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The Hindu Notes for 1st October 2018

Adrift on stormy seas

Dravidian politics must re-invent every aspect of itself: its modes of operation, its emotional motifs, and its leadership

  • Tamil Nadu at different points in history has been considered the bane of Indian politics as much as it has been the enlightened torch-bearer of progressive reform. Today, the foundation of its political superstructure is facing tectonic shifts and an entirely new paradigm may be on the horizon.
  • In the heyday of the Dravidian movement, Tamil Nadu was one of those rare States that issued the clarion call of secession and autonomy for the Tamil people, ethnic-based demands that would, in today’s India, be instantly branded “anti-national”. Toward the turn of the century, one of its leaders brought down a coalition government at the Centre by suddenly pulling the plug on an alliance agreement. It has always been a State that has shown resistance to certain diktats from New Delhi, from the micro concerns about Hindi imposition in the State to macro disputes over inter-State river-water sharing arrangements.
  • Notwithstanding the frictions generated by Tamil Nadu’s posturing on all these contentious issues, it has simultaneously been the vanguard among its peers in the provision of mass welfare goods and services.
  • Leader among States

  • It was an early pioneer of the Noon Meal Scheme that led to better nutritional, educational and inter-caste harmony outcomes across the State. Subsequently, seeing its dramatic impact on development goals, the Supreme Court made it a mandatory policy in other States, and the World Bank and others stepped in to extend its reach. It leads most other States in Programme for International Student Assessment or PISA rankings that measure pedagogical effectiveness in school education. Almost every government in the State supplied mass welfare goods at a subsidised or zero cost, including essential household items such as rice, water, cooked meals, cooking stoves, personal clothing, television sets, bicycles, and even mass-wedding services.
  • Fast-forward to 2018, and every aspect of that political edifice is under strain, especially after certain earth-shaking events left its democratic machinery facing an uncertain future. How best to understand what outcomes these changes could bring to the Tamil Nadu polity? Consider two analytical threads that explain the underlying processes: power vacuums and governance.
  • First, the passing of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) supremo Jayalalithaa and Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam (DMK) president M. Karunanidhi has created a black hole in the balance of power within and across the Dravidian parties. Both leaders single-handedly ran their party operations, including cadre organisation, networking, fund-raising, election planning and campaigning. Between them, Jayalalithaa concentrated power in her own hands to a much greater extent than Karunanidhi did. While his genius was in organisational planning, negotiations and bargain-making, Jayalalithaa, contrarily, degraded four rungs of leadership beneath her.
  • Consequently, in the aftermath of her death, the AIADMK’s relatively weak leadership has allowed the party to slip into a semi-comatose, slow-implosion mode. The informal power of the V.K. Sasikala clan, currently manifested in the troubles posed by her nephew T.T.V. Dhinakaran’s challenge to the ruling combine, threatens to rip the fabric of the party apart. In parallel there are unspoken insecurities about how long the uneasy truce between Chief Minister E. K. Palaniswami and Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam will hold, especially since the latter split from the main party faction last year. Other party heavyweights may flirt with the idea of migrating to Mr. Dhinakaran’s party, the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam. New entrants like Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan may steal away slivers of the AIADMK’s vote share.
  • Simultaneously, M.K. Stalin, Karunanidhi’s son and inheritor of the DMK leadership mantle, remains an untested political quantity at a State-wide level, notwithstanding his experience as Chennai Mayor and posts in his father’s cabinet. His older brother M.K. Alagiri, a strongman from the southern districts, was ejected from the party by Karunanidhi in 2014 for “anti-party activities”, but has challenged Mr. Stalin’s otherwise unquestioned mandate within the party. Will Mr. Stalin hold his own in the upcoming Assembly by-elections and Lok Sabha elections? Will the man who appears far less comfortable before the public spotlight rally the troops and deliver an impressive victory like his father did so often?
  • Governance concerns

  • Regardless of how this flux in the balance of power within both parties plays out, there is an unanswered but vital question about whether the Dravidian “movement” as such is coming, or has come, to an end or is metamorphosing into an entirely new paradigm in response to the power vacuum. This brings us to the second issue, governance.
  • In fostering and becoming dependent upon a culture of what neoclassical economics would derisively label “freebies”, Tamils appeared to have entered a Faustian bargain with those they empower to lead them. The high values and political dexterity of the early leaders of the Dravidian movement in the 1950s and ’60s — including Periyar E.V. Ramasamy and C.N. Annadurai — metastasised into something quite ugly by the turn of the century: leaders who ruled their parties with an iron fist and built up personality cults around themselves and their closest circles, but who also inflicted an enormous cost on the State by engaging in grand larceny, an unhinged loot on the resources of Tamil Nadu through extortion, bribe-taking, thuggery and corporate malfeasance.
  • Opportunity for the BJP?

  • There are some who argue that the antidote to this crisis of runaway corruption could be the kind of “good governance” reforms that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has introduced at a national level, including a purported crackdown on bureaucratic inefficiency, the Goods and Services Tax, and macroeconomic shock-therapy policies such as demonetisation. Simultaneously, there has been speculation on whether, in its bid to saffronise the politics of every Indian State, the Bharatiya Janata Party is desperate to get a backdoor entry into Tamil Nadu through an informal partnership with the AIADMK.
  • Yet such expectations are built on heroic assumptions and reveal ignorance of Tamils’ historical voting preferences. It is true that Dravidianism no longer exists in its prior radical form, which implies that since the 1990s it has shed its anti-Brahmin, anti-Hindu, anti-Hindi, anti-Delhi rhetoric in favour of a broad, inclusive strand of political accommodationism for all Tamils.
  • Yet there is a residual feeling of Tamil exceptionalism among the voter demographic, which motivates their behaviour at the polls and continues to present an opportunity to politically mobilise.
  • Thus, notwithstanding the gradual creep of saffron politics in Tamil Nadu — notable here are rising incidents of communal clashes, generally a rarity in the State — the hegemonic influence of regional parties, which began in 1967, abides. The reasons for this are three-fold. First, half a century of mass welfare policies have left an indelible footprint on the electorate, which positions the Dravidian parties favourably as benevolent populists relative to a distant, alien, “north Indian” BJP or Congress.
  • Second, the genius of Annadurai, Karunanidhi, and AIADMK founder M.G. Ramachandran was to supplant the elites-driven fund-raising and campaigning networks of the Congress with grassroots, cadre-based networks of their own, a model that has now acquired deep roots and cannot be easily out-manoeuvred.
  • Third, it may be difficult for the likes of the BJP to breach the ramparts of Tamil politics because the people do not fret as much about high-level macro corruption as they do about the transactions cost of individualised micro corruption, which impacts their day-to-day existence. Mr. Modi’s utopian promise of delivering a hyper-efficient, digital-savvy vision of Indian institutions implies a reform that ostensibly targets the first kind of corruption. Since Tamils are well accustomed to rule by elite robber-barons, Mr. Modi’s vision may be no more to them than an abstract construct.
  • Nevertheless, in the broadest arc of history, it would be hard to deny that Dravidian politics has reached a tipping point at the current juncture. It must re-invent every aspect of itself — its modes of operation, its emotional motifs, and its crop of leadership — if it is to survive as the champion of Tamils in the coming decades.
  • Mapping Brazil’s far-right shift

    The drift into the orbit of the U.S. will weaken global multi-polarity

    Jair Bolsonaro, who will become the new President of Brazil early next year, will be the most extreme far right leader to govern a democratic nation. Brazil, the largest country in South America, has decided to go the way of the Philippines, the U.S., and Hungary.

  • Some have called Mr. Bolsonaro ‘Brazil’s Trump’, and there is truth in that statement. Like U.S. President Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Mr. Bolsonaro believes that violence is a solvent for social problems. After his election, the military conducted an impromptu parade through Brazil’s streets. Crowds chanted their appreciation of the armed forces, while the soldiers basked in this reverence. Mr. Bolsonaro, who has spoken nostalgically of the military dictatorship (1964-1985), has given the forces a front seat in Brazil’s political world.
  • Three pillars won Mr. Bolsonaro the Brazilian presidency — of ‘Beef, the Bible and the Bullet’. The first pillar, of ‘Beef’, includes various commercial sectors such as the agricultural, livestock, mining, energy and logging industries. These businesses have chaffed at environmental and labour regulations that prevent easy access to the 1.6-billion-acre Amazon rainforest and other protected areas. Mr. Bolsonaro has spoken of these regulations as restrictions on the sovereignty of Brazil placed by the United Nations. But his proposals will not give sovereignty back to Brazilians. They will placate commercial interests based in Canada, Switzerland, the U.S. and Australia.
  • A social shift

  • One of the great social shifts in Brazil has been the weakening of Liberation Theology, a form of Catholic socialism. “The Church opted for the poor,” goes a popular saying, “and the poor opted for the Evangelicals.” U.S.-inspired evangelical Christianity — such as Pentecostalism — has made inroads into Brazilian society, notably among the poor. The growth of evangelicalism made an impact even in Catholicism through the emergence of the Charismatic Renewal movement. One of Brazil’s largest churches, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, has about 10 million members across the world. Its leader, Edir Macedo, owns the second largest television network in Brazil, RecordTV.
  • The reach of these movements is considerable, with most of them promoting very harsh social policies, such as against abortion and gender equality. The evangelical and conservative Catholic groups put their heft behind Mr. Bolsonaro.
  • The third pillar refers not only to the military and the police — both of which saw Mr. Bolsonaro as their champion — but also to sections of the middle class who have been angered by rising crime rates (175 people killed per day in 2017). Mr. Bolsonaro was able to win over middle-class sentiment by his acidic rhetoric calling for more police violence against the poor. The language, laced with racism, was harsh against the poor who are actually the main victims of crime. The prejudices of the middle class defined Mr. Bolsonaro’s campaign, which will define his presidency.
  • Brazil’s stock exchange, based in São Paulo, is called the B3. Its benchmark index is Bovespa, which contains some 60 stocks. Right after Mr. Bolsonaro’s victory, the Bovespa soared. It was as if those with money knew that their candidate had won. Champagne flowed in the boardrooms of mining and energy firms as well as in the offices of the National Agriculture Confederation. Analysts began to use words such as ‘pragmatic’ and ‘reasonable’ to define Mr. Bolsonaro, meaning that he will favour the business community over the millions of Brazilians who are slowly slipping back into extreme poverty.
  • Anna Prusa, a former U.S. State Department official, described the attitude plainly: “It could be a good time to be a mining investor in Brazil. Mr. Bolsonaro has said pretty publicly he would like fewer restrictions... he is a recent convert to market liberalism.” As long as Mr. Bolsonaro is good for business, his toxic policies are forgiven.
  • Right after his election, Steve Bannon — who had helped Mr. Trump win the U.S. Presidency — said that Mr. Bolsonaro had run the most effective social media campaign. What this means is that his team had used illegally funded WhatsApp groups very cleverly to spread fake news stories (such as that his opponents in the Workers’ Party were indoctrinating children on sex).
  • Drifting towards the U.S.

  • Mr. Trump, who was jubilant at the electoral result, spoke on the phone with Mr. Bolsonaro, making it clear again that he was eager for a close link with the U.S. BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) is now fundamentally in jeopardy, as Mr. Bolsonaro will likely pull Brazil out of it, or at least minimise its role in the BRICS process. Brazil will return to its position of subordinate ally to the U.S. This is what Brazilian business interests want and the U.S. seeks. Brazil’s drift into the orbit of the U.S. spells doom for the independent regional process in Latin America and is a serious blow against global multi-polarity.
  • Support for lives on the move

    A national policy for internal migration is needed to improve earnings and enable an exit from poverty

  • Though migration is expected to enhance consumption and lift families out of absolute poverty at the origin, it is not free from distress — distress due to unemployment or underemployment in agriculture, natural calamities, and input/output market imperfections. Internal migration can be driven by push and/or pull factors. In India, over the recent decades, agrarian distress (a push factor) and an increase in better-paying jobs in urban areas (a pull factor) have been drivers of internal migration. Data show that employment-seeking is the principal reason for migration in regions without conflict.
  • The costs of migration

  • However, at the destination, a migrant’s lack of skills presents a major hindrance in entering the labour market. Further, the modern formal urban sector has often not been able to absorb the large number of rural workers entering the urban labour market. This has led to the growth of the ‘urban informal’ economy, which is marked by high poverty and vulnerabilities. The ‘urban informal’ economy is wrongly understood in countries such as India as a transient phenomenon. It has, in fact, expanded over the years and accounts for the bulk of urban employment.
  • Most jobs in the urban informal sector pay poorly and involve self-employed workers who turn to petty production because of their inability to find wage labour. Then there are various forms of discrimination which do not allow migrants to graduate to better-paying jobs. Migrant workers earn only two-thirds of what is earned by non-migrant workers, according to 2014 data. Further, they have to incur a large cost of migration which includes the ‘search cost’ and the hazard of being cheated. Often these costs escalate as they are outside the state-provided health care and education system; this forces them to borrow from employers in order to meet these expenses. And frequent borrowing forces them to sell assets towards repayment of their loans. Employment opportunities, the levels of income earned, and the working conditions in destination areas are determined by the migrant’s household’s social location in his or her village. The division of the labour market by occupation, geography or industry (labour market segmentation), even within the urban informal labour market, confines migrants to the lower end. Often, such segmentation reinforces differences in social identity, and new forms of discrimination emerge in these sites.
  • The benefits of migration

  • Despite these issues, internal migration has resulted in the increased well being of households, especially for people with higher skills, social connections and assets. Migrants belonging to lower castes and tribes have also brought in enough income to improve the economic condition of their households in rural areas and lift them out of poverty. Data show that a circular migrant’s earnings account for a higher proportion of household income among the lower castes and tribes. This has helped to improve the creditworthiness of the family members left behind — they can now obtain loans more easily. Thus, there exists a need to scale-up interventions aimed at enhancing these benefits from circular or temporary migration. Interventions targeting short-term migrants also need to recognise the fact that short-term migration to urban areas and its role in improving rural livelihoods is an ongoing part of a long-term economic strategy of the households. Local interventions by NGOs and private entrepreneurs also need to consider cultural dimensions reinforced by caste hierarchies and social consequences while targeting migrants.
  • Why a national policy?

  • The need for a national policy towards internal migration is underscored by the fact that less than 20% of urban migrants had prearranged jobs and nearly two-thirds managed to find jobs within a week of their entry into the city, as a study in the early ’90s showed and that we verified through field work in Tamil Nadu in 2015. The probability of moving to an urban area with a prearranged job increases with an increase in education levels. Access to information on employment availability before migrating along with social networks tend to reduce the period of unemployment significantly. Social networks in the source region not only provide migrants with information on employment opportunities, but are also critical as social capital in that they provide a degree of trust. While migrants interact with each other based on ethnic ties, such ties dissipate when they interact with urban elites to secure employment.
  • In India, the bulk of policy interventions, which the migrants could also benefit from, are directed towards enhancing human development; some are aimed at providing financial services. As government interventions are directed towards poverty reduction, there is a dearth of direct interventions targeted and focussed on regions. Policies on this could be twofold. The first kind could aim at reducing distress-induced migration and the second in addressing conditions of work, terms of employment and access to basic necessities.
  • Narrowly defined migrant-focussed interventions will not enhance the capabilities of migrants that could lead to increased earnings and an eventual exit from poverty. There is also a need to distinguish between policy interventions aimed at ‘migrants for survival’ and ‘migrants for employment’. Continued dynamic interventions over long periods of time would yield better results compared to single-point static interventions, especially in the context of seasonal migrants. Local bodies and NGOs which bring about structural changes in local regions need to be provided more space.
  • There is a lack of focussed intervention aimed at migrants. Interventions aimed at enhanced skill development would enable easier entry into the labour market. We also need independent interventions aimed specifically at addressing the needs of individual and household migrants because household migration necessitates access to infrastructure such as housing, sanitation and health care more than individual migration does. Various interventions must complement each other. For instance, government interventions related to employment can be supported by market-led interventions such as microfinance initiatives, which help in tackling seasonality of incomes. Policy interventions have to consider the push factors, which vary across regions, and understand the heterogeneity of migrants. As remittances from migrants are increasingly becoming the lifeline of rural households, improved financial infrastructure to enable the smooth flow of remittances and their effective use require more attention from India’s growing financial sector.
  • Strategies for autonomy

    With Trump, will India be able to maintain its choices?

  • The scope of Open Embrace, writes Varghese K. George, Associate Editor of The Hindu, in the introduction, is to explore how U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, both driven by notions of nationalism, are reshaping the U.S. and India, respectively, and the impact of that process on their external ties. An extract:
  • While Indian foreign policy has evolved over the decades, what has not changed is the concept of strategic autonomy, which is that India would not join any military alliance, would always keep its choices open and would choose what is good for it depending on the situation at a particular moment. Some commentators have derided strategic autonomy as a rigid ideological position that has prevented India from achieving more in the international arena. Some have said that India should have become an ally of the U.S. several decades ago, and by not doing so, it had limited its potential.
  • Ties that bind

  • Strategic autonomy has recently been at the forefront of discussions largely due to India’s ever-tightening embrace with the U.S. As the two countries inch closer to one another, will India be able to maintain its autonomy of choice and independence? Will it become a satellite of the U.S., dragged by it into alliances and wars of its choosing?
  • Undoubtedly, the U.S. is crucial to India’s progress as a key source of technology and capital and as the foremost destination for its students and jobseekers in various sectors. Many advocates of continuing expansion of India-U.S. ties say that strategic autonomy is useless and counterproductive. Why not join the U.S. wholeheartedly and derive full benefits of being an ally of the most powerful military force and home to the best technology in the world?
  • The U.S. shares its most advanced technologies and intelligence only with its closest allies. The NATO allies and Israel are topmost in this pecking order. For instance, only they have been given F-35 fighter planes, the most advanced of America’s fighter planes yet. The Guardian-series Unmanned Aerial Vehicles have been sold only to NATO allies till date, and now India has been offered them as a special gesture. India’s requests for advanced technologies routinely get entangled in the foundational question — has any other country that is not a military ally been given this particular technology? Whenever the answer is ‘no’, its request could be denied. For instance, a new plane for the travel of India’s Prime Minister, being negotiated between India and American manufacturer Boeing, will come without a lot of advanced communication equipment unless both countries manage to conclude a treaty that governs its use. Hence one can argue that there are benefits of signing up as a military ally of the U.S.
  • The counter to this argument is that given the drastic changes in U.S. position across several crucial issues, India might have done well by never aligning with it as an ally. The U.S. had been pushing India to open its markets more to global trade, but has now suddenly turned against the same, under Mr. Trump. The U.S. under Barack Obama put tremendous pressure on India to ratify the Paris Agreement. But his successor has announced a withdrawal from the pact and ordered an end to all measures for its implementation.
  • Several U-turns

  • Even before Mr. Trump, if one considers the last two decades of accelerated engagement between the two countries, the U.S. has made abrupt U-turns on many foreign policy issues, much to India’s discomfort. It has alternated between trying to befriend and confront China — something that continues under Mr. Trump; it has sought to ignore Pakistan, punish it and then woo it with money and weapons; it has tried to contain Iran and then open up to it and, now, contain it again; and it has given conflicting signals on Afghanistan. President Obama wanted India to take a tougher stand against the military junta in Myanmar, and then went ahead for a rapprochement with them himself. Strategic autonomy has allowed India to have its own policies towards these countries to a great extent, in the midst of the flux that the U.S. often contributes to.
  • Mr. Modi and his key adviser in the initial years, S. Jaishankar, did not use the phrase strategic autonomy in the beginning. But in his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2018, Mr. Modi said: “It is a measure of our strategic autonomy that India’s Strategic Partnership, with Russia, has matured to be special and privileged.” The speech itself was an elucidation of the age-old policy of India’s strategic autonomy.