2014 Indian General Election Tracker – Day 12 | Education April 13, 2014Posted by chitranshu in 2014 Elections.
The points on education from the AAP manifesto are all in one section available here.
In the BJP manifesto, the points on education are scattered across different sections. In the section on children, there are a few points, then one in the section on youth, and then full sections on education, school education, higher and professional education, vocational training, and skills from pages 23 to 25 of this document.
In the INC manifesto again, the points are scatted across different sections in this document. There is point 6 from its 15-point agenda for socio-economic and political transformation, then points 6 to 10 from its subsection on ‘Accelerating Job Creation and Skill Development’, and then an entire section on education and other youth issues between pages 28 to 30.
How do the three parties compare with each other?
As can be seen, there is a significant difference between the three parties simply in the number of words that they have dedicated to this topic, but when seen in proportion to the size of their manifestos, education occupies an equally important space in all three.
In the case of AAP, their overall focus on decentralization continues into education as well, where they talk of involvement of the local community in the creation of a context-rooted curriculum and management of schools, and accountability of school/teachers to local bodies. However, decentralization does not mean an abdication by the union government of its responsibility; indeed quite the opposite, as AAP’s points on state provision of education, reforming DIET and SCERT, revamping teacher education and appointments all indicate a big role for government in general, and the Union Government in particular. The state’s role is also visible when AAP talks of special provisions for certain disadvantaged groups. Their points on context relevant curriculum and focus on learning outcomes instead of inputs indicate that their thinking is on the right track, although the brevity of their manifesto means that there are no further details on some of these points which I had discussed on this blog earlier.
Coming to higher and vocational education, there are some good points on integrating vocational education in the school curriculum and in higher education, on providing incentives to ITI graduates for entrepreneurship and on setting up incubation centres in institutions of higher education.
There is another point on establishing more ITIs, but no discussion of quality or industry requirements etc. On higher education, while there are points on greater funds for public-funded higher education, improving the quality of State universities and establishing world-class institutions like IIT, AIIMS, IISER etc, there is no discussion of autonomy or specifics of what helps build great institutions. On the point of world-class institutions, it would have been good if there had been a mention of establishing world-class universities which house all streams instead of institutes focusing on just one stream or the other.
There is an important point on effective regulation of private institutions on fees and quality of education, but it would have been good to have some specifics there as well, just so that there is no doubt on where AAP sets the boundaries of regulation.
Lastly, there is a promise to ‘roll back the Four Year Undergraduate Program (FYUP), which has been undemocratically introduced in Delhi University’, where it is worth noting that in its Delhi manifesto, AAP had said that to stop the 4-year system which has been forcibly implemented in Delhi University, the Delhi government will make efforts. In other words, it was a promise to try, not a straightforward commitment as it is in the national manifesto. Of course, this shouldn’t be surprising if one realizes that Delhi University is a Central University and such major decisions can be taken only by the Union government and not the Delhi government. AAP understands this and accordingly attuned its promises differently for different levels of elections, despite what its critics may say about its inexperience.
In the case of BJP, their points on education are, frankly, all over the place. While there are some good points such as a clear promise to raise public spending on education to 6% of GDP, autonomy with accountability for higher institutions, involving industry in skill development, and the liberally made references to technology, there are many others which are unclear or lacking in specifics or simply missing. There is absolutely no discussion of learning outcomes, but there are some repetitive points on values, and one can never be sure what interpretation of values is BJP talking about. On the point about student loans, while simplification of procedures and making these loans affordable seems a reasonable promise, one can question whether over-enthusiasm in this space may lead to a US-type student loan bubble. In the case of the points on MOOCs, foreign languages, computer literacy etc, one can question whether the government needs to be directly involved at this level. Points such as performance audit of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Mid Day Meal Scheme, special pedagogy for differently-abled, modernization of madrasas, addressing the digital divide, restructuring UGC, raising the standard of research, are just some examples where they show that they want to talk about the right things, but do not give further details and leave one uncertain about their intentions.
In the case of INC, it is the need to package almost everything as a ‘scheme’ or ‘programme’ or forming a ‘commission’ which overshadows the substance of their points. While they have some good points such as context specific curricula, community colleges, an independent regulatory mechanism to oversee State and private institutions, foreign investment in higher education, and recognizing the problems of drop-out rates and learning outcomes, these can almost be missed out in the bureaucratic references mentioned above. There are also promises to ‘take systematic steps’, ‘place a special focus’, and ‘commitment to the cause’, but without the specifics which can make these points credible. Meanwhile, their point on interest-free student loans just like the BJP’s may sound good at the surface, but raises the same question of what over-enthusiasm here could do.
On the whole, AAP makes some good points on education, some specific promises and displays a clear understanding of its role, but it could have done even better especially on vocational and higher education. However, given that it used less than half as many words as the others, one may concede that these omissions may be more due to a focus on brevity and simplicity rather than deliberate omissions or ignorance.
The BJP’s points on education, just as in the case of water, seem like a strange mix of buzzwords from different sources. They do better in some ways by specifying a % of GDP that they will spend on education, and talking of autonomy to higher institutions and industry linkages in vocational training, but in most other points, one is left wondering what exactly they think a union government’s role in education should be, and a fear of what they actually intend to do with things like ‘values’.
Meanwhile, the INC occasionally makes the impression that it knows what some of the problems are and maybe even what it would do to address them, but then clouds it with bureaucratic jargon and vague promises.
Goa and Karnataka
Goa has had elections yesterday as they were advanced from 17th to 12th April because of 17th being Maundy Thursday. Karnataka is going to vote on 17th. The results in these states in Lok Sabha elections since 1996 have been as follows:
Goa (cells in bold signify that party winning both the seats, while bold italics signify those parties winning one seat each)
These states are particularly interesting because the trend of regional parties here has been totally opposite to most other states which have a strong non-INC, non-BJP presence. Most regional parties trace their origins either to the Socialists of the pre-1977 era and the Janata Dal offshoots later (SP, RJD, JD(U), JD(S), LJP, BJD, INLD etc) or to regional identity-based movements (DMK, ADMK, TDP, AGP, Shiv Sena, MNS, SAD etc), and many of them have progressively gone on to establish their presence in their respective states.
In the case of Goa, one can see how the regional parties like MGP and UGDP which used to have a strong presence well into the 1990s were progressively marginalized as they both allied/merged with or supported both the INC and BJP at different points of time, so much so that recent elections have become a direct contest between the INC-NCP alliance and the BJP.
In the case of Karnataka, the Janata Dal was the leading party in 1996, but as it splintered into the JD(S) and Lok Shakti (which later merged with the JD(U)), both factions seem to have declined over the years, more so the LS/JD(U), and it now seems to be an INC vs BJP contest with the JD(S) a distant third and AAP possibly putting up a challenge in some seats in Bangalore.
Contest to watch out for: Bangalore South, where INC’s Nandan Nilekani, BJP’s Ananth Kumar and AAP’s Nina Nayak are in the fray, and Pramod Muthalik has entered as an independent candidate after his failed attempt to join the BJP.
2014 Indian General Election Tracker – Day 11 | Water April 9, 2014Posted by chitranshu in 2014 Elections.
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So far, we have looked at issues largely based on past records of political parties or other information not necessarily limited to manifestos. One reason for this was that the manifestos of major parties had not been available to begin with. Since the BJP has released its manifesto a couple of days ago, it is now possible to look at various issues specifically through the lens of what the major parties are saying in their current manifestos, which is largely the approach that will be taken from now on.
Ideally, these manifestos should have been released much more in advance, instead of being released in the last couple of weeks up to the first day of polling itself, as INC, AAP and BJP did. However, it is still useful to look at various issues in these manifestos even after polling has happened in some parts of the country, as the debate on many of them is an ongoing one and need not be limited to these elections. In any case, it is a good thing that the focus on manifestos seems to be greater this year than ever before.
In today’s edition, we shall look at the issue of water and see where the different parties stand on it.
What does the AAP say about water?
In the AAP manifesto, the word ‘water’ appears 12 times in just one section – Economy and Ecology –and once in the Swaraj section where rainwater harvesting is mentioned as an example of an issue that a Gram Sabha should be able to act on.
The gist of the relevant points from the Economy and Ecology section is as follows:
1.) Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) envisions a balanced development model… where… Every citizen in this country will have access to basic needs like food, housing, education, health care, power, water, toilets and other basic amenities.
2.) AAP will support local watershed management schemes to reduce the burden on large-scale irrigation projects.
3.) The ownership of all major natural resources like major minerals, water and forests will vest in the State. However, ownership of minor minerals and minor forest produce and rainwater will vest with the local communities.
4.) The local communities (Gram Sabhas) shall play a vital role in the management of major natural resources. The exploitation of minerals, water and forests within a Gram Sabha area will not be done without the consent of the Gram Sabhas.
5.) Priority on developing local and decentralised water resources based on extensive rainwater harvesting, watershed development, soil-water conservation programs, small projects and alternative cropping practices.
Out of these, point 1 is a general statement of vision where water features as one among many amenities. There are a couple of other instances as well where water is mentioned in the context of energy and price rise, but we shall look at energy in a later edition, and in the case of price rise, AAP has not promised anything similar to what was promised in Delhi about free ‘lifeline water’.
Thus, we are left with points 2, 3, 4 and 5, which can actually be condensed to the following two points:
1.) While the ownership of all water sources except rainwater will vest with the state, their usage will be determined with local consent.
2.) AAP will support local watershed management schemes and develop local and decentralised water resources based on extensive rainwater harvesting, watershed development, soil-water conservation programs, small projects and alternative cropping practices.
These points are, not surprisingly, aligned with AAP’s overall philosophy of decentralization, and a broad consensus among many present-day water sector experts that decentralized water management is preferable to large-scale schemes. There are no promises about specific dams, rivers, canals and irrigation projects etc.
One could go back to AAP’s promise made in Delhi of 700 litres of free water to every household, and ask how that is feasible as it may lead to increased water consumption and therefore Delhi drawing even more water from neighbouring states than it already does, which may not be possible in a decentralized power structure if the people of neighbouring states do not give their consent. However, as I had examined in a brief note a few months ago, AAP’s promise was within the Delhi Jal Board’s current capacity. It is also important to note that AAP’s Delhi manifesto said that “Long run solutions to Delhi’s water situation would focus on city-wide rainwater harvesting, reviving Delhi’s water bodies and the conservation and recycling of water”, which is again aligned to AAP’s overall philosophy of decentralization.
What does the BJP say about water?
In the BJP manifesto, the word ‘water’ appears 41 times. The gist of those points is as follows:
1.) Address flood control and river water management in Assam, presumably the Brahmaputra.
2.) Ensure the cleanliness, purity and uninterrupted flow of the Ganga, and launch a ‘Clean Rivers Programme’ nationwide with people’s participation.
3.) Inter-linking of rivers based on feasibility.
4.) Sewage treatment plants to prevent pollution of rivers.
5.) Examination of ground water to eliminate toxic chemicals, particularly arsenic and fluorides.
6.) Ensure water supply to all, especially focusing on tribals and rural areas. Set up a drinking water supply grid in water scarce areas, and facilitate piped water to all households.
7.) Set up efficient water and waste management in urban areas, and desalination plants for drinking water supply in coastal cities.
8.) Introduce and promote low water consuming irrigation techniques and optimum utilization of water resources, and launch a rural irrigation scheme to provide water to every farm.
9.) Nurture ground water recharge harnessing rain water, and encourage efficient use, water conservation, recycling and rainwater harvesting.
10.)Promote decentralized, demand-driven, community-managed water resource management, water supply and environmental sanitation.
While these points all look good at the surface, it is not clear how all of them will be achieved. Inter-linking of rivers which has been propagated as a ‘big idea’ earlier now comes with a caveat that it is ‘based on feasibility’. Some points mention things which are already being done, and do not specify how they will be done better, if at all, e.g. sewage treatment plants and examination of ground water quality. The promises of piped water to all households are followed by proclamations to encourage efficient water use and water conservation, without any specifics on feasibility of piped water to all, or its costs and pricing. The same applies to irrigation, where optimum water utilization and a promised rural irrigation scheme to ostensibly provide water to every farm go hand-in-hand without much clarity. The last point of decentralized, community-managed water management may seem similar to that of AAP, but it is not clear how it fits in with other promises such as water supply grids, inter-linking of rivers and national-level schemes.
On the whole, the BJP’s pronouncements on water seem like a jumble of big technocratic ideas, rehashed proclamations about the Ganga’s importance, and borrowing of buzzwords on water conservation and decentralized water management.
What does the INC say about water?
In the INC manifesto, the word ‘water’ appears 26 times. Here is the gist of the relevant points:
1.) To promote effective access to clean drinking water and water for irrigation, set up a legal and institutional framework, in discussion and with consensus of States, for water, and also ensure 100% coverage of rural habitations for drinking water in the next five years.
2.) Add 1 crore hectares to irrigated area by completing the radical Water Reforms Agenda of the 12th Plan, which is based on Irrigation Management Transfer to Water Users Associations of farmers. This will ensure Gross Irrigated Area crosses 10 crore hectares in India.
3.) Actively support more efficient water use technologies including reuse and recycling of water, complete the historic aquifer-mapping and the groundwater management programme launched by UPA-II over the next five years, to ensure sustainable utilisation of groundwater to secure the livelihoods of farmers, particularly in regions where groundwater depletion has taken place.
4.) MGNREGA will be harnessed to support the construction of poultry shelters and water bodies for fisheries.
5.) Cover 250 lakh hectares as watersheds, as part of the dramatically reformed Integrated Watershed Management Programme launched by UPA-II.
6.) Strive to lower interest rates for farmers to ensure they are able to access extension services and agriculture inputs like seeds, water, fertilizers etc.
7.) The Indira Awaas Yojana will be expanded to cover all poor rural households. Financial assistance for this will include money to not only construct a pucca house but also individual sanitary toilets and drinking water connections.
8.) Conserve water by focusing all current programmes on augmenting water through decentralized systems, conserving water through all means and promoting recycling and reuse of water in all sectors. Water is a public right, but also a public responsibility. Pricing of water must ensure that users internalise ethics of conservation, but it is also imperative that it be sustainable and affordable.
9.) Take up the cleaning of rivers on a large scale. The National Ganga River Basin Authority has begun the ambitious task of cleaning the Ganga River, so similar models of creating empowered, well-funded agencies will be used to clean other major rivers in the country.
While there are no details on the cultural importance of the Ganga, its cleaning has been promised by INC just like the BJP. Drinking water to all households and increasing irrigated area have also been promised by both, but again, specifics on feasibility, costs and pricing are missing, although INC does make a general comment that pricing should ensure conservation and be sustainable and affordable. Incentives to farmers to help them access water has been mentioned, but again without specifics. Inter-linking of rivers and desalination have not been mentioned, but instead, there are several mentions of schemes, programmes, authorities, legal and institutional frameworks.
On the whole, the INC’s points seem quite similar to those of BJP, with a more bureaucratic focus instead of a technocratic one, and less emphasis on the cultural and ‘water security’ aspects.
Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Kerala, Lakshadweep
In this edition, we will look at all the remaining states and UTs which are voting / starting to vote on 10th April and have not been covered yet.
The results in each of these states/UTs in Lok Sabha elections since 1996 (except Chhattisgarh which is since 2004) have been as follows:
(In both elections, BJP won 10 seats out of 11, and Congress won just one)
|JD / JD(U)||48.29%||48.45%||43.28%||49.02%||–|
Out of these states, Delhi, Chhattisgarh and most of Madhya Pradesh have largely seen direct INC v/s BJP contests. However, the stunning debut of AAP in Delhi and the high percentage of NOTA voters in Chhattisgarh last December point to the possibility of a more multi-cornered contest this time.
Lakshadweep has usually seen an INC v/s JD or JD(U) contest, except in 2009 when the JD(U) candidate who won in 2004 switched to NCP. No big surprises are expected here.
Maharashtra and Kerala both have had relatively fractured mandates, though they have coalesced into two fronts over a period of time – the INC-NCP v/s Sena-BJP alliance in Maharashtra, and the LDF v/s UDF in Kerala. AAP’s entry may complicate matters in Maharashtra, but perhaps not so much in Kerala.
Contests to watch out for: This group of states has no dearth of exciting contests. From AAP’s point of view, candidates like Raj Mohan Gandhi, Ashutosh, Ashish Khetan from Delhi, Soni Sori from Bastar, Meera Sanyal and Medha Patkar from Mumbai, Rachna Dhingra from Bhopal are all high-profile names. However, for sheer entertainment value, the most interesting contest seems to be in Mumbai Northwest, where traditional politicians like Gurudas Kamat from INC and Gajanan Kirtikar from the Shiv Sena and activist Mayank Gandhi of AAP may get overshadowed (in media attention if not actual votes) by Mahesh Manjrekar of MNS, and independent candidates Rakhi Sawant and Kamaal Rashid Khan.
My schedule for these trackers has been thrown a bit out of gear because of some new developments over the past 10 days, but hopefully I’ll manage to stick to it from now on and cover most of the issues that I intend to in the next 15-20 days.
In today’s edition, we shall look at the issue of migration – legal and illegal, within India as well as from neighbouring countries – and some common claims made by political parties on this topic.
Migration has several dimensions which have been used in various ways by different political parties over the years. On one hand, there is the anti-migrant stance often taken by various regional parties, most notably the Shiv Sena and its offshoot Maharashtra Navnirman Sena in Maharashtra, who have tended to target Gujaratis, South Indians and then migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar over the decades, and blamed them for taking away jobs from the ‘sons of the soil’ or for crowding into cities like Mumbai. On the other, there is the issue of illegal immigration into India from neighbouring countries, mostly Bangladesh, which is blamed for the changing demographics of border districts in Assam and West Bengal and also regarded as a threat to national security. For example, this article looks at this issue in some detail, starting from the migration from Bengal to Assam during British rule, and concludes by proposing stronger border fences and patrols as well as identity documents for all Indian citizens but also concedes that deportation of illegal immigrants who have been living in India for decades may not be feasible. Yet another facet is the link between migrant workers and poverty in economically better-off states, as propounded by Narendra Modi (See 11:30 to 13:30 here), even as he weighed in during this election campaign on the difference between Hindu and Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh.
To examine the realities behind each of these commonly repeated claims, let us look at some data from the Census in 2001 (migration data for Census 2011 is not yet available). First, let us examine the claim that migrants from certain poor states are flooding India’s cities. This document shows that strictly speaking, about 30% of India’s population in 2001 could be regarded as migrants in some form or the other. More than 70% of these were female, for whom the major reason for ‘migration’ was marriage. Also, about 85% of them were ‘migrants’ within their state, whether for economic or other reasons.
If we were to narrow down the definition of migration only to those migrating across states or international borders, then this document shows that inter-state migrants formed about 4% of India’s population in 2001, and foreign migrants about 0.6%. Also, while the intra-district and intra-state migration had increased from 1991 to 2001 at only a slightly higher rate than total population growth, inter-state migration had increased at a much higher rate, probably driven by the changing economic scenario in different states, while the number of foreign migrants actually fell.
If we look at specific states, UP and Bihar surely were the largest sources of migrants while Maharashtra was the largest recipient in absolute numbers. However, as a percentage of their population, much smaller states like Delhi and Haryana received far more migrants than Maharashtra. In fact, if we compare cities instead of states, Delhi received more migrants than Mumbai in both absolute and percentage terms, and Bangalore was not far behind these two either.
Now, if we were to look at the overall population growth from 2001 to 2011 (even if migration data is not yet available) across different states and cities, what do we find? This document shows that population growth has actually slowed significantly across most of India, but more importantly, the population growth even in highly urbanized states and UTs like Delhi and Chandigarh is no longer significantly higher than in the rest of India, even though the total urban population has increased faster. This apparent contradiction can be resolved if one notes that the most dramatic change in urban population in the last decade has been because of the huge increase in the number of census towns (from 1,362 in 2001 to 3,894 in 2011). Does this imply that large villages growing into towns are a much bigger contributor to urbanization than rural-to-urban migration? To probe this further, we drill down to the city / district level and note the population growth percentages for 1991-2001 and 2001-2011 in India’s twelve largest cities:
So we see that while the total urban population in India has grown by over 30% in each of the last two decades, the pattern in each city is very different. Mumbai City and Kolkata have actually seen a decline in population in the last decade, and so have New Delhi and Central Delhi. Meanwhile, Mumbai Suburban, the rest of Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kanpur may have all grown in population but have seen a huge decrease in the rate of population growth, while all the other major cities except Bangalore have also grown more slowly than before.
However, this is not the complete picture, because if we note the decadal growth percentages for districts adjoining these cities, we see the following:
|Gautam Buddha Nagar (Noida)||43.36%||51.52%|
Even in the case of Bangalore which seemed like an exception above, it has been noticed that the older wards are growing much more slowly than the newer wards.
Thus, we can see that as the older cities get more and more crowded, newer population growth occurs much more in adjoining areas than in the old cities themselves. In fact, in many cases, the older cities actually start declining in population. This is a commonly known phenomenon all over the world even when there is no one promoting a ‘sons of the soil’ agenda. Moreover, while migration from poorer states to richer urban centres may have been a big factor in urban population growth in previous decades, the overall slowing of population growth across all states means that it may not have the same impact as before. Therefore, a tirade against ‘outsiders’ (as Raj Thackeray did here for instance) is a strategy with diminishing returns.
Secondly, let us come to the claim that illegal immigration from neighbouring countries, especially Bangladesh, is causing demographic changes in West Bengal and Assam and is a threat to national security. The article shared above which was written in 1998 has already looked at this issue in some detail and with a somewhat alarmist tone, but if its logic were to be extended to the 2001-11 decade, one would notice that the slowing of population growth can be observed in these states as well and across most of their districts and has reduced any reasons for being alarmed. Yes, there is a history of demographic changes in these areas, and a porous international border is not exactly a good idea, but acknowledging these issues and especially acting on the latter can be done without viewing illegal immigration through a narrow religious lens. An important point to note here is that Bangladesh itself has undergone significant changes in the last decade with a rapidly declining population growth rate due to a much lower TFR and better HDI than would be expected at its level of per capita income, which may have significantly reduced the potential for immigration to India or other countries.
Lastly, what about the claim that the relatively high poverty rates in richer states like Gujarat are due to migrant workers? The sources of data above show that Gujarat was far behind other states like Maharashtra, Delhi and Haryana in both absolute and percentage terms as a recipient of migrants until 2001, and the slowing of population growth across all these states and their major cities implies that there is really not much which differentiates one state from another here. Therefore, this claim, especially to justify Gujarat’s poor performance in poverty reduction relative to other comparable states, is nothing more than a lame excuse.
So to summarize, targeting migrants through parochial politics of the Shiv Sena and MNS kind or looking at illegal immigration through the communal lens in border areas is a strategy with diminishing returns, and with lesser basis in facts than ever before. Blaming migrants for poverty in richer states is not exactly a sound argument either. The pressure on urban areas due to migration and rapid population expansion is still important to be considered, but it needs to be understood (and will be discussed here in a later edition) in the larger context of how urban areas grow and should be managed, instead of reducing it to regional or communal debates.
Assam, Odisha, Jharkhand, Andaman & Nicobar Islands
Due to the unforeseen delays, I shall now be looking at two-three states in each of the next few editions in order to cover most of the states before their respective election dates.
In today’s state tracker, we shall look at three states and a union territory as named above. The results in each of these in Lok Sabha elections since 1996 (except Jharkhand which is since 2004) have been as follows:
Andaman & Nicobar Islands
|Andaman & Nicobar Islands||1996||1998||1999||2004||2009|
Out of these four, Assam and Jharkhand in particular have usually thrown up fractured mandates, divided between three or more competing parties. Though alliances such as BJP-AGP in Assam in 2009 and INC-JMM in Jharkhand in 2004 have sometimes reduced this fragmentation, the entry of new players such as AUDF in Assam and JVM(P) in Jharkhand has further complicated matters, and of course the entry of AAP in this election. Compared to these, Odisha and Andaman & Nicobar Islands have usually seen direct contests between two parties/alliances; in the case of Odisha, it has been INC vs JD in 1996, then INC vs the BJD-BJP alliance from 1998 to 2004, and then INC vs BJD in 2009, while in Andaman & Nicobar Islands, it has been a direct INC vs BJP contest throughout.
In the case of Jharkhand, there had been some news of a possible alliance between the JVM(P) and AAP, failing which one of JVM(P)’s MPs could join AAP, but it seems neither of these has actually occurred.
Contest to watch out for: Khunti in Jharkhand, where activist and journalist Dayamani Barla has been fielded by AAP against sitting BJP MP and Deputy Speaker of the outgoing Lok Sabha, Kariya Munda.
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Today’s post will be the second time when I shall be breaking from the usual two-part format, to look at a group of states which are important to consider for various reasons – internal security, economic and human development, demographic diversity as well as the nature of our politics and to what extent it reflects the popular will.
The region usually referred to as India’s Northeast includes eight states – the state of Sikkim as well as the ‘Seven Sisters’ which include Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. A brief history of this region and its states can be found here. To summarize, Assam was a province in British India and then a single state in independent India out of which Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland were formed between 1963 and 1987, while Manipur, Sikkim and Tripura were princely states.
Most of these states have had a chequered history of relations with the rest of India. For example, it is said that when Manipur was reluctant to merge with India, Sardar Patel had allegedly remarked “isn’t there a brigadier in Shillong?” (the link also provides a brief history of the troubles in Manipur so far). Tripura, while not having such a memory of accession itself, has had problems because of huge demographic changes caused by migrations from Bangladesh (earlier East Pakistan). Sikkim’s accession in 1975 may have been forced by internal strife but has not led to any major problems since then.
Among the states which were once part of Assam, Nagaland has arguably had the most problematic history. The demand for Naga sovereignty had been raised even before Indian independence, and it is said that when the Naga leaders expressed their fear to Gandhi that the Indian government might occupy the Naga territory by force, Gandhi assured them that he would go to Kohima, and he would be “the first to be shot before any Naga is killed”. Mizoram had a long-standing insurgency led by the Mizo National Front which also led to an armed uprising and the only instance of the Indian Air Force carrying out airstrikes in its own territory. However, this insurgency ended with the Mizo Accord which led to the MNF becoming a political party and statehood for Mizoram. Meghalaya has had a relatively minor insurgency driven by ethnic concerns. Assam as the ‘parent state’ has had multiple problems due to illegal immigration, communal conflicts, ethnic demands, as well as secessionist movements. Arunachal Pradesh has been largely free from these problems but has lived under the shadow of the border dispute with China and memories of the Chinese invasion in 1962, which we looked at in the previous post. More details about the various insurgent groups in the Northeast can be found here.
Demographically, these states differ in many ways. Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland have overwhelmingly tribal populations which have largely converted to Christianity. Tripura is overwhelmingly Hindu but is divided between ~70% Bengalis and ~30% tribals. Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh have Hindus as the largest group with a significant proportion of Christians, and in the case of the latter, Buddhists and indigenous religions as well, with comparable numbers of tribals and non-tribals. Assam has ~65% Hindus and ~30% Muslims, with immigration complicating the demographics. Sikkim has ~60% Hindus of Nepali ethnicity, and ~30% Buddhists of Bhutia and Lepcha ethnicity, and while there were tensions between these groups in the 1970s, it has not led to any major problems since.
Politically, we have already looked at Arunachal Pradesh in the previous post, which has favoured different parties in each election at the national level, even if its state politics has been relatively stable. We shall look at Assam in the next edition, but its relative stability (one CM for the last 13 years) hides some important divisions. For the other six states, here are the results in national elections from 1996 onwards:
(Since all these states have one or two seats each, we shall look only at the vote shares. For the states with 2 seats each – Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura – the cells in bold signify that party winning both the seats, while bold italics signify those parties winning one seat each)
To summarize, Manipur and Meghalaya have had largely fractured mandates in national elections, and relative instability at the state level. Mizoram has generally alternated between the INC and MNF and been relatively stable since 1989. Nagaland has given overwhelming majorities in national elections, to the INC in the 1990s and to the NPF in the last two elections, and been relatively stable since 1993. Sikkim and Tripura have almost been like one-party states both in terms of national election results as well as state elections, with the SDF and CPI(M) respectively dominating the scene in the last two decades. In Sikkim, the situation has become so extreme that in 2009, it was reported that the INC, BJP and CPI(M) had decided to come together to put up a united front against the SDF, which was later denied by the CPI(M). In any case, it seems the alliance did not go through because these parties seem to have contested separately and were not able to prevent the SDF from winning all 32 assembly seats with ~65% vote share.
Regarding economic and human development, let us look at the situation of these eight states relative to the all-India averages across several parameters as follows:
The numbers 1 to 4 represent the following:
|1 – Much below national average|
|2 – A little below national average|
|3 – A little above national average|
|4 – Much above national average|
Thus, we can see that in terms of development, Sikkim is well ahead of the rest while Mizoram and Tripura are second and third. Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh bring up the middle, followed by Assam which seems to be far behind the others.
So what can we conclude about the causes of problems in the Northeast? Is history important? Are the insurgencies due to lack of development or vice versa? Are both of these affected by political instability or cause it? What role does demographics have to play in each of these aspects? Arunachal Pradesh shows that insurgencies and lack of development are not necessarily correlated. Mizoram, Meghalaya and Nagaland have similarly uniform demographics, but Meghalaya has been significantly worse in economic performance as well as political stability. Sikkim and Tripura have shown that despite demographic complications, it is possible to have political stability as well as economic and human development. Lastly, Assam and Manipur have had the most problems in each of these aspects. Thus, there seem to be no easy answers, but the examples of Sikkim, Mizoram and Tripura, and to some extent Nagaland, show that political stability can help overcome the burden of history as well as economic and demographic problems. Political stability does not necessarily mean continuous one-party rule, but a government which largely reflects popular will, whether it is expressed through continuing mandates to one party or alternating mandates between two competing parties.
Coming to this year’s election, while Narendra Modi delivered a speech in Imphal recently which was characteristic of his limited vision, there seem to be some interesting developments in the same state regarding Irom Sharmila, who has been on a hunger strike for more than 13 years to demand the repeal of AFSPA in Manipur, and has been force-fed and been under almost continuous police custody throughout. She was initially offered a ticket by AAP to contest which she refused but when approached by the INC a month later with a similar offer, she refused again and announced her intention to vote for AAP. Three parties with three different approaches – it remains to be seen which of these approaches will work best for this region.
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Last week, in my post on the Kashmir issue, I had mentioned that we will look at the border disputes between India and China in a later post. Today, we shall look at the India-China disputes both in Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh.
The India-China border disputes
To understand the history of these disputes, there are some good sources on Wikipedia on the border dispute as well as the 1962 war. Another good source is the 45-minute episode of the TV series Pradhanmantri which deals with this issue from the 1950 Chinese invasion of Tibet to the 1962 war, including the military and diplomatic failures of the Indian government.
A simplistic conclusion that can be drawn from these sources is that India should never have allowed China to get away with the invasion and annexation of Tibet in the first place, as it eventually led to war with China, the loss of Aksai Chin and pending Chinese claims on Arunachal Pradesh. However, 1950 was a time when India was newly independent and had just got out of a long-drawn war with Pakistan over Kashmir. Britain, which had tried to exert control over Tibet a few decades ago during the Great Game was no longer interested in it as it had left India and was itself recovering from WWII, while the US was already engaged in a war in the Korean peninsula. Thus, there was hardly any power which could have prevented the Chinese annexation of Tibet.
Given this background, let us now come to Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh in particular. Besides the history of these regions and the various claims including the McMahon line as mentioned in the links above, it is also important to understand their geography.
If one looks at the physical geography of these regions in this satellite map, one can easily see that the Himalayas form a natural boundary between India, Nepal and Bhutan on one side and China on the other, with Arunachal Pradesh falling squarely on the Indian side. However, this boundary is not very clear beyond Himachal Pradesh, as the greenery of the Indian side can be seen only up to the Zanskar range in central Jammu & Kashmir, and Aksai Chin in particular looking no different from the Tibetan plateau adjacent to it. With this topography, it is obvious that Aksai Chin is seen by China as a ‘natural extension’ of Tibet, and the highway running through it seen as vital to Chinese control over both the restive regions of Xinjiang and Tibet. On the other hand, Arunachal Pradesh does not have any such strategic significance for China, nor does it seem like a ‘natural extension’ of Tibet based on its topography, even if it may have been historically and culturally linked to Tibet.
Coming back to history, at the time of the Chinese annexation of Tibet in 1950, neither India nor China had any meaningful control over either Aksai Chin or parts of Arunachal Pradesh including Tawang. Tawang came under Indian control only in 1951 while Aksai Chin was subject to changing claims and ground realities as shown in this map, until the Chinese completed a highway through it in 1957.
Moreover, while Aksai Chin was and continues to be without any population or resources, Arunachal Pradesh has a permanent population and economic importance. This point, when expressed by Nehru as ‘not a blade of grass grows’ in Aksai Chin, was comically refuted by Mahavir Tyagi who compared it to his bald head.
Therefore, the most sensible course of action from the strategic and geographic points of view would have been to formalize what is even today the status quo, i.e. for India to relinquish its claim over Aksai Chin in exchange for China relinquishing its claim over Arunachal Pradesh, even if the two sides had their own historical or cultural reasons for wanting control over both regions. This offer was actually made by Chou En-lai as late as 1960, but it was declined by India. The reason for this refusal seems to have been Nehru’s firm belief, mostly egged on by his party members as well as those in the opposition, that he could not remain prime minister of India if he gave away even an inch of land to China, notwithstanding the fact that the very question of which land belonged to whom was unresolved, and all claims by both India and China were based on vague historical reasons rather than a practical assessment of the situation.
This remains the situation even today as the front-runner in the prime ministerial race repeats the same rhetoric of several decades ago, while the Congress remains tight-lipped and embarrassed about this issue for fear of sullying Nehru’s legacy. Meanwhile, the unresolved boundary in Aksai Chin remains a source of trouble, as was seen in last year’s incident at Daulat Beg Oldi, which could have larger security implications for India in future, given its proximity to Siachen, and the growing Chinese interest in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Is it possible for either of India’s two major parties to move beyond plain nationalist rhetoric and memories of embarrassments to undertake clear and practical negotiations with China on this issue? Is it possible for the new party, AAP, to make a clean break from history given their often bold stance on other issues?
In today’s state tracker, we will look at a state which has already been discussed above in a different context – Arunachal Pradesh. The results here in Lok Sabha elections since 1996 have been as follows:
The state has two seats, both of which have been won by the party getting over 50% vote share in a given election as seen in the table above. The winning party has been changing in each election, but one cannot be sure if that trend will continue this time, as the incumbent Congress tries to maintain its hold, while the BJP eyes it as a key state in the Northeast especially after former CM Gegong Apang joining it, and AAP fielding a former information commissioner of this state from one of the seats.