX in the process. The analysis seeks to question if Musk will rule over Mars by virtue of his expedition, if the Treaty, signed in 1967 will be altered for future space travel and residence, and if governments will have to bow in front of technocrats for the future of mankind. Musk’s plans also make one question how the Earth’s future would be as a planet, who will reside on it and whether Earth would become a waste-dump for Martians if that is to be ‘fixer-upper of a planet’. 

Another significant space travel and residence news was released soon after Musk’s tweets and interviews went viral, this was the announcement of the first space hotel, expected to open in 2027. Orbital Assembly Corporation (OAC) recently revealed their detailed plan for Voyager Station, a luxury space station cum hotel that is expected to accommodate over 400 guests. This plan too is one that will determine the future of space travel and inter-governmental as well as private company relations. With a room for the Voyager Station costing approximately $25 million, unlike SpaceX, the OAC makes clear who will have access to space travel and how it will affect the world. 

While both of these projects are still in the making, with predictive claims for the future, the presence of these ideas makes one question how society would be structured in the future. These projects also leave room to think about climate change, the future of the earth and who will be offered an alternative planet if this one fails. Furthermore, who will have control over space and will limited laws, signed in 1967 sustain the future of space travel?

Saman Fatima is a third-year History Major at Ashoka University, who is often found sketching or reading for leisure when not immersing herself in mandatory class assignments.

Picture Credits: NASA SpaceFlight.com

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 10

University Spaces: Where the ‘Personal’ Becomes the ‘Political’

Politics in India often termed as ‘unreasonable’ and ‘non-educational,’ restricts our perception of a successful education to that of studying science. These professional fields of study encourage students’ engagement with science and development, more than social and political advancements. Moreover, they are not primarily concerned with ensuring social justice or equality. Indian psychologist and social theorist Ashis Nandy refers to science and development as the two new reasons of state besides national security, that have emerged since WWII. Indian elites have treated science “as a sphere of knowledge which should be free from the constraints of day-to-day politics.” As Pratap Bhanu Mehta puts it, confined to mere economic growth and transactional language of goods and service, the term ‘development’ leaves out the ideas of freedom, and democracy. Universities catering to these ideas of freedom and democracy act as influential spaces for student resistance movements, and motivates them to participate in national politics by upholding their liberal stances. 

Science Says, “Politics, You Stay Away”

Politics involves the establishment of an egalitarian society and requires a developing relationship with technology to ensure each other’s survival as well as their contribution towards resolving societal ills. However, the Indian middle-class have come to view technology as a “source of legitimacy for science” and as a way of tackling all complicated social and political problems. This perception of technology operating in a political vacuum is termed as technicism, according to Schuurman. It maintains the political domination of the apolitical, technocratic, modern elite upon decision-making processes. This notion of science and technology results in their promotion by Indian elites as apolitical, according to Nandy. At the same time, it marginalizes available social and political solutions, by extremizing their excesses, as well as associating credible politicians, academics, journalists, activists, and students as anti-nationals. Science and technology, therefore, serves as a sole “escape from the dirtiness of politics” for most Indian elites. 

Although science and technology are perceived in isolation from politics, the question arises –  isn’t politics everywhere – in our personal spaces as well as educational institutions? Educational spaces, especially university campuses in India have allowed for the most expressive manifestation of politics in the past as well as the present. This engagement with leadership within universities encourages students to actively participate in national politics and pursue it as a career. There have been various student leader-turned politicians in India – Arun Jaitley, Prakash Javadekar, Shashi Tharoor and Nupur Sharma, to name a few. Alongside Kanhaiya Kumar who contested the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Bihar’s Begusarai, Aishe Ghosh, the incumbent President of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union stands as a Left-Congress alliance’s candidate in the West Bengal Assembly Elections. She says, “it is a big responsibility, but my politics will remain the same. The issues we fight for in JNU are an extension of what is happening across the country … I will carry these issues that I fought for in JNU to the people of West Bengal.” These narratives of students participating in national politics make one wonder, what is it about university campuses that produce eminent politicians in a country where most families are obsessed with wanting their child to pursue professional careers in science?

Technical Institutions in India: Technology and Social Empowerment?

The debates preceding India’s Independence, between political and scientific players entailed an establishment of a desirable relationship between politics and technology, however, their legacy appears to have been forgotten with time. The establishment of four IITs by the American team in India considered social patterns, political and cultural traditions as mere obstacles in their way, accompanied by the lack of imagination of the era to highlight the intersections of the two fields. Even though Humanities and Social Sciences were integrated into their curriculum, their scope remained limited thus, preventing intellectual culture, and the possibility of links between technology and social empowerment. 

The perceived free-of-politics atmosphere of the sciences is not to claim that technical institutions have never participated in national protests. Protests by students of IITs caste-based and religious discrimination is not unheard of. However, the constant monitoring of these spaces by state authorities seems to act as an impediment to their action towards other national issues. The existence of this vacuum is exemplified through a recent example, where a circular released by the IIT-Bombay administration warned its hostel residents against participating in “anti-national … activities.” The director called the Institute that “of eminence, with the primary purpose of producing high-quality engineering graduates and research that could be of help to the society at large.” 

It is crucial to note that these notifications arrived when students were protesting against the controversial CAA-NRC and the violence that occurred on university campuses like JNU, AMU and Jamia Millia Islamia. Concerned about its ‘scientific temper’ coming under scrutiny, the director further asked “its staff and employees to refrain from making statements that could ‘embarrass the relations’ of the institute with the central government.” Moreover, the desperate attempt of the government to control these institutions is evidenced by the news of the HRD Ministry issuing orders to technical institutions to keep a tab on their students’ social media accounts. The point here is not to focus on the legitimacy of this notice, instead, the possibility of its occurrence in the near future, with the most recent lateral surveillance and cyber volunteer programs. This incident marks the reduction of the intellectual agenda of the IITs to that of “suppliers” to the demands of the market economy to suit the goals of development, defined in technicist terms of industry, market and state. 

University Spaces As Challenging Hegemonic Structures

Universities either promoting a culture of politics or dismissing them is a consequence of the field of study and the cause that they stand for. Central universities such as Jamia Millia Islamia, JNU, DU, AMU, HCU, Osmania and many more are often under attack for their anti-governmental stances. This attack is not confined to the students alone but is an intimidation process to label them as violent. However, their rigorous curriculum on arts, humanities along with sciences, allows for critical thinking and acts as a space for imagination enables students to engage with social and political subjects perhaps more than what one witnesses in technical institutions. It is these imaginations that lead to knowledge-production, that challenge hegemonic structures and present alternate narratives beyond the binaries produced by the status quo. Universities offering engagement with political science and related branches of study as a part of their curricula cannot survive without the collective aspirations of their students. Students function as enablers of resistance movements and engage with politics beyond socially constructed ideas of the term, furthering research possibilities within academia. 

“University works as a form of mediation between theory and practice,” claims sociologist Gaurav Pathania. Additionally, the space of the university acts as an equalizer. That is, it provides equal access to tools of resistance such as technology, digital media, and brings students from diverse backgrounds together within a common physical and social space for registering protests, which also fosters empathy amongst students. Apart from classrooms acting as a formal space for expressing opinions, it is the informal spaces within university campuses where “social education happens.” Hostels, dining halls, chai/dhaba spots, and libraries allow space for both interpersonal as well as ideological conversations. The expression of collective stances through art installations in these areas encourages others to contribute towards the cause at hand. 

Pathania claims them to be spaces where “private lives of people come together as public.” That is, where the personal becomes the political. These resistance movements, therefore, necessitate academic freedom in universities. Without the freedom to read and express ideas that do not adhere to the status quo, it is nearly impossible to extend these conversations to the realm of national politics. Understanding the intersectionalities of technology, society and politics, along with interdisciplinarity within academia is crucial to resisting the dominant socio-political structures in one’s daily life. The liberating space of a university complements major global movements, adding to their students’ ability to bring significant change through their political leadership. Instances of students becoming future leaders enhances the credibility of political academia, thus, erasing the notion of commonly associated “dirt.”  

Picture Credits: PTI

Ariba is a student of English and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

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Issue 10

Power, Violence and The State: Can one exist without the other?

Maintaining a power structure has historically always involved some level of violence. The British once ruled the largest empire in the world, and violently suppressed revolts and uprisings that took place in their colonies. In North America, as the Atlantic slave trade flourished, men and women who had been free citizens in Africa often rebelled against their masters. These rebellions were also met with violence and death. Today though empires have broken up into nation states and slavery has been abolished, violence is still an important tool in the arsenal of any authority.  

According to the World Health Organization, violence is the “intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”  The role and importance of violence in the political order is a long-debated subject. Some, such as Hobbes and Machiavelli, gave violence a prominent role in human affairs. More recently Foucault and Arendt argued against the idea that violence was at the essence of human nature. Realistically, nation states today still center the political order around threatened or actual violence, in keeping with Weber’s definition of the state as that which has a monopoly over legitimate violence 

The police and the army as well as any other defense forces of a country enjoy a great deal of power. Ostensibly, they are meant to protect the people of that country from external and/or internal threats. By and large, it is widely accepted that nation states need some sort of protective body with the power to use force, both at the local and national level, and that this protective body ultimately benefits the citizens. It is when the use of force becomes excessive and unjustified that the role of these bodies begins to be questioned. What leads authority figures to abuse their power? What constitutes an abuse of power, especially in places where violence is institutionalized? 

If you thought you were in danger, or you needed help, would you call the police? If you answered no, you would be in the majority in India. A survey conducted in 2018 found that only a quarter of Indians trust the police. India has a long and troubled history of police misconduct, and many police practices date back to the days of colonial rule. The Police Act of 1861 allowed police to maintain law and order through the use of brutal violence. It was a way for the foreign rulers of the time to assert their power. Though India is now ruled by a democratically elected government, police brutality continues.

In June 2020, two men were arrested in Tamil Nadu for violating Covid-19 lockdown rules and tortured in custody. They both died a few days later. The incident sparked outrage and led to protests against police brutality, with many likening the incident to the death of George Floyd in the United States. While the episode was deeply disturbing, suspects dying in police custody is by no means a recent phenomenon.  According to the National Human Rights Commission, 194 people died in police custody in 2019. It is rare for police in India to be tried and convicted for these deaths, or even questioned. According to the Bureau of Police Research and Development, a body under the Ministry of Home Affairs, no police officers have been convicted of a crime since 2011, while there have been almost 900 deaths in police custody during the same period.

 The Indian army, controlled by the central government, has also been accused of undue violence. In 2016, a plea was filed by two NGOs in Manipur, stating that there had been apathy on the part of the central and state governments in investigating the deaths of 1528 people who died at the hands of the Indian army and Manipur police. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has been in force in several parts of  North East India since 1958. It was enforced in Manipur in 1980. Under this act, security forces cannot be prosecuted for any action undertaken or said to be undertaken under the powers of the Act, while in service in conflict regions, unless the prosecution is sanctioned by the central government. This exemption from punishment for actions, even those involving lethal force, can create a culture of impunity in areas where the Act is in force. In the 2012 PIL case, the government argued in the Supreme Court that a lack of immunity from prosecution would have a demoralizing effect on the armed forces. Violence is used to reify the state’s sovereignty and allows it to assert its dominance. 

Cases of excessive violence, where victims are tortured or killed in especially brutal and violent ways, are what necessitate an investigation into the relationship between power and violence. Thangjam Manorama was killed by the 17th Assam Rifles (a unit of the Indian army) in 2004. A report that was made public a decade after her death describes how she was tortured on her front porch and had 16 bullet wounds on her body when she was found. The original argument for AFSPA, which was meant to be a temporary act, was that state forces needed sweeping powers to deal with terrorism in disturbed areas. While this argument can justify shoot-on-sight orders or arrests without warrants, it does not explain torture and extremely brutal killings. Explanations of this abuse of power must delve into the human psyche, cultures of impunity, and power structures in the modern nation state. 

Rujuta Singh is a student of Political Science, International Relations and Media Studies at Ashoka University. Some of her other interests are music, fashion and writing.

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Issue 10

Women in STEM: Nipped in the Bud.

The gender imbalance in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) related jobs in India is apparent even without examining statistics. A quick look at historical leadership positions in organizations allied with STEM such as CEOs of Biotech companies, Chairman of the Indian Space research Organization (ISRO), Director General of the Indian Council of Medical research (ICMR), Director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Presidents of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA), Aeronautics Society of India (AeSI) and Indian Mathematical Society (IMS)  to name a few, additionally highlights how stark this gap is among the higher ranks. 40% STEM graduates are women but they share only 14% STEM-associated jobs (PIB, January 2021) and this begs the question of why there is a disproportion between women choosing STEM education but not employment.

Government programs supporting the education of the girl child have had a substantial impact in increasing the numbers of primary and middle school educated girls. Incentives at the level of higher education in the form of reservations or financial support have vastly improved but not equalized the gender imbalance. Studying the gender composition of various disciplines in STEM education reveals intrinsic biases and perceptions of what constitutes a suitable job for a woman. Women receive tacit signals to condition their career choices not based on their own aptitude or interest but the convenience of a work schedule that allows them to fulfil their obligatory duties as care-givers. Thus, teaching-focused careers which usually have fixed and predictable hours are encouraged by parents over research-oriented careers within science. With respect to engineering, computer science is considered eminently more ‘suitable’ and only a few women graduate with degrees in fields like aeronautics, mechanical engineering or civil engineering with this number reducing even further when representation in core engineering jobs is considered.

Are we raising future daughters, sisters, or mothers and not future individuals?

Higher STEM education is often seen as an additional qualification to increase marriage prospects for girls rather than a means to make them financially secure individuals with the ability to make independent, informed choices. Learned behavioral traits that are important for developing STEM career goals in children such as decision making, critical thinking, curiosity and making independent choices outside of care-giving duties are either neglected or actively discouraged in a girl child from a young age. Family chores and activities such as assisting adults with minor electrical repairs, finance-associated tasks, playing computer games, household science experiments, help in the kitchen, cleaning and sewing are segregated based on gender. This fails to nurture interest and even leads to lack of awareness of certain STEM career options in young women. Preconceived notions, archaic attitudes (“girls are bad at mathematics”; “boys are better at engineering”, “biology needs a lot of memorization which suits girls”, “girls are caring so should become nurses”, “women can’t be surgeons, they are too delicate/emotional”) condition and limit a certain STEM expertise or profession with a gender. This conditioning may not always be obvious even to the most educated among us and may unintentionally trickle down to those we have influence over.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and not diamonds are a girl’s best friend!

Encouraging gender equity in STEM careers needs diverse approaches at various levels but the foundation has to be laid early on. The thinking that gender is not a limiting factor for a career choice should be encouraged from a young age in all children using real-life role models and literature centered on the idea. Awareness about the current existence of implicit or obvious situations of gender bias and discussions about specific situations should be a part of education at all levels. Women from all socio-economic backgrounds should have free, accessible avenues to learn about the various career options in STEM through workshops, community initiatives and CSR endeavors. The latter will ensure that they themselves can either be inspired, bring awareness to people under their influence, not participate in gender bias themselves and help create a support system that bridges the gender gap in STEM careers.  

Rama Akondy is an Associate professor of Biology in the Trivedi school of Biosciences. She received her PhD from the National Institute of Immunology (New Delhi, India) and worked at Emory University (Atlanta, USA) first as a post-doctoral researcher and then as junior faculty. Her primary area of interest is understanding immunological memory in humans by observing how our immune system reacts to viruses, vaccines and tutors. Her proudest moment has been when a figure from her paper made it to a textbook! (Plotkin’s Vaccines). 

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Issue 10

Remo D’Souza: The Man Who Changed the Face of Indian Dance

Bollywood thrives on dance. Hindi cinema feels incomplete without fabulous dance sequences at regular intervals, nudging us to jump out of our seats and grin at the sheer grandiosity of it all. Songs are integral to the emotional fabric of these films; and choreographed dance steps only serve to enhance their mood and rhythms. Despite its importance, dance had always been a background element. It had always been present, but was seldom the main focus of the film. However, in the past few years, this subsidiary status has changed. Dance films and dance reality TV shows have become more common, and dancers have steadily gained celebrity status. This shift in perception can be credited to various reasons,  one of the principal ones being Remo D’Souza. 

Remo D’Souza is an Indian dancer, choreographer and director. He started his journey as a dancer in 1995. On account of his dark-coloured skin, he was subject to racism and rejected from many films. He found his first break as a background dancer in choreographer Ahmed Khan’s group in the film Rangeela. Later, he decided to venture into choreographing music videos. His choreography in Sonu Nigam’s “Deewana” in 1999 was very well received. Remo eventually changed paths and tried his hand at choreographing film videos. Here, director Anubhav Sinha’s Tum Bin was a major milestone for him. In 2009, he made his television debut as a judge on the show Dance India Dance (DID).

D’Souza’s extraordinary influence on the Indian dance scene stems from his stint on DID. As a judge on the show, he mentored various novice dancers like Dharmesh Yelande, Salman Yusuff Khan, Raghav Juyal, Prince Gupta and Punit Pathak who flourished under his guidance, and till date credit him for their success. Khan was the winner of DID, and appeared in the title song of Wanted. In 2013, he won Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa with dancer Drashti Dhami. In 2014, he was a participant of Fear Factor: Khatron Ke Khiladi 5. He was also a judge on the dance reality show Dance Dance Junior. A spin-off of DID called DID Li’l Masters aired in 2010. Dharmesh was a skipper on the show; and his mentee won. Both Juyal and Gupta were skippers on DID L’il Masters 2. Juyal stayed on as skipper for the show’s third season too. In 2015, D’Souza started appearing as the Super Judge on TV show Dance Plus. Dharmesh and Pathak are regular judges on the show; while Juyal has been the host since the show’s premiere. This is unprecedented — to achieve success through dance in such a short period of time; and managing to hold on to that glory. These shows and their contestants’ success have significantly altered the way people see ‘dance’, and established it as a non-queer career choice. 

Through his films ABCD: AnyBody Can Dance, ABCD 2 and Street Dancer 3D, D’Souza has brought the genre of dance films into mainstream Bollywood. His cast is composed almost entirely of dancers, and besides his regular crew of Yelande, Khan, Juyal and Pathak, D’Souza also spotlights upcoming dancers through these films. Popular American dancer Lauren Gottlieb made her Bollywood debut in ABCD. Today, all these dancers are prominent names in India’s dance circuit. D’Souza has also contributed to the recent wave of novel dance forms in Hindi cinema. His film ABCD famously played around with almost 50 different dance forms like western contemporary, ballroom, pumping, hip-hop, kathak, Indian folk, semi-classical, local street dancing, etc. 

The films in the ABCD franchise employ inspirational plots. I write “employ” because the major plot is always dance, and its interaction with different characters. The sub-plots within the dance films serve to enhance the exhilaration of witnessing that interaction. In ABCD: AnyBody Can Dance, Prabhudeva says, “Dance apne aap mein ek nasha hai. Jab yeh nasha ho, aur koi nasha nahin ho sakta!” (Dance is an addiction in and of itself. When this addiction is present, no other addiction can be entertained!) Here, sheer passion for dance is posited as the condition of an excellent dancer; and an excellent dancer is shown as a rich dancer. ABCD 2 structures itself upon the binary of ‘dance to express/dance to impress’. It tells the story of a dance crew who make their way to a hip-hop competition in Las Vegas. They do not win; but they successfully exhibit the impact of dance on one’s life. Street Dancer 3D utilises the binary of ‘dance for yourself/dance for others’. Here, the dancers earn money by winning a dance competition and use it to send struggling, South Asian immigrants back home. All these stories argue for dance’s positive influence on people; and also assert its place as a viable career and lifestyle in today’s India. 

D’Souza’s persistence and creativity have shifted the way dance is perceived in India. For an art form which is utilised by the poor to facilitate class ascension; dancing used to be popularly dominated by the rich and the famous. D’Souza’s endeavours have collapsed this distinction. By foregrounding background dancers and allowing their skills to dominate the frame, his projects give artists a platform and highlight their versatility alongside the films’ heroes. In his films, while Varun Dhawan and Shraddha Kapoor are the clear protagonists; dancers Prabhu Deva and Lauren Gottlieb are never sidelined. Consequently, dancers and actors receive the same treatment and both are viewed as celebrities in their own right. Through various projects across his career, D’Souza has encouraged this shift; and thereby his lasting contributions to the Indian dance scene cannot be overstated. 

Anushka Bidani is a 20 year old poet & essayist from India. She’s studying English literature at Ashoka University. You can find her at https://anushkabidani.com

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Issue 10

Banking on the Government

March 15th–16th, 2021 witnessed the congregation of 10 lakh bank employees in protest and solidarity against the much-debated privatisation of two public sector banks (PSBs). Banking services such as loan approvals, cheque processing and cash withdrawals were disrupted — estimates suggest that a total of 2.01 crore cheque instruments (valued at Rs 16500 crore) were left unprocessed in Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai. It was the United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU) — an umbrella organization comprising 9 trade unions — that blew the war horn, calling for a strike against the decision announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharam during the Union Budget as a part of the government’s disinvestment plan

Voicing concerns over employee welfare and job security that could potentially be threatened by the privatization of PSBs, the trade unions also exhibited apprehensions about the implications for the economy. They echo arguments from the classic dichotomy of public sector banks and commercial banks, suggesting that such a move would prove to be detrimental to the Indian financial landscape. 

Worries precipitated by this decision date much earlier than the announcement itself since India’s long march on the road of privatisation has been in the works for years. In the banking sector itself, IDBI bank was privatised in 2019 while 14 other banks were merged in the last 4 years, foreshadowing the possibilities of further privatization. While such asset reductions are a part of the government’s strategic sales, they also stem from a cause of concern over the efficiency of PSBs. 

While the public sector is not completely devoid of pressures to earn a profit, a certain level of efficiency is expected. The PSBs’ share of bad loans, as compared to that of commercial banks, raises eyebrows. Banks claim that they have been in the green — quoting a profit of Rs 1,74,000 crore. However, the bad loans valued at Rs 2,00,000 crore led to net losses. But are profits or NPAs the best measures of efficiency for PSBs? 

Given that the private sector operates with a profit motive, it is but natural to use profit and loss accounts to measure the success of a commercial bank. The rise in conversation about fiscal stability also factors in the significance of NPAs in estimating a bank’s financial health. However, the measures of efficacy cannot be the same for PSBs and private sector counterparts. The mandate and role of a public sector bank is simply too different from that of a commercial bank. 

Historically, PSBs have been entrusted with achieving financial inclusion, poverty reduction, increasing access to credit, and other social objectives, thereby acting as beacons of social banking. Ever since the nationalisation of the State Bank of India in 1955, PSBs have played a crucial role in acting as financial intermediaries, channelling savings (particularly from rural and suburban areas) into the economy. Doggedly pursuing social objectives, these banks have been strong drivers of the success of many welfare policies. For instance, PSBs were responsible for opening 16.5 crore Jan Dhan accounts as part of the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana. In contrast, private banks only opened 68 lakh accounts. 

With the poor financial infrastructure post-independence, PSBs have been essential to making banking and financial services accessible in the remote regions of the country. In many ways, it is this progress in financial inclusion that has been an engine of growth by bringing unproductive savings into circulation. Tapping into the closed vaults of rural savings, PSBs encouraged saving in banks that mobilised resources and money that was otherwise stagnant. An example of the contribution of PSBs to the financial architecture is the State Bank of India that achieved 100% inclusion by covering 31,729 villages during the financial year 2014. State-owned banks also contributed to fostering an entrepreneurial environment by extending credit facilities to vulnerable groups and weaker sections that may not have the necessary collateral to secure loans in private banks. 

Any bank’s greatest asset will always be Trust. Without the public’s faith in the brand and institution, a bank will never be able to garner savings and deposits. Previously, crises like the Yes Bank crisis of 2020 have raised questions on commercial banks’ ability to manage liquidity, inspiring a feeling of uncertainty in the public. With the notional commitment of the government to fiscal stability, public sector banks emerge as symbols of trust causing the general public to hold at least one account in a PSB. Hence, the role of a state-owned bank extends beyond its social obligations — it acts as a propagator and preserver of faith in the banking system for the masses. 

Public sector banks also possess strategic importance for the country — they support key industries with stressed assets such as aviation, mining, iron and steel etc. By supporting these industries, PSBs ensure that certain strategic sectors of the economy are protected and preserved due to the role they play in ensuring stability, employment or the smooth functioning of the economy. Hence, the loans extended to these sectors are greater in PSBs than in commercial banks, subsequently leading to greater NPAs as well. The bad loans from these key industries, coupled with the NPAs from extending loans to vulnerable social groups, explain sufficiently why PSBs suffer from a greater percentage of non-performing assets. Are NPAs still the strongest measure of efficiency between commercial and public sector banks? Probably not. 

Due to the very difference in the mandates and incentives of the private sector and public sector banks, it is folly to believe that a profit-driven, private sector bank can do what a PSB does. The strong tug of the profit-motive and responsibilities to shareholders impose a natural limit to the amount of social contribution a commercial bank can make to the economy; especially, given that many cases involve a direct trade-off between profits and pursuing social objectives. Hence, calls for privatisation of PSBs imply a simple trade between social responsibility/financial inclusion and profits, or what one might term ‘efficiency’. While the government can certainly get rid of a few bad apples in the basket by dumping poorly managed/underperforming PSBs, any economy like India should retain a certain proportion of public sector banks in the financial architecture to encourage equality, welfare, and fair access to financial services.

Whether the two banks being privatised are inefficient is a matter of economic analysis, but one must be careful with the metric being used. One can argue that the 2 banks being currently privatised still leave enough social bankers to strengthen the financial fabric of the economy, but we know which sides the trade unions will take. As we possibly head towards a more privatised, profit-driven India, the question remains — can we still bank on (read: with) the government to ensure the strength of our financial landscape? 

Advaita Singh is a second year economics student at Ashoka University and is the president of the Economics Society.

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Issue 10

Delhi’s Water Crisis: Not Just a Water Shortage Issue

Recently, the shortage of water in Delhi prompted the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) to approach the Supreme Court against the Haryana government. Raghav Chadha, Vice-Chairman of the DJB, cited the rising ammonia levels in Yamuna and its falling water levels when there is a necessity for higher water supply in the upcoming summer months, as reasons for the shortage in Delhi’s water supply. Chadha claimed that despite notifying officers concerned of the Haryana government on a daily basis, no concrete action had been taken and there had been no improvement towards restoring any normalcy, pushing him to take up the inter-state matter with the apex court. While the Supreme Court has decided to hear the DJB’s plea against Haryana over the looming water crisis on March 25, the Delhi-Haryana water dispute is an age-old tale that needs immediate resolution.

Haryana supplies water to Delhi through the Carrier-Lined Channel (CLC), Delhi Sub-Branch (DSB) and the Yamuna. There is a regular fall in the level of Yamuna, especially during summers, affecting the quantity of water received at Wazirabad Pond. The normal level of the Yamuna near Wazirabad Pond should be 674.50 feet but it has dropped to 670.90 feet, failing to observe the Supreme Court order of February 1996, which stated that the pond level in Wazirabad has to be kept full. 

The drastic fall in the water level at Wazirabad pond has affected water production at Wazirabad, Okhla and Chandrawal water treatment plants which supply drinking water to central, north, west and south Delhi. To add to these problems, Haryana through CLC canal is supplying only 549.16 cusecs against 683 cusecs and Delhi Sub-Branch canal is supplying 306.63 cusecs against 330 cusecs. While the quantity of water supplied to Delhi by Haryana is diminishing, the quality of the water has not met the necessary standards either. This is a recurring issue that is still seeking addressal as the rising level of ammonia and other industrial waste in Yamuna has made it unsuitable for water treatment.

At the surface level, the Delhi-Haryana water dispute might seem like a problem with a straightforward solution, but in reality it is riddled with legal and political baggage that pose a serious threat to the availability of water for Delhi in the future. 

LEGAL HISTORY: Punjab, Haryana and Delhi

The reorganisation of the state of Punjab in 1966 set the ball rolling for a series of legal interventions that would dictate the water-sharing agreements between Punjab and Haryana. Considering the fact that Haryana is not a riparian state that is largely dependent on water due to 70 percent of the population being involved in agriculture, it was important for Haryana to claim a water supply channel from Punjab. However, by 1976, the failure to reach any mutual agreement on water-sharing led to the central government passing an order for the construction of the Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal, which would divide the Ravi-Beas surplus water in favour of Haryana, at 3.78 : 3.26 Million Acre Feet (MAF). 

Even though the matter should have been resolved here, Punjab’s non-cooperation led to the slowing down of the construction of the canal. Through repeated interventions, such as the 1981 agreement which stated that the construction be finished in two years, the 1990 SC order which stated that the construction be finished in a year, and the 2004 SC order which stated the same, the state of Punjab failed to live up to its obligations. In turn, the Punjab government passed The Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004, which rid them of all these aforementioned obligations. 

It is no surprise, therefore, that Punjab’s non-cooperation with Haryana on water-sharing agreements have resulted in repercussions for Delhi. In a report for the Firstpost in June 2018, Pranav Jain reports, “Even though the Delhi government paid for concrete lining of the Munak Canal in order to avail benefit of water saved from wasteful leakages, the Haryana government often plays truant, and routinely diverts water from the Munak to multiple off-shoot regular canals downstream, a little before the Delhi-Haryana border”, indicating how the Haryana government is forced to play foul with regard to its water supply to Delhi.

While legal tensions are responsible for elevating the water sharing disputes between the three states, the growing political differences between the Centre and State governments in Delhi are making matters worse.

POLITICAL TURMOIL: BJP vs AAP

Raghav Chadha’s move to take the dispute to the top court is not the first time in the recent past when an AAP party member has made an attempt to resolve the inter-state issue through legal means. In May 2018 as well, the DJB chaired by Arvind Kejriwal had moved the Supreme Court, Delhi high court and the NGT regarding the reduced quantity and quality of water supplied from Haryana. What followed was a war of words between lieutenant governor (L-G) Anil Baijal and Kejriwal regarding how the issue was handled, with the LG citing that attempts should have been made to resolve the water dispute through negotiations and dialogue rather than through confrontation in court. As reported by Pranav Jain, it is no secret how the BJP has constantly made use of the Lieutenant Governor (L-G) office in crippling the efforts of the AAP government in Delhi.

However, in response on May 31, the BJP-led Haryana government assured supply of water until the monsoon season, but under the condition that the DJB and Delhi government withdraw all the cases filed. The AAP government responded to these demands swiftly, succumbing to the political pressure that was evidently overruling these decisions. Dinesh Mohaniya, then vice-chairman of the DJB, claimed on June 01, that the Supreme Court case had been withdrawn as the court directed them to approach Upper Yamuna River Board (UYRB). Similarly, the NGT case on pollution and excess ammonia flowing in raw water, was withdrawn as it “was no longer the case”. Given the additional bureaucratic procedures that the Delhi government is forced to take in shifting the case from the SC to the UYRB, and the regulations that need to be put in place by the Haryana government to resolve the release of industrial waste into the Yamuna, it is surprising how these issues were deemed as resolved within a day’s time. 

Clearly, there is a growing misrepresentation between what is happening at the ground level in comparison to what is being agreed upon in these water-sharing disputes. The AAP government’s decision to withdraw all cases momentarily in 2018 indicates the lack of foresight that was present when dealing with the grave circumstances of water shortage. This has hampered the progress that could have been made in resolving this issue, but the crisis continues to loom over Delhi’s future even today. If the Centre and State government do not work in tandem to resolve these legal and political disputes, Delhi, Haryana and Punjab could be facing a water crisis in the near future with no immediate answer. Environmental concerns can only be addressed once these internal disputes are overcome, and it is the need of the hour for elected representatives to avert any emergencies in the foreseeable future when it comes to the provision of a basic necessity such as water.

Picture Credits: Tribune India

Rohan Pai is a Politics, Philosophy and Economics major at Ashoka University. In his free time, you’ll find him singing for a band, producing music and video content.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 10

Unpacking History: The Nexus Between Politics and Academic Freedom

Academic freedom is defined as the freedom of thought and inquiry granted to faculty and students of educational institutions to pose questions and think critically about subjects of academic importance. The reason this freedom is granted to the academic community is that universities, and institutions of education, in general, are considered to be spaces that probe the truth, and for true intellectual activity to flourish, they need freedom of thought and expression. However, another reason why academic freedom is stressed is because of the dangers it faces – from the state and from the larger public. As the world is inching towards authoritarianism with a number of right-wing populist governments at power in some major countries, the question of academic freedom is as pertinent as ever. With the recent resignation of two prominent scholars from Ashoka University, the question is driven home with discussions about academic freedom in India. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t a one-time phenomenon, in either India or other democratic countries. It has been the case for decades that the ruling dispensation in most democratic, as well as autocratic countries, has been wary of the academic community and has tried to stifle its voices. Time and again, the freedom of universities, faculties and students in places around the world has come into question by the state and has often been curbed through laws and regulations. In some instances, even violence has been used to clamp down on the freedom of these voices. This piece shall explore some historical instances of academic freedom, or the lack thereof, in different countries around the world at different times. Through it, we wish to shed light on the chequered history of academic freedom and the role of the academic community in fighting for their right to freedom of thought and expression in academic settings. 


Recent Events at Ashoka University
In a dramatic turn of events, academic Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s resignation under dubious circumstances has brought Ashoka University’s integrity under the scanner. Mehta wrote in his resignation letter that the founders of Ashoka had made it “abundantly clear” that his association with the institution was a “political liability”. Following Mehta’s exit, renowned economist Arvind Subramanian also put down his papers, citing the fact that “Ashoka can no longer provide a safe space for academic expression and freedom”. The resignations have garnered global attention with a large number of accomplished academics signing a petition expressing solidarity with Mehta and disapproval of Ashoka’s founders’ and admin’s handling of the issue. Calling it a “gross violation of academic freedoms”, students of the University announced a two-day boycott of classes to protest against these developments. Pertaining to the fact that this is not the first time that a faculty has been mired in controversy due to their political opinions, students and faculty are now apprehensive of the wider implications that external political pressures on the University will have on their freedom of speech and expression. There is also growing scepticism regarding the inevitable downfall in the quality of education that the University promises if this continues.   

The History of Academic Freedom 

Academic freedom as a concept emerged during the Middle Ages, with scholars and philosophers in Europe asserting their right to enquiry and stating independence from the monarchs of the day. However, the universities of the period in both Europe and America were heavily influenced by the Church, and were also dependent on it for funding. As time progressed, a form of mixed system developed in America in the 18th century where colleges were dependent on private donors as well as states for funding, but the faculty still did not have a strong say in the running of universities or in matters of academic freedom. It was only during the American Civil War that academic freedom as a concept was used by academics, and was seen as just as important as civil liberties. 

Academic Freedom in The United States

The question of academic freedom in the United States was extremely important during two periods of history – first during the Cold War in the 1950s at the height of McCarthyism, and then again after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, which led to the War on Terror. These external political circumstances had a deep impact on the academic community and there were issues about what was being taught, and by whom. At the height of McCarthyism, the Red Scare of communism enveloped most of U.S. policy and behaviour in the 1950s, and university professors were targeted by the FBI for having connections with ‘subversive’ organisations, namely the Communist Party. Faculty at colleges such as Harvard, Yale, and the State University of New York, to name a few, had to sign documents stating they weren’t affiliated with Communists, or they ran the risk of being removed from their teaching positions. This was protested by many for infringing upon the First Amendment rights of the professors as well as the larger academic freedom of these universities. While in 1967 this academic freedom was codified in the Constitution of the U.S. after the case Keyishian v. Bd. of Regents, 385 U.S. 589 (1967), it routinely came under threat even after that period. After the September 11 terrorist attacks in America, the country adopted a stringent foreign policy known popularly as the War on Terror and took action against terrorist groups in Afghanistan and other regions. While universities had always criticised U.S. foreign policies, the period after 9/11 saw harsher consequences for those professors and intellectuals who dared question or criticise the government’s policies. From news anchors to senators, there was major pushback against academics who tried to speak or write against government policies, with emphasis on the need to “support the war”. There was also a grave fear among presidents and administrators of the universities about the consequences of this criticism, which is why many of them distanced themselves from the faculty and students that engaged in this criticism. Academic freedom was therefore not guaranteed in either public or private universities in the U.S. and was subject to popular perception, government policy and the political atmosphere of the period. 

Academic Freedom in Turkey 

The strained relationship between academic freedom and political pressures can also be understood by analyzing the case of Turkey. The country has had a contentious history with respect to ensuring academic freedom in higher education – exhibited through selectively granting the freedom to explore certain fields of inquiry while barring others and restricting faculty interactions with the press on certain subjects without official permits that are rarely granted. Moreover, a culture of self-censorship has persisted in Turkish academia, which becomes apparent when analyzing the restrictions placed on academics in terms of determining teaching materials, evaluation, and teaching techniques. It is interesting to note that these flaws in Turkey’s academic landscape have existed prior to the wave of right-wing populism that swept the nation upon President Erdogan’s appointment. While Erdogan’s tenure has been marked by stringent crackdowns on the activity of academics beyond the classroom, his government is not solely responsible for the poor state of academic freedom in the country.

Indian Universities and the Fight for Academic Freedom

What has been observed in varying degrees across the world, has been a part of India’s political landscape too. Although, traditionally, India has had a long tradition of academic debate and peaceful dissent such as in the Nalanda University in the 5th Century BCE, recently, academic freedom has evidently been on the decline. In the colonial setting in which contemporary Indian universities originated, the question of academic freedom was closely tied up with one’s position on political freedom. In an article for Economic and Political Weekly, Nandini Sundar notes that “while some educational institutions like Presidency College, Calcutta, Elphinstone College, Mumbai, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Aligarh, and St Stephen’s College, Delhi were embedded in the colonial project of inculcating English knowledge among the natives, there were others like Jamia Millia Islamia, Visva-Bharati, or the Vidyapeeths set up by Gandhi which had an explicitly nationalist project, wherein the ideas of political freedom coalesced with the ideas of pedagogic freedom.” Even in the other regional colleges, both students and faculty periodically strayed to the nationalist cause, especially during the non-cooperation movement of 1921–22 and Quit India Movement in 1942, boycotting classes, or participating in strikes. 

However, in the postcolonial matrix, the idea of universities as spaces of academic freedom was subordinated to the idea that educational institutions are sites of nation-building. This was embodied in the setting up of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), as “institutes of national importance” where its reputation and ideals were perceived to be closely linked to the state’s aspiration. 

The coming of the BJP government in 2014, however, has created a credible threat to academic freedom in India, with the state actively suppressing any narratives that don’t align with its own ideology. According to the recently published International Academic Freedom Index, India scored an abysmally low score of 0.352, followed by Saudi Arabia (0.278) and Libya (0.238). The police brutality against students at Jamia Millia Islamia University in 2019 in Delhi has further raised concerns about the state of academic freedom. When this is taken in context with the anecdotal accounts of researchers in India complaining of book bans, cancelling of a particular seminar, change in the curriculum by the state, and filing of criminal cases against political leaders – a grim image of the future of India’s academia emerges.

The Way Forward

An obvious question that emerges from this is how can we reimagine the future of India’s academia in the wake of rising state interference in academia? Such a challenge will not only require far-reaching structural changes but also a commitment to fiercely defend values and ideals of freedom. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is a step in the direction of structural change by envisioning academia without political or external interference. For instance, the policy states that the faculty will be provided with the “freedom to design their own curricular and pedagogical approaches within the approved framework, including textbook and reading material selections, assignments and assessments.” However, what remains to be seen is how well these policies are implemented on the ground and whether they live up to their promise. In the meanwhile, the solidarity extended to Ashoka University and resilience showed by academicians both in the country and abroad can be a guiding example of how as a unified community, one can fiercely defend the values that academia stands for – dissent, dialogue and democracy. 

Picture Credits: Shreya Sharma 

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 10

How Mamata’s Trinamool Broke The Glass Ceiling For Women In Politics

New Delhi: With 50 women candidates, or 17% of the 291 seats from where it is contesting a heated assembly election in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) has once again taken the lead amongst states that offer the largest space for women’s representation in politics.

In the outgoing assembly, 14% are women, well above the 8% national average across Vidhan Sabhas, though slightly below the 14.6% in Parliament and significantly below the 24% worldwide average presence of women in elected assemblies.

When Mamata declared ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections that 41% of her party’s tickets would be given to women candidates, she translated her commitment to women’s participation in politics into action. If the rationale behind the “magic figure” of 41% appears unclear, it could simply have been that the “percentage was based on the number of women already in her shortlist”, said Tara Krishnaswamy of Shakti, a non-profit organisation that works to enable and increase women’s participation in electoral politics.

Of the 23 women who ran on a TMC ticket, nine got elected—the second highest contingent of women parliamentarians in the Lok Sabha, after the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). That said, data suggest that while the TMC sails ahead of its opponents on this issue, the relatively higher participation of women in Bengal politics is part of a longer trend of gradual inclusion to which more than one party has contributed.

An examination of the profile of TMC women candidates over time also indicates that their inclusion in the party could well be the by-product of an instrumental approach to ticket distribution, rather than from the adhesion to a normative principle of equality that would prevail over electoral strategy.

TMC party members suggest that the inclusion of women in the party may be incidental to a selection strategy that does not consider gender to be either a particular advantage or an impediment to the party’s electoral prospect, even though Mamata has come out publicly in favour of women’s quotas.

“She is already committed to 33% reservation, but Mamata Banerjee has always tried to consider 50% women candidates,” said Dola Sen, the TMC MP in the Rajya Sabha, who has spent the last three decades as a trade union leader in West Bengal, and been a part of Mamata’s own efforts to develop and consolidate women’s solidarity into concrete electoral gains since the Nandigram and Singur movements.

Gradual Inclusion Of Women In State Politics

Since 1962, only 238 of the 4,119 individuals elected into the West Bengal State Assembly have been women.

Until the late 1980s, women barely made 2% of all legislators, a state of affairs to which both the Congress and the Left contributed equally. But starting in 1992 with the 73rd Amendment, which set up a three-tier panchayat system, women’s representation has risen steadily among candidates.

In the 2001 election, which took place after the split with the Congress and the formation of Mamata’s Trinamool Congress, women accounted for 9.5% of the members of the state assembly. From 1991 onwards, the percentage of women candidates has increased by about 1.5% in every election.

However, data gathered by the Trivedi Centre for Political Data shows that besides the TMC, other parties, especially the Left have also contributed to that rise.

For instance, even if the old generation of the CPM and its allies did not feel the need to extend their egalitarian views to women, the Left’s newer generation, led by Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, was more inclined to include women among their candidates. In 2011, the state’s Left combine, including Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Forward Bloc and Socialist Unity Centre of India, gave 49 tickets to women candidates–higher than the 32 given by the TMC. And, significantly higher than the national parties: Congress has not given more than 10% of its tickets to women candidates to date, and the BJP, which has been fielding more women recently, increased its number of women candidates from 23 in 2011 to 32 in 2016.

Mamata Banerjee addressed a public meeting at Nandigram on 18 January 2021/ALL INDIA TRINAMOOL CONGRESS

As it opened the door to a greater inclusion of women in politics, the TMC took the lead in the past three elections. The party has also received considerable publicity for its inclusiveness–perhaps by virtue of getting many more women elected than its opponents. Sixty-two women from the TMC have been elected in the past 15 years; the Left has managed only 111 women in 54 years.

Profiles In Diversity

In the patriarchal world of politics, women politicians get easily stereotyped. While much of the media focus is on the five actresses fielded this year by the TMC, few are paying attention to the 46 other women contesting.

An examination of incumbency data reveals that men and women politicians in the TMC share the same turnover.

It is still early to make pronouncements about the 2021 candidates, but an examination of the 2016 women candidates reveals that the TMC recruits a diverse lot of women candidates. In 2016, only two of the party’s 45 women candidates were film or television stars; 17 belonged to political families (mostly wives of politicians); and 14 got elected.

In terms of occupation, 14 were self-declared housewives; the occupations of the rest were split between education (nine), social service (11) and business (six), among others.

That Banerjee consistently manages to identify such a large number of women candidates in the first place also must mean that she assiduously scouts for talent and sends out feelers to find the right women to offer tickets to, Krishnaswamy said.

As far as we could determine from the 2016 candidate list, only three of the women had any prior experience in local municipal bodies. A few others also seem to have emerged from the party’s organisation or familial connections while 18 ran for the first-time. Another 22 had already been elected twice or more times.

The TMC’s 2016 women candidates were also varied in terms of caste: 19 upper castes, 13 in SC-reserved seats and two in ST-reserved seats. There were only three women candidates from a backward class background, while nine were Muslims. It is worth noting that the TMC is probably the one party that offers the most representation to Muslim women in India. Like their male counterparts, most of the party’s women candidates were highly educated (24 graduates and above, while two were 8th pass candidates).

One cannot conclude that the TMC recruits “a certain type” of woman candidate, nor can we reduce their inclusion among the party’s candidates to a publicity stunt. But it is evident that the party chief believes that celebrity and star power help win seats.

Banerjee has “good equations with youngsters not only from film but also TV stars. She goes to their marriages and celebrations, spends time with them,” said political journalist Jayanta Ghosal. As a result, she has developed strong personal attachments with ‘Tollywood’, he said.

But could the candidature of these celebrities appear exploitative at times, especially in constituencies where strong local female politicians have been overlooked in spite of years of grassroots work?

While giving tickets to celebrities is a formula that has generally worked well for the TMC in the past (especially in heavily contested seats where inner party rivalries are at work) it also raises questions about whether this is a deliberate strategy to keep complacent old-timers on their toes and balance whatever power challenges they may throw her way with newcomers who will be loyal.

Like all political leaders, Mamata, too, puts a premium on personal loyalty. “People who are new, have the least expectations. Most candidates talk about the party, Mamata’s achievements and schemes. No one is campaigning on the strength of their own work,” said Krishnaswamy.

Compared to most other parties, the TMC stands out by making women political actors rather than mere figureheads for electoral mobilization. Unlike other women chief ministers who work in a quasi-exclusively male environment, Mamata has surrounded herself over time with women contributing to party work or to the cabinet.

Five of her 42 ministers are women, some holding several important portfolios or portfolios not immediately connected to women’s issues, like agriculture, fisheries, SMEs or land reforms.

Her party’s organisation includes large numbers of women office holders, and many women play a prominent role in campaigns.

That Mamata has consistently supported strong women in politics and led by example, is no secret. Nor is the fact that the TMC is one of the only parties on India’s political map that seeks to consolidate women as a powerful vote bank through political participation, rather than sops.

Her genuine desire for inclusion of women in politics is evident, and her supporters say a result of her own political struggles. “Unlike so many other Indian politicians who are women, Mamata Banerjee never had a man helping her – with due respect to others, she is no one’s daughter, wife, widow or girlfriend,” said Dola Sen.

“Look at me, for example,” she said, “We are independent, efficient and competent politicians with or without reservation!”

Gilles Verniers is assistant professor of Political Science at Ashoka University and Co-Director of the Trivedi Centre for Political Data.

Maya Mirchandani is assistant professor of Media Studies at Ashoka University and senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.

Niharika Mehrotra, an undergraduate student in the Political Science major, assisted with data collection

This piece was republished from Article 14 with permission of the author. 

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 10

Atypical

Atypical is a show on Netflix about 18-year-old Sam, a boy on the autism spectrum, navigating his way through life and becoming more independent. Well, yeah, the show is brilliant, the writing is immaculate, the actors are phenomenal and the story is gripping, but, what stands out is the way all the characters have their own stories and struggles, yet their lives are completely intertwined. Not once do Sam’s struggles overshadow the other characters’ in the show and that’s what makes Atypical so captivating.