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Issue 10

The Road to Mars – A Tale of Betraying and Befriending Physics

Let us embark on a journey to witness the past, present and future of Mars exploration, some unsolvable problems and their ingenious workarounds. Though I will not argue with philosophical rigour about a future that is wildly uncertain, I hope to motivate a well-informed instinct about a certain claim i.e. humans shall walk on Mars in the next decade. Understanding why this claim should be taken with a grain of salt at all requires us to acquaint ourselves with the challenges that humanity is up against in a journey to our planetary backyard. 

To reach Mars, we (obviously) need to leave Earth and get to space. On Earth, to move forward, vehicles on land push against the ground, in sea against water and in air against the atmosphere. This is a manifestation of Newton’s famous law – ‘Every Action has an equal and opposite reaction’. But in the vacuum of space, can one propel forward without pushing against anything? This problem was the reason why space travel was considered impossible in the scientific community until a Soviet school teacher, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, presented an ingenious workaround. He suggested that in vacuum a body can accelerate in one direction by throwing away a part of itself in the other. Rocket engines, throw parts of the rocket bit-by-bit and the part that is thrown away is – no surprise – the fuel. 

Though Tsiolkovsky’s solution made space travel possible, he left us with an important constraint in the form of the ‘Rocket Equation’. To travel farther in space, rockets need extra fuel. Carrying additional fuel, then, increases the weight of the rocket and moving heavier rockets requires even more fuel. But the additional fuel has its own weight and so on. This is the Tyranny of the Rocket Equation. Even in our best rockets, only the top of the pointy end is the stuff that carries real scientific value (often called the ‘payload’). The rest is simply a technologically advanced fuel container. 

Now, let us start moving towards Mars. One might think this is not too difficult because we can simply locate Mars and burn our engines in that direction. However, science in space does not like straight lines; we move in curves. Since the rocket is launched from Earth and Earth moves around the Sun in an ellipse, the rocket gets slingshot tangentially into space by our lovely planet. To move towards Mars in a straight line, we would need to burn one engine in the direction of Mars and another one to counteract the tangential velocity that Earth imparts on our rocket. Here is the catch – Earth moves really fast. The tangential velocity is so massive, it is impractical to counteract it with our puny engines and little fuel. 

Hohmann transfer orbit is the clever workaround we use now. Instead of continuously burning engines to move straight, Hohmann transfers utilize useful school-geometry to form an elliptical path such that we only need to burn our engines twice; first, to escape Earth’s orbit and the second time, near Mars, to match the Martian orbit. 

Even though our elegant elliptic routes are the most fuel-efficient way to reach Mars, they are far from quick. A one-way trip to Mars, using the Hohmann transfer takes about 6 months and the mission must start from Earth in a specific launch window that only occurs every 2.2 years (the three Mars missions by America, China and UAE all launching in the same week last year is not just a coincidence but a physics constraint). Long-duration space travel is not much of a problem for machines but evolution has fined-tuned humans towards Earthly comforts.

Fortunately, we have a great laboratory to understand space physiology – the International Space Station (ISS). Some astronauts in the ISS have spent an entire year floating around weightless. Muscle atrophy is the most obvious effect of microgravity on the human body, which is why astronauts must workout in space using special equipment. Even more nuanced problems are observed when it comes to visual perception, blood pressure, balance, bone density and more. There is an enormous amount of research being done in this recently developed field of science and the time spent by humans in ISS keeps yielding valuable insights. It is safe to say that we know how a year-long trip to Mars (for the most part) without gravity would impact our astronauts. 

We assume that the Martian trip would be a round one. Carrying enough fuel to make the to-and-fro mars journey is an unprecedented feat. This is where the tyranny of the rocket equation kicks in again because the fuel for the return trip becomes the payload of the first trip. Building a rocket capable of transporting this enormous amount of fuel presents hundreds of annoying engineering problems. A promising solution is to only carry enough fuel for a one-way trip and, once on Mars, refuel the rocket with what we can salvage. SpaceX, for their shiny new rocket named Starship, has successfully developed sophisticated engines that they call Raptors. They work on methane and oxygen, which SpaceX wishes to extract from the Martian atmosphere using the electricity that they generate on Mars with their solar panels.  Since Mars is further away from the sun, pioneering efficient solar energy is also one of the many research avenues that, though part of Martian exploration, can have a direct impact on improving life on Earth. 

We have looked at some theoretical and engineering problems that we know how to solve. There is one giant complication in human space travel and the solution to it, I believe, would be the defining call on whether or not humans make it to Mars in this decade. This is the problem of space radiation. At all times, there is lethal radiation being showered on us from all sides. Fortunately, Earth has a magnetic field generated by its molten metal core that wraps it like a cocoon. This Magnetosphere protects the inhabitants from lethal space radiation.  Astronauts who have stayed in space for a year have only been in the low-Earth orbit, a region that falls under the protection of Earth’s Magnetosphere. It is notoriously difficult to shield against this radiation and having thicker walls in our spacecraft has proven to be an ineffective strategy. There are proposals to develop active radiation shielding techniques involving clever use of plasma or generating the spacecraft’s own magnetic field to mimic that of the Earth. 

Space Radiation Shielding is the one problem where confidence in my claim dwindles. There are still reasons to be hopeful. We started the 20th century not knowing how to fly. In the next fifty years, we sent a man to space and in another decade, to the moon. The hundreds of other difficult problems that stood in our way to Mars are nearing completion and this has got the ball rolling in several research departments to revisit the radiation problem as one that would have immediate real-world impacts. Plans to go to the moon in the near future (see NASA’s Artemis Project) for longer missions would help us understand the effects of Space Radiation on human physiology and better equip ourselves for the long journey to Mars. 

To millions like me, it remains an incredible source of optimism to know that the first human who would walk on Mars is, arguably, studying in some school right now; a hopeful reminder of the fascinating days that we will witness in our lifetime and a humbling inspiration for the work that is yet to be done, in space and on Earth.

Kartik Tiwari is a student of Physics and Philosophy at Ashoka University, with a specialised interest in Astrodynamics and Science Communication. 

Picture Credits: Starship on Mars by Dale Rutherford

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

Issue X: Editors’ Note

In the past year, a major breakthrough in Science has been the Covid-19 vaccine but as the pandemic continues to take centre-stage in our liveswe wish to use this issue as an opportunity to highlight other important developments in Science and Technology. As footage from NASA’s Perseverance Rover driving on Mars’ terrain first came in, we saw the new possibilities that space exploration holdsKartik Tiwari, a student of Physics and Philosophy, captures this sense of wonder and takes on the claim that humans will walk on Mars in the next decade. On the flip side, Aarohi Sharma critically analyses how this endeavour may become equivalent to that of colonization as she explores the world’s obsession with colonizing Mars and what this obsession represents.

With the development of scientists being able to communicate with people while they were lucid dreaming, Ashana Mathur writes about the intersection of psychedelics and their contribution in enhancing creative thinking and problem solving skills. We still can’t forget the Covid-19 vaccine, thus, Amrita Singh breaks down how the immune system actually works, how vaccines confer immunity and what distinguishes all the different vaccines on offer. 

We are also in the midst of the campaigning for two major elections, one in West Bengal and the other in Tamil Nadu. Maya Mirchandani and Gilles Verniers expertly analyse how Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress takes the lead in fielding and supporting strong women candidates in view of a larger and more gradual trend of inclusion, also contributed to by other parties. With larger than life banners, to small party symbols painted on the walls along the roads, Nandan Sanskriti Kaushik explores how street art and poster culture become an important campaign tool in Tamil Nadu.

As Ashoka University made the news for the sudden resignation of two of its esteemed faculty members, it raised important questions about academic freedom in India and, so our staff chose to collectively explore the historical evolution of academic freedom across the globe.

This issue also covers other current events as with a nuanced economic analysis of the public sector bank strike from March 15th-16th by Advaita Singh. Given the apprehension with which Indian lawmakers still regard cryptocurrency, Tanish Bafna breaks down the anxieties around a new regulatory bill and what it might mean for the future of cryptocurrency in India.

On the other hand, Rohan Pai unpacks the recent water crisis in Delhi to reveal its legal and political roots, highlighting the need to resolve internal disputes to prevent a future water crisis in Delhi, Haryana and Punjab. Rujuta Singh examines police brutality and violence against women in view of the role that power and positions of authority might play. Madhulika Aggarwal presents a critique of the content-sharing platform: OnlyFans and how it might be perpetuating the commodification of female passing bodies underneath its convenience and user-autonomy. 

Ananya Rao explores the future of menstrual health and hygiene in a post COVID India, examining infrastructural and societal taboos hurdling the cause. Outside India, Harshita Bedi investigates what the recent Sri Lankan burqa ban means for religious minorities and why the burqa has become a threat to a majority in Sri Lanka. Alexandra Verini examines the prospects of Utopia in today’s world, exploring the question of whether imagining perfect worlds benefit our present and future or do they set us up for failures and disappointment? 

We hope that this issue enables its readers to piece together their own understanding of this moment in time and see that despite our challenges, we are still hurtling towards progress—whether it’s scientific discovery or our ability to think for ourselves, to study popular claims beyond face value and to question the world around us. 

— Akanksha, Devika, Muskaan, Ridhima and Saaransh

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Issue 10

Silence of the Players: The FIFA World Cup and Human Rights in Qatar

At the time of writing, there are 608 days left for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. There was controversy even during FIFA’s initial decision to award host status to the Middle Eastern country in December 2010, and criticism has, with good reason, only grown in magnitude since then. Reports of human rights violations and migrant labourers being forced to work in atrocious conditions have received wide publicity in the lead up to the world’s biggest sporting event. Earlier this year, the Guardian estimated that more than 6500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died in Qatar since December 2010. Another report by Amnesty International cites several issues that many migrant labourers in Qatar are forced to confront. These include terrible living conditions, wage problems and forcible detention in the country by employers. While calls to boycott the tournament have been made by fans and clubs alike, there has been a notable lack in public statements or stands made by players participating in the tournament. Many footballers who are aware of the situation unfolding in Qatar are likely to face some degree of moral conflict or external pressure whether or not to use their reach to advocate change, or even a complete boycott. The risk of losing one’s place in the team, being restricted from speaking out by sponsor companies, the influence of PR teams, football organizations and countries present several possible explanations for the relatively low amount of condemnation that the tournament has received from players. 

Players are the most visible part of a World Cup. Apart from being the carefully selected group to represent a country, they are also the most marketable part of the World Cup, and hence, subject to utmost scrutiny. However, should players be carrying any sort of moral burden? 

Although they are a fundamental part of the tournament, they are independent of the operations and decision making processes of FIFA and its political and commercial partners. The highest governing authority on football should be held more accountable for not only granting Qatar the rights for the World Cup, but also failing to ensure more stringent rules and directives. FIFA’s complicitness in Qatar exploiting its labourers points at the need for drastic structural change. There have been several accusations against the organisation that it took bribes to allow Qatar to host the tournament. Former FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who is serving a ban from FIFA-related activities following a separate scandal of his own in 2015, wrote in his book Ma Verite, that FIFA executive committee (Exco) members chose to disregard advice that Qatar would not be able to host a World Cup, and that “he alleges Qatar’s shock victory was a combination of a rule-breaking collusion deal and political pressure exerted on Michel Platini, the French Exco member”. With the multiple political and diplomatic layers shrouding the World Cup behind endless trails of scattered bureaucracy, it is unlikely that significant structural changes will take place before 21 November, 2022. The route that FIFA seems to have taken is one of deflecting attention until then, in the hopes that the glamour of the first World Cup to take place in the Middle East (and only the second in Asia) will outshine the tournament’s corrupt foundations. 

Some nations and players have chosen to publicly take objection with the events in Qatar on their own accord. Norway coach Staale Solbakken said that his team was planning to use a special gesture to raise awareness about migrant labour conditions in their first fixture against Gibraltar. In 2016, two Dutch players, Tom Hogli and William Kvist , who signed with FC Copenhagen in Denmark, spoke out regarding the same issue. Riku Risi, a Finnish striker, boycotted a collective tour with Sweden and Iceland in January 2019 due to “ethical concerns”, despite putting his place in the team at risk in choosing to do so. Yet, not all players and others associated with the game on the ground level share the same sentiments. Footballing legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic stated in a recent interview that “A football player will play in the World Cup no matter what. Whatever happens off the pitch is not up to me”. Former Barcelona superstar Xavi Hernandez, who is currently the manager of Al-Sadd in Qatar, has emerged in favour of hosting the World Cup there, mainly due to the country’s small size and subsequent lack of travel time between venues. His personal stakes in Qatari football, alongside the fact that he will be an official ambassador for the World Cup could mean that he is virtually unable to raise any grievances against Qatar or FIFA due to the implications for his career. Or, like Ibrahimovic, he could be detached from the various causes for concern associated with the tournament and simply wish to focus on football instead. 

It is evident that players who wish to publicize their opinions must take into consideration the effect it will have on their market values, commercial deals and position within the team, and not to mention, their chances of representing their country. Showing signs of solidarity at the tournament or even boycotting it entirely can only be part of a short-term solution— it would take a great deal of movement in a short time-frame before it starts, for any kind of drastic change in either Qatar or FIFA. For now, it seems like FIFA is counting on the worldwide spectatorship and footballing glory that the World Cup brings with it every four years to supersede the magnitude of their mistakes. 

Shourjo Chatterjee is a 4th year undergraduate student at Ashoka University studying English Literature and International Relations. In his free time you’ll find him drumming and reading novels.

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

Commodification of Female Passing Bodies in the Age of OnlyFans

With the rise of on-demand services like Netflix for movies, Spotify for music, and Amazon for shopping, it was only a matter of time before similar services rose to occasion for adult entertainment. Unsurprisingly, paywalled platforms like Only Fans (OF), that provide content, including X-rated content, on subscription have witnessed a rise in their popularity. Sites like OF, that let creators regulate and keep 80 percent of the money earned from the viewership of their content, come as a fresh breath of relief in the porn industry that feeds off non-consensual streaming of videos. 

It is this reason that mainly adds to the appeal and makes OnlyFans one of the most popular source with sex workers, influencers, celebrities, and ordinary people alike, who consider it to be a more ethical outlet for the consumption and exchange of pornographic content. In this era of the gig economy, Only Fans might seem tempting as it has built a safer platform for providing nudity and selling sex related services, however, it is only liberating on the surface level. Services like OnlyFans are not as empowering as they seem. They encourage the commodification of women’s bodies under the pretense of providing the creators with the autonomy and agency of handling their own content. 

The fact that non-male passing bodies are treated as cashable objects is not news. Capitalism works insidiously and keeps innovating ways to keep monetizing bodies — services like OF not only perpetuate commercial commodification of sex and sex workers, but take it up a notch. The accessibility that OF provides normalises the idea of non-male bodies having to sell off their bodies in a way that adheres to the standard male gaze: in a survey collected by researchers Joshua Nichols, Marina Orrico, and Zahrina Jimenez, it was found out despite there being male content creators, it is only female passing bodies that are in greater demand, and sold at higher rates. OnlyFans has become so popular that it is now constantly referenced in pop-culture in passing. Even further popularised by celebrities like Cardi B, Beyonce, Megan Thee Stallion, and Belle Throne, Onlyfans’ growing fame and user base know no bounds. However, but it becomes especially harmful when teenagers on social media are being groomed on the internet to open an account the minute they turn 18. They are growing up in anticipation to come off age to be able to earn money using their pictures online. Normalisation of services like onlyfans perpetuates the idea of viewing one’s body as a money-making source. Teens have been lured to go out of their way to break and mend laws and post up their pictures online. 

An analysis by Facial recognition technology revealed that around a third of the users on different social media advertising explicit pictures of themselves are under 18. They generally use hashtags “nudes4sale” or “buymynudes”, as found out by the investigation. Of all the 7,728 profiles under these hashtags, more than 2,500 of them were of minors and people below a legal age of consent. The number has only grown since what was last calculated and explored in the new BBC three documentary, nudes4sale. This increasing number is dangerous to the underaged who are falling prey to cyber sexual harrasment. Pedophiles leech onto such sites, and force both adults and minors into indulging in pedophilic festish like dressing up in school uniforms and sexualising oneself. Teens have also become a target of pedophillia on Snapchat, another social media app, whose policies are lax when compared to OnlyFans.

One of the main reasons why OF is tempting is because of the convenience it allows. Onlyfans is open to any and every kind of service, it is mostly popular with X-rated content creators because it gives the impression of being a non-consequential, non-exploitative, and safe forum. Amy Brozovich also mentions this in her piece, that talks about the marxist ideas of prostitution. She says, that “contemporary sex work is born from and result in the same alienation and objectification from which capitalist wage labour is born.” By calling it a source that offers both sanity and assurity, two things that are one of the biggest criticisms of the porn and sex-traffiking industry at large, OnlyFans sets itself apart as a site that presents you with the opportunity of creating content from the comfort and privacy of your own bedroom, without having to worry about the shadiness of the situation. During the covid pandemic alone, the site saw a boom in its users by 75% globally, in its already existing 17.5 million user base and over 70,000 content creators. The “easy money” aspect and the appeal of the gig economy in a crisis that saw massive job losses only helped the matter. 

Sites like Onlyfans hide the labour and the usual conditions present for sexwork, in order to take that harassment online. OnlyFans and explicit content websites use marketing strategies appeal to the third wave feminists that equate sex work to wage work. This makes it easy for the general public to ignore and never acknowledge the vulnerability of the service.

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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

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

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 

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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.