Sunday, October 08, 2006

How many naughty politicians does it take?

In the movie, the Patriot, the legendary Benjamin Martin (played by Mel Gibson) questions the revolutionary forces recruiting men for their war against England, “"Why should I trade one tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants one mile away?" The question although posed in a colonial setting is relevant to anyone who is concerned about who leads Kerala. Let me digress for a moment.

The 2004 General Elections in Kerala may not have seemed very different from previous elections, but was unique in one aspect. It was the first time a 25-member team called Election Watch Kerala organized the first public dissemination of information concerning electoral candidates from Kerala. It was widely publicized in local magazines and newspapers. If the name of the organization sounds familiar, it’s also because the parent NGO, Election Watch, is based in Andhra Pradesh where it has been monitoring electoral rolls for quite some years now. One of the main conclusions of Election Watch Kerala’s public report was that "unlike many other states, Kerala does not have a serious problem of criminals entering the election arena. Most cases declared by candidates relate to law and order issues and are a by product of Kerala's agitation politics."

Note that this is the same period that threw up erstwhile candidates as Babloo Shrivastava into the election foray. So it should come as no surprise that Kerala seems to be better off. Or is it?

It is true that by and large, Kerala does not have a significant influx of candidates with criminal backgrounds into elections. However, there is the problem of Kerala's “agitation" politics, which is an issue that has grown uncontrollably. Of all the Indian states, Kerala is most prone to strikes and hartals, which effectively shuts down essential and non-essential services in the state.

Whenever I ask people what they think about how to put an end to this situation, it appears that we run against a wall. There is a perception that every political party is in a cartel favouring this method of political protest. What I want to know is how widespread is that notion. So, I propose a survey:

Do you think that hartals and shutdowns are favoured by:
1) A minority of the political parties?
2) Almost every party in Kerala?

It may be fair to ask what is the point of this survey. Well, I have been doing some research on the side and looking at the 2006 State Assembly electoral rolls myself. There were more than 900 candidates in the election, so I have been a little busy for a while. But, I think it would be interesting to test this hypothesis by analyzing the criminal backgrounds of these candidates and looking at their penchant for hartals and violence – behaviour that our dear Chief Minister labelled as “naughty”.

If you haven’t caught on to the significance of the answer, consider for a second what would happen if the electoral rolls suggested that option (1) was the answer. I say “suggest” because there is a leap of reasoning you have to make. But if there is one ideology amidst others that promotes this form of protest, then I think that’s of concern to everyone who hates Kerala’s 1 shutdown a month practice. Wouldn’t you want to know if you were being ruled by one tyrant or too many?

So, tell me, how “naughty” do you think our politicians are?


Mind Curry said...

talking about naughty, i think we can be proud of having one of the naughtiest ministers now - the one who flew kingfisher recently.

i think openly most politicians, and perhaps even most people involved in political activities, might "oppose" hartals and strikes..but the fact remains thats their single biggest weapon and power to force things down peoples throat. i can even relate this to a larger perspective of unions shutting down factories, hospitals and hotels in the name of "employee welfare" - which if you look closely enough has nothing to do with welfare, and in some cases with the employees.

one important part of the solution for this sort of uncultured politics and tyranny would be to totally ban politics in schools and educational institutions - unions are fine, but should never have any sort of links to the parties. this will be the single biggest step we could take. the lyngdoh report and its implementation is a right step in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

One should try to understand the unique trade union structure in Kerala to understand the bandhs and harthals.

Have you seen the guys who go around forcing shops to close? Men who enter colleges and beat up students? Do you think they are average political workers driven by ideology? There maybe a few local political leaders leading the show but the guys doing the "dirty" job are almost always, without exception, members of the headload workers union and/or construction workers union of the respective parties who have called for bandh. These two classes of workers are forced to do this as their livelihood depends on it. I will try to explain.

In Kerala, the loading/unloading ("attimari"), is quite organized. Each area (say a market) has an headload workers body. This is completely official in all respects - they remit/distribute contribution to/from the state headload workers welfare board, they have legal rights as per law for doing all (except inside private homes) loading/unloading in the specified area. A business owner who has stuff to unload requests this body for people and has to pay this body. He does not technically deal directly with the workers. And within this body, the number of workers are allocated per union depending upon their relative strength in that locality. This is a very lucrative profession - it is not uncommon for an official headload worker to earn Rs 750 to Rs 1200 per day on a regular basis. But he is totally dependent on the union. Union can easily throw him out of this lucrative postion. And guess what, all the unions use this leverage on these guys to do all their dirty jobs - bandhs, harthals, fights in colleges/schools, attacking political enemies, etc. Same with construction workers as well. It is an unwritten rule that these workers have to obey what the union bosses tell them. Or face the consequences.

This structuring of key headload/construction work forces plays a very strong role in Kerala's unusual "agitation" history. There are other factors as well but this is one of the most important factors. Why do you think the LDF government soon after taking power announced the dissolution of the headload workers act that the previous UDF government had passed?

Unless this structure changes, it is very difficult to think of a scenario where there no such agitations or bandhs in Kerala. It is not the average person on the steet that is creating the bandh. It is primarily these guys who are controlled by parties that make it happen.

PCM said...

The political scenario in Kerala is, to say the least, the worst. Most of the politicians are people who have nothing else to do. It is a profession for them, making whatever little money they can through manipulalting the Govt. machinary. They, especially the leftist parties, make sure that the Higher Education sector is in total disarray, so that the young people get neither good education or jobs. This is their ploy to get maximum number of people for the agitations organized by their youth wings. The only technique used by the politicians is tbe 'blame-game', which always accuse the other party for all the ills.
I am reminded of a technique used by pickpockets when I listen to the verbiage of our politicians. The pickpocket, when he is caught, will directly put the blame on someone standing neareby and argue that he did it. The other person will strongly refute and in the confusion that arises, both the people will escape. In every issue, this is what we see in Kerala. The self-financing colleges issue was handled in such a way that no victors emerged and the Managements had their way. Both the political wings put the blame on each other. The same drama is being repeated in Marad issue. Antony says the CPM is the prime culprit and Pinarayi says the same thing about Antony. Even the alarming state of epidemics in the State is being put to the best use for each party's political mileage. The Opposition says that this government did nothing to prevent the spread of chikunguniya and eventually the leftists will come out with the theory that these mosquitoes were nurtured and grown by the previous government to the present govt in trouble. Every issue is being battered about in the public until nothing comes out if it. The Joseph issue will go on for ever, like the ice-cream case and palm oil case, the public never being able to see the end of them. Death in custody is temporarily forgotten because of the epidemics. See audacity of the rulers to say that nobody died in custody or the deaths are not due to chikunguniya!
Even when all this go on with no solution or culmination, elections come every five years, these same people contest and those who continue to live (by God's grace!) will vote these same imbeciles to power! Yes, truly, Kerala is God's own Country, because people there survive only by His grace.

PCM said...

What an ideal State is Kerala!
Here, no farmers commit suicide.
Nobody dies of chikungunya.
Crime rate is the lowest here.
Molestation is unknown here.
Goonda act is superfluous for us.
Blade mafia doesn’t threaten us.
None dies in Police custody.
We top the States in personal hygiene.
We have won awards for sanitation.
Primary health is the best here.
We have the highest literacy rate.
Education for the poor is for the asking.
People below BPL is minimal here.
Our standard of living is very high,
because ration shops are deserted,
liquor shops have long queues.
We have achieved all this
Because we don’t tell lies!

abhishek said...


I agree with the power structure in the unions being a major factor. In many countries, such labor unions are considered as monopolies and broken up. Isn't it ironic that communism is against extortion and artificially high prices except for the manual labourers? I wonder what legislation has to say on this topic.

But they are so few in number, so how can they be a real threat? I think the root cause is inaction on the part of the people who have to suffer through this silently. We have to get the majority to stand up and say it in one voice directly or through votes. That is the biggest challenge facing us.

I wonder if anyone knows anyone working in Technopark and can ask them how they deal with hartals and strikes.

Babin said...

Very Interesting discussions here.
Even though the number of people behind hartals are small in size, sadly, they make up the majority that can influence our 'political culture'. Any solution to this problem will involve changing our agitation driven political culture.
Leftist is very good at running institutions that support their existence in a well organized manner. Be, it their head load workers union wing, SFI, DYFI, or their pacifist scientists club, all have well run organization set up and well fed by the political leadership. The survival of communist ideology is depend on these organizations and their respective 'duties' on the people. This is not to say leftist are the only culprits but they deserve more credit in shaping our political culture the it is now.
Anyway, blaming leftist for everything, like I just did, is useless. We gotta find out a way to break the interdependent relationship between the political parties and their roudy 'poshaka sangadanas'.
Vivek has a good point. I guess the weak point of the head load workers is that they themselves are very insecure about their profession. even a simple piece of equipment like trolly can ruin their whole profession. This may make them even more desperate to do the dirty work for political parties... It may be interesting to get a clearer picture of dynamics involved here.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post and an excellent discussion afterwards!Vivek has raised a very pertinent point on the organization of bandhs. The CITU workers and the DYFI cadres run amok during bandhs and are instrumental in any bandh becoming "successful". Everyone knows that the fear factor is the only thing which makes the bandhs possible..

Funny thing is that the accomodating public of Kerala are willing to forgive these "naughty kids" and elect their masters in every alternate election.

Like a stong leftist friend of mine(obviously working in a capitalist software co: where all SFI firebrands end up if not in capitalistic gulf) mentioned-"yeah, i dont really support the bandhs and hartals certainly vote LDF everytime- something like "i didnt really like killing all those Jews -but of course i support Hitler!!"
(Naughty Kid)


sJ said...

I have some doubts.What is speed governor? Is it good? If not why is there a rule to use it and why unions are not requesting a repeal of the law? If its of any use why the strikes and refusal to use it? So who is gaining with these strikes? CAN speed governor be costlier than indefinite strikes with loss of revenue for a truck/ bus owner? Can any one tell me as to who gains in all this drama or is it like HELMET for 2 wheelers(but here the supposed beneficiery refused to use it)? said...

Nice post. Campus politics has more evil than good. You really dont need a political party to raise student issues. Students can have politics. But outside the campus/School.

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