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More about how democracy should be elected -Interview with Tannisha Avarrsekar

Tannisha Avarrsekar. Image source: startocure.com

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Tannisha Avarrsekar, a political activist who wants to increase equality in the representation of political candidates in India. In this interview, Tannisha discusses more about her journey, political beliefs and her platform Lokatantra.

Why did you start Lokatantra?

I started it because I wanted to make politics more accessible for the youth.

I moved to London for my undergrad when I was 18, so 2019 was the first election that I was able to vote in. But after I came back, I found that gathering information about the registration process, as well as probable candidates took more time and effort than it should.

I began realizing that for citizens like me, who wanted to be more politically aware or socially conscious, there was the dearth of a platform where they could educate themselves and engage with those they were considering electing. And that’s how Lokatantra came along.

Tell us more about Lokatantra.

Lokatantra.in is an online political platform that aims to make the youth more politically aware and socially conscious. It attempts to bridge the gap between voters and politicians by empowering voters with comprehensive information about their candidates and the voting process, after verifying its authenticity and organizing it in a manner that makes it quick and easy to understand. It also does telephone voter registrations for those having trouble with it.

On the flip side, the social enterprise also collects data on citizens’ opinions on key issues through polls and surveys, and then analyses and publishes the results, to aid in the decision-making of leaders. In this way, the platform sheds light on the accomplishments of politicians- especially independents who can’t afford expensive campaigns, as well as the troubles of the common man.

The Lokatantra.in website and mobile application prides itself on its treasury of information about each and every candidate from the Mumbai City district. This extensive material includes details about these candidates’ educational qualifications, past political affiliations, career highlights, controversies, criminal records, and standpoints on critical debates. The platform also allows users to ask candidates questions, as well as rate them so as to help other voters from their constituency make their choice.

What do you think can make journalism more neutral?

More crowdfunded platforms. Limits on investments by big corporations, and complete transparency in the finances of media houses. Also, stricter penalties on misinformation.

Why is equal representation in politics important?

Equal representation in politics is important because it encourages newer political faces and fresh ideas into our country’s governance, which has been largely polarized and dominated by big political parties, with old loyalists and deep pockets. It allows us to choose our leaders based on more than just their party symbol and spending power, and instead take into account their character, ideology and objectives.

How is Lokatantra a unique platform? What do you do differently?

Before an election, Lokatantra interviews all the candidates standing, with a uniform questionnaire to gather their opinions on issues that play a key role in deciding who to vote for and are yet often not a part of mainstream discourse. The answers from these interviews are then fed into an algorithm, which allows voters to answer the very same questions, and then ranks the candidates in their constituency based on how much their political opinions match. What makes this quiz truly extraordinary is the fact that it takes into account the nuances of one’s answers, by letting you weigh how much each issue affects your vote.

We also spend a lot of time answering personal questions and engaging in individual conversations about politics, with members of our community that message us.

Tell us more about your personal political affiliations.

As the face of a politically neutral platform, I’m not permitted to have political affiliations. But I would describe my personal ideology as socially liberal and fiscally conservative.

What do you think are the biggest electoral problems India is facing at the moment and what do you think are the solutions?

I think it is the shocking mass disappearances of voter names from electoral lists, which has caused erosion of public faith in the democratic process.

A colleague of mine- Siddhant Kesnur and I, recently wrote a policy memo about the solutions to this, and if I had to pick one that I think would be most effective it would be stopping the misuse of the ECI’s Form 7, which is an application for voter deletion that ridiculously enough can be sent on behalf of any citizen by any citizen. Simply communicating the receipt of this form to those on whose behalf it has come in, would significantly curb its abuse.

What do you think will pose the greatest challenge to India’s growth in the future?

The move from patriotism to nationalism. In May 2018, Kaushik Basu the economist had cautioned Bangladesh saying that “vibrant economies have been derailed by zealotry many times throughout history”. He had given three examples to support his point: (1) the golden era of economic growth in Arab cities like Damascus and Baghdad which passed when religious fundamentalism began to spread about a thousand years ago (2) Portugal’s position as a global power in the 15th-16th century, which ended when Christian fanaticism became it’s driving political force, and (3) Pakistan’s economy, which after performing fairly decently started slipping from 2005 onwards because of military rule and Islamic fundamentalism.

It makes me sorry to say that the extremist rhetoric we witness in India these days is an alarming harbinger of this kind of zealotry, which has the potential of not just derailing us economically but also causing lasting damage to the social and cultural fabric of our nation.

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South Asia

Pakistan: Politics entered into a new phase

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Although Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan got the vote of confidence from Parliament and seems his grip over politics. No doubt that the masses in Pakistan still believe that he is an honest, sincere, and visionary leader. But many questions are rising in their minds. Like: why he opted for seeking a vote of confidence from the Parliament: was he obliged? Any legal requirement? Was he wanted to prove his popularity? Etc.

Irrespective of Senate elections, he was not legally bound to seek a vote of confidence from the Parliament. In Pakistan’s history, one of the prime ministers got a vote of confidence from the Parliament but could not survive longer and have to leave his prime minister-ship soon.

Will PM Imran Khan complete his remaining tenure till 2023 comfortably? Should he stay relax once getting a vote of confidence and proving his popularity? Should he conceive all is fine and his Prime Ministership is out of danger? Will the opposition stay calm and quiet till 2023 for the next general election in the country? And so on, many questions need to be answered.

True, it is absolutely true that PM Imran Kahn, for 178 votes in the National Assembly and secured his confidence in the Parliament. It was only the vote of filthy wealthy parliamentarians; they might not be reflecting the views of the masses. They got elected in the general elections held in 2018 but have lost contact with the masses in their own constituencies. PM Imran Khan also has in isolation from his voters. A specific class has encircled him and keep a distance between him and the masses. They do not know how tough is life for the majority of masses in their constituencies. The cost of life, inflations, and price-hike have made their lives miserable.

Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed, who is a well-known public leader and representative, has expressed his views just after the vote of confidence in the Parliament that the Prime Minister should take notice of Government Servants Salary structure, which has not been revised for a long time. In contrast, the inflation and price-hike have made their lives miserable.  I fact majority of the masses are facing hardship due to price-hike and are not satisfied with the Governance of PM Imran Khan. They might reflect their anger in the next general elections.

PM Imran Khan has struggled 22 years to become 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan. He made several promises to the public to seek their support during the election campaign. People of Pakistan shown trust in him and voted for him. But after becoming Prime Minister, he has not met the expectations of the masses or his voters. He has not fulfilled some of his promises. Especially his promises affecting the common person and masses are not fulfilled, which might harm his political career.

The country is still facing an economic crisis, joblessness, poverty, corruption, lack of merit, denial of justice and lack of health care and education, etc. The masses are still suffering and living a miserable life.

PM Imran Khan cares a lot for the imported elite and which was reflected in the senate elections. He has chosen 15 out of 27 cabinet members from outside the hardcore PTI members. His choice of imported, dual national, foreign nationals, and electives from other parties will not stand with him once he is in deep crisis and may travel abroad, leaving him alone. Some of his cabinet members, who have not to stake in Pakistan, or on the pay role of foreign countries, may not rescue him in severe crises. At the cost of few cabinet members, he should not offend his loyal workers and PTI members.

This is when he should think twice about what caused him to seek the vote of confidence. How should he serve Pakistan in the capacity of Prime minister, where he can meet the masses’. It is masses whose votes make a difference. The elite is not more than 10% in the country, and their vote bank can not make him Prime Minister again.

On the other hand, the opposition is intended to give him a hard time and may not spare him to relax or enjoy the prime ministership longer. The masses, due to dissatisfaction, may be exploited by the opposition.

As a matter of fact, Pakistan’s politics has entered into a new phase, and it is suggested that PM Imran Khan availing this opportunity, should re-evaluate the situation and revise some of his policies and take merit-based righ decisions. It is never too late!

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South Asia

COVID-19 pandemic and positives/negatives of the Pakistani government’s policy towards it

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The covid-19 erupt from Wuhan in December 2019. The first case in Pakistan was observed on February 26th, 2020.It is considered a global pandemic because of its contagious nature. It has engulfed many lives and economies. Whereas Pakistan, despite its socioeconomic and political problems, has tackled covid-19 efficiently so far. Objectives of these policies were to contain and mitigate the spread of covid-19. Pakistan made effective policies to hamper the unfurling nature of covid-19. It was praised by the director-general of WHO and he mentioned it as a lesson for the rest of the world. The upshots of the policies on its citizens were both positive and negative, but they helped a lot in sailing through covid-19.

Covid-19 has accentuated the inadequacy of the health sector. However, to combat covid-19, RFCC assists hospitals to evolve their capacities to provide treatments. Many hotels and motels were converted into quarantine centers. Number of ventilators, gears, beds, and testing capability has been increased. Pakistan got a loan of $760M to improve its medical handling. These policies seem effective as they are the major line to combat covid-19. Number of staff has also increased. These policies play a crucial role in containing Corona virus but due to lack of awareness, many people didn’t get tested. Overall, it played a positive role.

“Out of 220M population, 25% are living below the poverty line and 30% live in grave poverty,” said the PM Imran khan. Therefore, containing the poverty and retaining the economy is an arduous task. For this purpose, the Ehsas program was launched with a stipend money of Rs.12000 for the vulnerable. Employees wouldbe paid a salary during complete lock-down. The government displayed leniency in paying taxes to accelerate the investment. The banks remained open during the nationwide lock-down. However, an in-depth analysis reveals that Ehsas program didn’t prove effective due to the absence of a proper tracking system. The poor and needy people in rural areas were not affable with the technology, therefore they were unable to enroll in this program.

Moreover, the government’s policy of smart lockdown cannot be ignored. It started in April, targeting the disease hotspots. The purpose of this policy was to provide a breathing space to the most vulnerable section of the society. Because nationwide lock-down was threatening food security. Smart lock-down technology played a crucial role and made Pakistan distinctive around the world.

To dampen the adverse effects of covid-19 on society, section 144 was implemented to avoid public gathering. According to the health ministry “home quarantine, zoning of hospitals, and social distancing should be in the nitty-gritty of the policy.” They imposed a ban on air traffic and started screening at the airports for international travellers these measures proved beneficial to some extent. But unfortunately the government couldn’t ensure the SOPs.

In a nutshell, the aforementioned account enables a worthy conclusion that Pakistan has managed to contain the devastating effect of covid-19, however, the danger is not over yet. The second wave of covid-19 has started globally which can overturn the successful results other way round. Therefore, some stringent action should be taken to make the policy of containment of covid-19 more effective that is only possible if there is a consensus between the federal and provincial governments. The only way to limit the dangers of the virus is to come up with the unified and all inclusive national plans.

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South Asia

Who pulls the strings of the government of India?

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While talking to a Cornell college professor, Rahul Gandhi lamented (March 2, 2021) that the RSS was making use of its educational institutions to propagate its tunnel vision (NewsMatters, March 6, 2021). `Wherefrom money comes to run hundreds of thousands of schools’, he asked.

The RSS, founded in 1925, is not only distorting history, and polluting syllabi but also compelling the BJP government to appoint its nominees to key posts whether academic or political.

The RSS’s rationale is that it is their government. As such, they have every right  to make appointments to all political and non-political posts and revise syllabus according to their own version of history.

A bird’s-eye view of appointments

Besides president Kovind Nath, a dalit, and Hindu-monk Yogi Adityanath, several parcharaks (apostles) were nominated for appointment as chief ministers, governors and cabinet ministers. The nominees included ML Khattar, chief minister of Haryana, Trivendra Singh Rawat, chief minister of Uttarakhand, Devandar Fadnavis (Maharashtra), and Ram Thakur (Himachal Pradesh).

The veterans appointed as governors included Balramji Das Tandan (Chhattisgarh), Ram Naik (UP), Om Prakash Kohli (Gujarat), Keshri Nath Tripathi (West Bengal), Kalyan Singh (Rajasthan), Vidya Saga Rao (Maharashtra), Vaju Bhai Bhala (Karnataka), Padmanabha  Acharya (Nagaland), Jagdish Mukti (Assam) and Tathaghat Roy (Tripura) (Source: Aryana P. Chatterji, Thomas Blom Hansen, and Christophe Jaffrelot (eds), Majoritarian State).

Dr, Lokesh Chandra was made president of Indian Council for Cultural Relations. Ram Bahadur Roy, former ABVP organizing secretary who was jailed during Indira-Gandhi- imposed emergency was appointed to the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts. Baldev Sharma, former editor of the RSS’s Hindi mouth-piece Panchjanya, was appointed chairman of the national Book Trust. Shakti Sanha, private secretary to prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was rewarded with appointment of Director of Nehru Memorial and Library. The memorial was the hub of Nehru-Gandhi legacy. A small-time actor Gajendra Chauhan was appointed Chairman of the Films and Television Institute of India. Hindu Nationalist Anupam Kher was appointed head of India’s Board of Film Certification.

Realising that educational institutions are key agents for ideological dissemination, the RSS thrust its nominees as vice chancellors and directors in universities and cultural institutions of higher learning.

RSS’s version of history

A distorted version is taught in RSS-run Vidya Bharti schools. Hindu caste system is well delineated in Rig Veda, Manusmriti and Bhagavad Gita. But, the RSS preaches that the Muslim Turks initiated the untouchability. Turks introduced commodes in India. “Hindus who refused to convert to Islam were forced to clean them. And, thus they became untouchable.”

Conscription power

While addressing a large gathering at Muzaffarpur, Bhagwat said, `RSS volunteers were so disciplined that they could be mobilized in a matter of days should the constitution and laws of the country so demand’. Many senior retired armed forces officers including former army chief General VK Singh have joined the RSS.

Inference

Bhagwat’s bonhomie with politicians, media, judiciary, industry, religious leaders and civil society reflects that the RSS would continue to keep the Modi government under its Octopus claw. Also it is keen to extend its influence in political, societal and non- governmental spheres. To deepen its roots, the RSS has initiated  programmes like Family Awakening (parivar prabodhan),Village Development (grama vikas), and Social Harmony (samara satta). 

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