January 08, 2006

K J Rao and The Misplaced Euphoria

The nomination of Mr K J Rao to lead the election process in the 2006 Assembly Elections in West Bengal has caused an eruption of euphoria in civil society. The expectation is that he will repeat his marvelous performance in the Bihar elections and by ensuring a fair, free and safe poll he will act as a catalyst for the change of regime. Unfortunately, this expectation may be belied and the budding hopes of Bengal's civil society may be dashed. Let me explain why ...

Malpractices in the Bihar elections are easier to contain. This is because they are point events. A short burst of murder and mayhem, money and muscle power plus liberal doses of liquor and other meaningless perks ensures that criminals can get a ticket to contest elections and then win them. Such point events are easy to fix provided one has sufficient legal firepower , in the guise of central paramilitary police forces AND ( and this is a very big AND ) the courage and conviction to use it .. In this case this person was Mr Rao ... widely hailed as the hero of Bihar.

The case of Bengal is radically different. The current rulers of Bengal are here not on the basis of such crude point events but on the back of a long drawn strategy of capturing and retaining power and point solutions like Mr Rao may not be enough to prick their balloon. What is this long drawn strategy ? Let us look at it in terms of its various components ...

1. Regular stream of 'committed' voters from across the Bangladesh border. The original communist party drew its strength from the Hindu 'bangal' refugees who had legitimately come from East Pakistan. By allowing them to forcibly occupying government and other private land they bought a vote bank. When this vote bank got absorbed into civil society and there were no Hindus left in Bangladesh ... they took the drastic step of encouraging illegal immigration from other communities. Vast numbers of foreigners were brought into Bengal and given false ration cards. An MLA who was linked to the murder of the Deputy Commissioner of the Port Police in Calcutta was one of the ringleaders of the racket. He might have retired now or has perhaps moved on to even higher ranks ... but the process continues unabated. Any attempt to check this disaster, even by civil communists, is criticised from the high platform of secularism and minority protection.

2. The entire education system has been taken over by ideologues. For the last 30 years no one can become a teacher in any school or college of West Bengal ( other than the central government institutes ) unless he or she is an active member of the party or is endorsed by a party member. As a result two generations of Bengalis have grown up with a specific being drummed into their ears for the first 20 years of their life. Some of them are of course smart enough to see through the propaganda but a statistically significant number remain in the psychological comfort zone that they are told about. Being unaware of anything else, they vote instinctively.

3. The machinery of the government has been taken over by party in the guise of trade unions or co-ordination committees and police associations. The roles and responsibilities of the Government -- census, dilineation of constituencies, preparation of voters lists, distribution of voter cards, management of the election process, counting of votes and announcement of results -- is done in a manner that is biased at each and every level. There is no crude and visible application of force that Mr Rao can counter, only a slow and subtle 're-adjustment' of parameters and that too over a long period of time. Mr Rao is of course smart enough to see through this ... but can he prevent it ? Let us look at some strategic approaches.

4. Strategic realignment of constituencies is a sinister tool that has been used for the past 30 years with devastating effect. Let us see how it works. Suppose we have 4 constituencies each having 10 population blocks. Assume each population block (which could be a village or as is more often the case nowadays, an illegal 'colony') votes for a specific party .. the Flower party and the Hammer party. Initially the distribution was A[6F,4H], B[6F,4H], C[6F,4H], D[4F,6H] .. and the Flower party should win three seats (A,B,C) and the Hammer party 1 (D). At the next census, the population is (mis)counted by committed party cadres and based on this new and erroneous data, the population blocks are re-organised by moving one H block from B and C to A and moving two F blocks to from A to B and C. Thus the distribution now looks like A[4F,6H], B[7F,3H], C[7F,3H], D[4F,6H]. In this election, the Flower party wins 2 seats and the Hammer party wins 2 seats ... a net gain of one seat just by re-arranging boundaries. In the next cycle, B is declared to be too large and two F blocks are assigned to A and D and to compensate for this one H block is moved from C to B. [ The Gopalnagar bustee next to the Rabindra Sarobar in Calcutta is such a case. They were physically uprooted and 'rehabilitated' in another part of the city just before the elections ] The distribution is now A[5F,6H], B[4F,5H], C[8F,1H], D[5F,6H] ... and with no change of voting pattern, the Hammer party wins 3 seats and the Flower party wins 1 seat ... which is just the reverse of what it used to be in the past.

Replicate this exercise year after year for the past 30 years in all the constituencies in the state and you would realise the dimensions of the problem.

5. In the earlier model we assumed that the voters are allowed to vote but that is very often not the case. In a constituency that runs neck to neck, blocks of people who have traditionally voted against the current rulers find their names missing from the electoral rolls ... which have been methodically updated by government census employees who are of course committed members of the State Employees Co-ordination Committee. Of course it is the duty of the voter to ensure that his name is there ... but then how many of our impoverished and marginal voters have the time and enthusiasm to spend a day or two to fix things. On the day of the vote they realise that they are not allowed to cast the vote. Other ways of preventing people from voting is to delay and withhold the distribution of the voter identity cards and this is very easy since the distribution is done by government employees who again are committed members of the State Employees Co-ordination Committee. The icing on the cake is of course the issue including the names of cross border immigrants [ point 1 above] in the electoral rolls ... thousands of them, and all neatly supported by the relevent ration cards and voter ID cards.

This then is 'scientific rigging' as opposed to the crude and violent methods adopted in Bihar and the cow belt. This science is now so well established that discredited political outfits from Eastern Europe and elsewhere are sending students of political science to Bengal to understand this process. Once again we recollect, nostalgically, what Tilak said about us : What Bengal Thinks Today, India ( or the world in this global era ) Thinks Tomorrow.

If Mr K J Rao can find an antidote for this Science, then the Bharat Ratna would be too small for him. We have to campaign with the Nobel Committee to include Political Science as another subject for which they can award a prize and the inaugural one should go to our hero.


Anonymous 6:02 pm  

A nice view towards the current political melodrama in the state. A couple of points I would like to add here -

1. No political party exists with just a noble will to participate in the political process. They either have an objective to rule, or to become a niche player with significant influence. The ruling party of this state is no exception. What is exceptional is their long-term vision. Pursuing a strategy for about half a century requires significant determination within the leadership of any organization, and this particular party has demonstrated that very well.

2. In any democratic process, there needs to be a responsible opposition. Unfortunately, the state of West Bengal does not have so. For any sensible voter, bad candidate is a better choice than the worse candidate.

3. In an era when nobody believes that a political party can do a single good thing, this party has managed to please many. It could be by distributing small pieces of land to a large population by snatching it out from a handful few; it could be by employing a large number of powerful youth to their payroll (trust me, party whole-timer is a paid job); it could be by distributing grants to the influential intellectuals; or it could be any other thing. At the end of the day, many people vote to them not because they believe in their principles, but they received some form of support from this party in their lifetime.

4. The party has shown a good deal of flexibility as well. Before coming to the power, they were pro-revolution. During the first two decades in their rule, they were pro-unions. And now they are pro-capitalists in their newfound quest for "more improved front".

So, I concur to the fact that Mr Rao will not be able to dismantle this ruler. I don’t think he has such an agenda as well. He is here with a very short-term objective: to conduct a free and fair election. As long as a good part of the legitimate voters can vote this summer, I think his job should be rated "well done". So far, dismantling the ruling party is concerned; some other remedy will be required.

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