Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Election Methodology

The biggest problem confronting environmental mass movements is that of failing to make an electoral impact and so not being able to influence policy making in any meaningful way. The first past the post election system that has been adopted in this country means that a candidate on an average has to muster about 40 percent of the total valid votes polled to win a seat in the legislatures or parliament. This is something that is very difficult to achieve by fighting on environmental issues. In all these years there have been only a handful of environmental activists, like Janaklal Thakur of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha who have made it to the state legislatures and none that have won a parliamentary seat. In the just concluded elections to the Chhattisgarh assembly too despite mustering 27.3% of the valid votes Janaklal came third and the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate won with 33.1% of the votes. The Samajvadi Jan Parishad another environmentalist party could hardly muster on an average about 2% of the votes in the five seats which it contested in Madhya Pradesh.
The root of the problem lies in the fact that in India the method of proportional representation in which parties are allotted seats in proportion to the votes polled has not been adopted. Ideally the Indian electoral system should have been based on proportional representation to accommodate the vast diversity in the socio-economic characteristics of the population. In this system even small local parties who can get votes higher than a specified threshold can find representation in the legislature. Most importantly since small parties or even social movements can muster vote banks in many small pockets through intensive political mobilisation and garner the threshold voting percentage there is no need for spending the huge amounts of money that now have to be spent to win seats in legislatures and the parliament. There would thus have been scope for a thousand schools of thought to contend in the legislatures and parliament and so bring to fruition a much more vibrant and diverse democratic culture than obtains at present. Instead the first past the post system was adopted in which the candidate getting the most number of the valid votes cast in a constituency was declared elected. This latter system was to the advantage of the Congress party at the time of independence as it could get to rule unhampered on its own without the pulls and pressures of coalition governance that a system of proportional representation usually gives rise to and would certainly have in the diverse Indian context. So the first past the post electoral system of the British and American democracies, which the British had introduced to suit their own agenda of keeping the unruly masses at bay, was retained after independence giving the Congress an undue monopoly of power in the crucial first decade and a half of governance under the leadership of Nehru.
The first elections to the Lok Sabha held in 1951 saw the Congress winning just forty five percent of the total valid votes but as much as seventy five percent of the seats. Similarly in the second elections in 1957 the Congress won forty eight percent of the total valid votes and seventy five percent of the seats. In the third general elections of 1962 the Congress won forty five percent of the total valid votes and got seventy three percent of the seats. The second largest party by way of votes won in all these three elections was the Socialist Party but due to the fact that their support base was spread much thinner than the Congress' they could not win seats in proportion to their votes. In 1951 the Socialists got ten and a half percent of the total valid votes but only two and a half percent of the seats. This is to be contrasted with the Communist Party of India, which won only three and a half percent of the votes and a similar percentage of the seats because their mass base was of a concentrated nature. Interestingly Ambedkar's political party, The All India Scheduled Castes Federation, also failed to do well at the hustings in the first elections in 1951 with the great man himself losing from the Bombay City North constituency despite having done so much for the dalits. Similarly in 1957 the Socialists once again got ten and a half percent of the votes but only three and a half percent of the seats while the Communists got nearly nine percent of the votes and five and a half percent of the seats. In the 1962 elections the two separate Socialist Parties together got nine and a half percent of the votes and only three and a half percent of the seats while the Communists got almost ten percent of the votes and five and a half percent of the seats.
Thus a clever and unnatural choice of electoral system gave the Congress party thumping majorities to do as it pleased with little effective parliamentary opposition to its policies. The significance of this disproportion between votes and seats becomes crystal clear if we compare it with the relation between the percentage of votes and seats won for the same three groups above in the general elections of 2004 by which time fractured mandates and coalition politics had become the order of the day. The Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Trinamool Congress Party, which have their roots in the old Congress, together won thirty percent of the votes and twenty nine percent of the seats. The various splinter groups of the Socialists together won eleven and a half percent of the votes and sixteen percent of the seats. The Communists and their allies won eight percent of the votes and eleven percent of the seats. The tables have now been turned. The Congress is continually being spread thin while the smaller parties, concentrated as they are in localised niches are garnering more seats in proportion to the votes won. But the environmental movements which being issue based are restricted to even smaller pockets than the socialist and communist parties still find it difficult to win anything more than elections at the panchayat level.
Basically analysis of elections on the basis of seats won is an inane exercise as it reflects the political performance of the parties in only a very sketchy manner. For instance in Madhya Pradesh the Bharatiya Janata Party won only 37.7 % of the valid votes polled but got 62.1 % of the seats primarily because the Congress was a house divided within itself and it was further debilitated by the Bahujan Samaj Party eating into its vote share substantially. Thus in no sense can it be said that the vote was a pat on the back for the BJP from the voters who were satisfied with its governance.
Thus if social and environmental movements and anarchists in general are to make a more substantial impact on politics in this country through representation in the legislatures and parliament then it is necessary that the first past the post electoral system be replaced with one of proportional representation. After all the electoral bottom line is that voters do not want to vote for a candidate who they know is bound to lose even if he or she is a member of their organisation and an honest and capable activist.


Mahipal Bhuriya said...

Dear Rahul,
I congratulate you very much for seeing very closely for seeing the Bhil tribe very closely. It shall be still betterto bring out deeply the intensity of deprivation in all possible manner by the non tribals from the time immeorial till this day which has led the royal tribe like the Bhils towards total deprivation, impverishment and possibly in near future a biological extinction like the tribals of Africa.

Anonymous said...

You have and witnessed very closely the saga of joys and suffering of the Bhil tribe very cloely. Please go deeper in the prehistory and history of the tribe as to how they are very systematically clandestinely being pushed towards extinction with total deprvation from the time demaning of thumb of the Bhil prince Eklavya by Dronacharya till this day.

Rahul Banerjee said...

I have not read much about the history of the Bhil tribe myself and so have not ventured to write on it at length myself. I will try to make up for this in future when I have some free time. The work of the Adivasi Ekta Parishad and the many mass organisations of the Bhils associated with this forum is important in that it has succeeded in mobilising the Bhils to posit a distinct cultural and political identity that will ensure that they are not wiped out.