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ANOTHER CLIMATE CHANGE INDICATOR: WHAT IS THE WAY FORWARD?

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On February 7th, a sudden massive flood completely devastated a Himalayan valley in the state of Uttarakhand, tearing through two hydroelectric dams, killing at least 56 people while more than 150 are still missing. As a result of the flood, there has been massive flooding in Chamoli district- the Rishiganga river, the Dhauliganga river, and in turn the Alaknanda. As rescue efforts are still underway, the loved ones of those who are missing and watching the disaster unfold on national and international news are looking for explanations. Millions worldwide watching the humanitarian cost of the disaster have questions: how did this happen and more importantly, could we have known this beforehand? Let us stifle through all the media coverage and speculation about the cause of the devastation and find out what are the scientific explanations behind the outburst, the previous indicators of such a disaster, and whether of not Indian authorities are equipped to provide assistance to those in need in such a scenario.

WHAT HAPPENED IN UTTARAKHAND?

As per the Uttarakhand police, a flood hit the region at around 11:00 am IST on February 7th. The torrential fast-moving water, ice and debris first destroyed the Rishiganga hydroelectric project, and then continued along the Dhauliganga river where it hit the larger Tapovan Vishnugad hydro power construction project. Hundreds of construction workers had been working on the projects, many of whom are still missing. In the deluge of the flooding, bridges, roads, homes and hundreds of cattle were also swept away. For many who were watching the incident unfold on television, this was a tragic reminiscence of the floods that rocked Uttarakhand in 2013, when several days of heavy rainfall destroyed villages, killing almost 1,000 people. Unofficial estimates suggest this figure could be as high as 5,000.

WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF THE FLOODING?

In the aftermath of the flooding, many reports and scientific studies suggested that the cause of the flooding was the outburst of a glacial lake. Glacial lakes are described as lakes that form behind national dams which are created by debris which accumulates in front of glaciers. As glacial fronts retreat, these are left behind. Due to rising temperatures which are melting glaciers around the world, thousands of such lakes are expanding rapidly. Glacial lakes can cause catastrophic floods if the natural dam breaks.

While many scientists believe that the flooding was a result of a GLOF or Glacial Lake Outburst Flood. This refers to the flooding caused downstream due to any form of breach in a glacial lake. While GLOFs are not unusual, their severity and impact would depend on various factors, including the size of the lake, burst and location. Similarly, the cause of the breach can also vary, and in this case, it could have been an avalanche in the region reported some days ago.

However, a few days after the event as more satellite imagery came to light, some scientists reported that the incident could have been caused by a breach in a temporary pool or lake formed by obstructions due to landslides or snow avalanches. This is referred to as a Landslide Lake Outburst Flood (LLOF). While many teams of scientists and experts have reached the area to study the actual cause, a definitive answer for the same isn’t clear yet.

Photograph by Press Information Bureau, India

IS CLIMATE CHANGE BEHIND THIS TRAGEDY?

While scientists are working to figure out the exact cause of the disaster, it can be said that this was not entirely a “natural” disaster. Uttarakhand in general and Chamoli specifically have always been a vulnerable and geologically unstable region. Increasing population and construction activities in the region have undoubtedly made it more vulnerable. Similar disasters have rocked the reigion in the past few decades. A massive earthquake which was attributed to the Tehri Dam killed 100 people in 1999. In 2004, a hydro-meteorological disaster caused a landslide, killing 16 people. Another similar incident in Chamoli killed 11. In addition to this, everyone also remembers the tragedy of the 2013 Uttarakhand floods which killed hundreds. So this begs the question: did we know something like this would happen again in Uttarakhand?

In June 2019, a study published in the journal Science Advances spanning 40 years of satellite observations across China, India, Nepal and Bhutan indicated that climate change is eating away at Himalayan glaciers. The study revealed that the glaciers have been losing more than 1.5 vertical feet every year since 2000. This is double the amount of melting that took place in 25 years before that (1975-2000). The study also indicated that the melting is consistent in time and space with rising temperatures recorded as a direct result of climate change and subsequent global warming. While the study shows that temperatures vary from place to place, they have averaged out to be one degree Celcius higher than those from 1975 to 2000. While Uttarakhand has seen such events in the past too, there is a definite possibility that this disaster also has a stamp of climate change, with regard to the origin of the flooding.

IS INDIA PREPARED FOR SUCH DISASTERS?

As per an inventory of glacial lakes by the National Remote Sensing Centre conducted 6 years ago, there was about 3 lakh such glacial lakes in the Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra basins. Formation of glacial lakes in the Himalayan region is bound to increase due to the melting of glaciers. The immediate step required would be to identify such water bodies and put structural measures in place. The construction of a safe outlet passage or infrastructure to pump out excess water from the lakes would also be required. While India conducts remote sensing activities to identify such lakes, no such structural measures have been taken.

Constantly monitoring such lakes and placing early warning systems are essential. Although different players such as the Geological Survey of India (GSI), Environment Ministry, India Meteorological Department, National Remote Sensing Agency carry stakes in the process, India still lacks in that regard. As glaciologist Anil V.Kulkarni states, the first step would be to keep track of indicators such as water level, measures of rainfall in the catchment areas. There has to be a community-driven mechanism where the people residing in downstream areas are warned immediately and damage avoidance and control measures are put in place.

Similarly, many believe that the construction of structures in the vicinity of disaster-prone areas tends to increase the possibility of landslides. Formation of fragile and weak habitations in downstream areas and building of structures such as dams without proper Environmental Impact Assessment are some of the factors that increase the impact of GLOF. India has lagged behind in enforcing strict regulations and standards towards constructing homes and other structures.

Due to the remoteness of the area, and lack of research and development funding, the Himalayan region continues to be one of the least monitored regions in the country. Many experts have called for an increased need for government funding to ensure better monitoring of this incredibly vulnerable region. This would be the only way to ensure that more is known about what goes on in the area, which would, in turn, help governmental agencies, enforcement authorities and people to develop better adaption practices.

Contributing Reports by Damini Mehta, Junior Research Associate at Polstrat

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Statistically Speaking

AAP’S CHIEF MINISTERIAL CANDIDATES FOR 2022

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The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a few years ago, declared its mission to expand beyond its footprints in the national capital. In January 2021, the party announced it will contest in all six state elections scheduled for 2022, which are Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, and Punjab. The AAP has been vigorously campaigning in these states. Bhagwant Mann was announced as its chief ministerial face for the Punjab Assembly elections and Goa-based lawyer turned politician Amit Palekar as its Chief Ministerial candidate for the state last week. Since its inception in 2012, the AAP has contested Assembly elections in at least 14 states outside of Delhi. It has, however, failed to win even one seat in 13 states. So far, the only state outside of Delhi where the party tasted victory was in Punjab in 2017, where it won 20 seats and is currently the main opposition party. While the AAP’s intense campaigning in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh is unlikely to have a huge impact on the electoral results of the states, the party is pitched to influence the results in Goa and Punjab. The party, which has been pedalling its “Delhi Model” of governance, including free provision of water and electricity (up to a fixed number of units) and improved health and education infrastructure, has made very similar promises in the four states along with a new strategy of defections from other parties.

Just as in Delhi and Goa, AAP has promised 300 units of free electricity and a bill waiver if it comes to power in Uttar Pradesh.
Source: Twitter AAP

BHAGWANT MANN IN PUNJAB

Party supremo Arvind Kejriwal and CM candidate for Punjab Bhagwant Mann are leading the campaign for AAP in state.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

On 18 January 2022, the AAP announced Bhagwant Mann as its chief ministerial face for the Punjab Assembly elections. While Mann was probably always the chosen candidate for the Chief Ministerial face of the party, the AAP delayed this announcement, launching a crowd-surfing campaign and urging Punjab voters to decide the party’s Chief Ministerial face. Mann, who is currently the Member of Parliament (MP) for the Sangrur constituency, has been one of AAP’s most consistent leaders in the state and has been the party’s state chief for almost five years. He will be contesting from the Dhuri Assembly constituency this election, which is in the Malwa region of the state. The Dhuri assembly segment falls under Mann’s Lok Sabha constituency, Sangrur, and had helped him garner the maximum number of votes in the 2019 general election.

In 2014 during the general election, Mann was not only able to deflate the Modi wave in Punjab, but also won the seat by a margin of over two lakh votes (19.24% vote share margin) and a vote share of 48.47 percent despite the presence of the Indian National Congress (INC) and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) candidates. He won the seat again in 2019 and was the only AAP candidate who retained a Lok Sabha seat during the general election. Considered one of Punjab’s most popular politicians, his rallies and public gatherings draw huge crowds – he has the ability to turn political speeches into gripping stage performances due to his background as a household comedian prior to his stint in politics.

Punjab is divided into three main regions, and the AAP’s decision to declare Mann as the chief ministerial candidate from Malwa, which has 69 seats in around 12 districts, is definitely a strategic one – the region, nestled between the Satluj and Ghaggar rivers, has had a monopoly over the state’s Chief Ministers for the last three decades.

In the 2017 Assembly elections, the AAP came in second in Punjab, securing a vote share of around 23.7 per cent as compared to the ruling Congress which secured 38.5 per cent of the votes in the state. As per figures by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), which mines electoral data, in 2017, the AAP got 30 per cent of the Jatt Sikh farmer votes against the Congress’ 28 per cent. The Jatt Sikhs, who are Punjab’s landowning community comprise about 20 per cent of its population and dominate its politics. However, the voter groups of Punjabi Hindus and Dalit Sikhs were inclined towards the INC in higher numbers. The party’s main challenge in 2022 lies in appeasing these two voter groups, especially with the Congress’ decision to make Charanjit Singh Channi the CM candidate to appease the considerable Dalit voter group.

As per current opinion polls, the Punjab elections are likely to be a three-pronged battle between the major parties in Punjab – INC, AAP, and SAD. As per the Zee News opinion polls, the AAP and Congress are likely to be in a neck-to-neck fight. The poll predicts that out of the total 117 seats in Punjab, AAP is expected to secure around 36 to 39 seats. As per the poll, despite a massive lead in vote share and number of seats, AAP may not get an absolute majority in Punjab. The Polstrat – NewsX opinion poll also predicts a similar seat share for AAP (52-55 seats), INC (42-45 seats) and SAD (17-20 seats). However, the poll conducted by Jan ki Baat-India News shows AAP emerging as the single largest party in the state, by winning 58-65 seats in the 117-member assembly. With a popular candidate as the CM face, a long exhaustive list of promises, attack campaigns against other parties, and its Delhi model of governance, the AAP is leaving no stone unturned in Punjab in an attempt to establish electoral dominance. While the party is likely to make a huge dent in the Assembly elections, it is yet to be seen whether its attempts will be successful in pushing it to emerge as the single largest party in the state.

AMIT PALEKAR IN GOA

Lawyer-turned-politician, Amit Palekar was announced as the Goa CM face by AAP and is now campaigning heavily in the state. Source: Wikimedia Commons

On 19 January 2022, the AAP announced Amit Palekar as its Chief Ministerial candidate from Goa, who will contest the elections from the St Cruz constituency. Palekar is a prominent lawyer in the state and has been practising for the last 22 years. However, he is a newcomer in politics. Palekar is also a social activist – he has been vocal about corruption in the state, participated in hunger strikes, and worked to support the state during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. He belongs to the Bhandari Samaj, a numerically strong community among Goa’s Other Backward Caste (OBC) community. In November 2021, the AAP announced that its CM face would be from the Bhandari community.

Out of 11 lakh voters in the state, around 3,50,000 voters belong to the Bhandari Samaj community, which is around 30 per cent of the total voter base. In addition to this, the second-largest voter group in the state are Christians who comprise around 26 per cent of the population. If both the Bhandaris and Christian voter groups support a party, it wins roughly 50 per cent of the votes in Goa. The AAP has taken its approach to target these two voter groups one step further by announcing that its Deputy Chief Minister candidate from the state will be Christian. The AAP’s Goa campaign is hinged on three primary factors: national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s image, inducting popular leaders from other parties, and promising various social-welfare schemes. The party is also engaged in door-to-door campaigning in the state and is conducting a “Parivartan Yatra’’ daily along with its announcement of a 13-point development agenda for the coastal state.

In the last Assembly elections in Goa in 2017, the AAP made an ambitious debut campaign and pitched 39 candidates. However, the party failed to secure a single seat and was able to secure only 6.3 per cent of the vote share. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) polled the maximum votes in the state, securing 32.48 per cent of the votes and 13 seats, while the Congress won 28.35 per cent votes and 17 seats. Despite not being able to emerge as the single largest party, the BJP was able to retain control of the state in 2017. According to the Times Now opinion poll, the BJP is likely to win 17-21 seats in Goa and will be able to secure a majority mark. The AAP on the other hand is slated to win around 8-11 seats in the 40-member assembly. Similarly, the ABP News-Team CVoter poll predicts around 19-23 seats for the BJP, 5-9 seats for the AAP, and 4-8 seats for the INC. The Polstrat – NewsX opinion poll also predicts a similar seat share with the BJP winning 21-25 seats, AAP winning 6-9 seats and INC winning 4-6 seats. As per various opinion polls, while the BJP is probably going to emerge as the single largest party in the state, it is not clear whether it will be able to pass the majority mark, and will likely have to rely on the support of other parties to establish its victory in the state.

Contributing reports by Damini Mehta, Junior Research Associate at Polstrat and Anurag Anand, Narayani Bhatnagar, Suvidhi Jain, Interns at Polstrat.

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UP DEFECTIONS: TROUBLE BREWING?

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Speaking at a press conference earlier this week, Bahujan Samaj Party supremo and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati called for the need to “strengthen anti-defection laws” in the country. “Considering how some greedy politicians change parties during elections, it is necessary to strengthen the anti-defection laws as such practices adversely impact democracy,” she said. Her statement comes at a time when Uttar Pradesh, which goes to poll in less than a month, has been rocked by a series of defections across political parties. Some prominent faces who have defected in the past few weeks include Other Backward Class (OBC) leader and Labour Minister Swami Prasad Maurya, Minister for Environment and Forests Dara Singh Chauhan, and numerous other sitting MLAs and members from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), BSP, and Apna Dal (Sonelal). Defections of party leaders before Assembly or General elections are common in the Indian political arena. Many leaders jump ship as they believe the party will not be able to win the election; others leave if they believe they do not stand a chance to win a ticket from that party. In the last four elections, less than 40 per cent of incumbent MLAs have been renominated by their parties. In fact, out of all re-contesting candidates, less than 30 per cent came back to power in 2017.

When Mayawati announced the breaking of the alliance with the SP, her colleagues disagreed and started leaving the party to join the SP.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

BSP DEFECTIONS A SIGN OF ERODING PARTY SUPPORT

However, it appears that Mayawati remains hopeful about the prospects of the party in the upcoming polls. Speaking at a press conference, she said that parties that are discounting the BSP out of the race will receive a surprise akin to that of 2007. Political analysts and experts suggest there are various reasons behind the large scale defections from the party including the BSP’s declining voter base, poor organisational structure, and the rise of the SP. As per analysts, in the last 15 years, the BSP has internally transformed from a cadre-based party to a patronage-based organisation, which increases the significance of local leaders while making party machinery on the ground level almost irrelevant. In such a case, the defection of a local leader would harm the BSP, as it would alienate the voters from the party as well as from Mayawati. Some also believe that successive loss of elections and an overall decline in support for the party has driven away even the party’s key voters and perhaps prompted leaders from the party to jump ship. Furthermore, the SP’s attempts to gain the support of BSP’s core Dalit voters can also be cited as a reason for the decline of the BSP. Not only has the SP welcomed BSP’s Dalit leaders into its fold, but also launched the “New SP” campaign, which seeks to highlight how the party will no longer ignore Dalits as it has been accused of doing in the past. This paints a troubling picture for the BSP, which has been experiencing a constant decline in its seat share and also seems to be losing the support of its core voter base.

BJP DEFECTIONS UNLIKELY TO IMPACT HEAVILY

Between 11 December 2021 and 13 January 2022, 19 BJP members joined the SP-led front. The exodus of members from the BJP started with Uttar Pradesh Cabinet Minister and senior OBC leader of the state, Swami Prasad Maurya, and was followed by the resignation of another state minister Dara Singh Chauhan, and MLA Awtar Singh Bhadana. Shortly after, UP minister Dharam Singh Saini, and three other BJP MLAs — Vinay Shakya, Mukesh Verma, and Bala Awasthi — also resigned from the party. While any defecting MLA provides their own set of reasons for defecting from the party, the resignation of MLAs after the announcement of the Moral Code of Conduct (MCC) is primarily due to MLAs who feel the party may lose or who know they won’t get a ticket to contest.

The spate of resignations faced by the BJP may not appear to be a huge loss when one takes into account the fact that on average, the BJP denies tickets to 25 to 35 per cent MLAs to negate anti-incumbency. Additionally, the party is also facing increasing pressure to nominate candidates from its own cadre rather than those who are turncoats from other parties. A wide section of MLAs who have left the BJP in the past few weeks are turncoat MLAs from the BSP and SP in the first place. However, the loss of key OBC and SC leaders is an alarming sign when one takes into consideration the fact that there has been brewing discontent in the party’s OBC vote bank. Students of backward castes and SCs have been protesting due to repeated tweaking of reservation policy, while Most Backward Class (MBC) leaders have long-held grievances that the Yadavs have been taking a lion’s share in Other Backward Class (OBC) reservation. Supporters of Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan, and Dharam Singh Saini are mostly small and marginal farmers who are involved in the sale of vegetables in local markets. These farmers have been struggling due to the stray cattle problem caused by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanth’s strict ban on cow slaughter.

CAN TURNCOATS REALLY IMPACT AN ELECTION?

The BJP expects that Jitin Prasada, who joined the party after leaving the Congress in 2021, will bring the Brahmin voter base to their side.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Priyanka Gandhi has been tasked with reviving the party in the state, which has been reduced to just 3 MLAs after a series of defections.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

India Today’s Data Intelligence Unit (DIU) analysed numbers of all assembly elections in UP since 1980. The data showcases that barring a few exceptions, first-time candidates occupy around 70 per cent or more seats in all assemblies in the last four decades. This was the highest in 2017 at 78 per cent. In the past few elections, the performance of turncoats in the Assembly has revealed some interesting trends. As per industry analysts, the success rate of turncoats who sided with the winning party is very high. For instance, in UP, the success rate of those who switched to the BSP ahead of the 2007 elections was 100 per cent. Similarly, the success rate of defectors who contested as SP candidates in 2012 was 68 per cent, and on BJP tickets in 2017 a whopping 84 per cent. However, defectors who switch to any party which doesn’t emerge as the ruling party have not performed well in the past. As the average of the last 10 assembly elections shows, less than 15 per cent of turncoats have re-entered the assembly. While defections from a party could at times signal a deeper erosion of support for the party, it is not, however, a tell-all sign as defections could be rooted in the personal motives of candidates to be able to recontest.

Contributing reports by Damini Mehta, Junior Research Associate at Polstrat and Ananya Sood, Anurag Anand, Devak Singh, Narayani Bhatnagar, Interns at Polstrat

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RISING UNEMPLOYMENT IN INDIA DURING PANDEMIC

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The rate of unemployment in India hit 7.9 per cent in December 2021. In fact, in the last three months of 2021, the rate of unemployment has been around 7 per cent or more. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the unemployment rate in the country has consistently been at odds with the various restrictions and lockdown measures imposed by state and central governments, as well as the overall economic outlook of the country. While the figures from 2021 are slightly better than those recorded in 2020, they are still very high compared to levels experienced in the recent past. The unemployment rate was 4.7 per cent in 2017-18 and 6.3 per cent in 2018-19. India’s growth recovery, which started to gather momentum by the end of 2021, has yet again taken a back seat in the light of the third wave. As state governments across the country start imposing measures such as night and weekend curfews and the closure of certain industries, the Indian economy, which has already been struggling for the last year and a half, seems unlikely to get a breather anytime soon.

The first lockdown that was imposed in the country in light of the rising COVID cases caused rampant unemployment among the labour population in cities, forcing them to migrate back to their villages during the peak of the pandemic.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
With the hospitality industry among the worst-affected industries during the pandemic, restaurants are relying on home deliveries and take-aways to keep their businesses afloat.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

WHICH INDUSTRIES SUFFERED THE MOST

The industry-wise breakup of employment – of the difference between employment in December 2021 and 2019-20 – conducted by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), shows that the manufacturing sector has lost 98 lakh jobs, while construction and agricultural jobs increased by 38 lakh and 74 lakh, respectively. Additionally, the service sector witnessed a net loss of 18 lakh jobs, hotels and tourism lost 50 lakh and education lost 40 lakh jobs and retail trade gained 78 lakh jobs. Since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, India’s micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which contribute 30 per cent of the nation’s GDP and half of the country’s exports and represent 95 per cent of its industrial units, have been struggling to survive. In December 2020, 9 per cent of MSMEs shut down or were scaled down. Similarly, in May 2021, 6,000 MSMEs and 59 per cent of startups shut down or scaled down, unable to cope with rising inflation and prices. This further increased the already rising rates of urban and rural employment.

In December 2021, with the emergence of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus, consumer spending took another hit, as economic activity reduced in light of government restrictions and an overall decrease in consumer confidence in the economy. With the renewed restrictions imposed by the government, unemployment in certain industries, including hospitality, tourism, MSMEs, IT, trade, and manufacturing is likely to be negatively affected. As governments impose restrictions on the movement of people during the third wave, the hospitality industry is set to face another tough year. According to rating agency ICRA Limited, the demand in the hotel industry will be curtailed in the fourth quarter of this fiscal year, at least in January 2022, due to the latest wave dampening sentiments. Hotels and resorts are likely to be amongst the worst hit within the hospitality industry during the third wave. This will also affect those directly and indirectly employed by the hospitality industry. Similarly, for businesses in the MSMEs sector, who have already exhausted their cash reserves while struggling to survive the impact of the first and second waves of the pandemic, the only way to survive the third wave is likely to be one with extreme cost-cutting, particularly of personnel. The effects of this will be especially visible in the blue-collar jobs and if it is likely to persist longer, it could seep into white-collared jobs and overall larger enterprises.

The trade industry is also likely to experience the impact of the highly contagious Omicron variant. As per the Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO), the restrictions this time around are likely to impact global demand and disrupt supply chains, which have not yet returned to normalcy. Indian exporters of leather goods, garments, and carpets have begun to witness a fall in orders from Europe, requests to push deliveries by a few weeks, and queries related to various restrictions being put in place to control the spread of the Omicron variant. Traders have also noted that the likely manpower crunch – especially in logistics – high freight costs, and restrictions across the globe could dent India’s exports in the first quarter of 2022.

As per some experts, the economy is going to witness an unusual K-shaped recovery curve, whereby certain industries and individuals pull out of a recession, while others stagnate. This would mean that while some sectors/sections of the economy are likely to register a very fast recovery, many will continue to struggle. The impact of such a curve on the health of an economy is profound as this means that recovery is split along class, racial, geographic, or industry lines. This is likely to contribute to an overall rise in inequality. Many big firms in the formal economy have increased their market share during the pandemic, and this has come at the cost of smaller, weaker firms that were mostly in the informal sector and which could not withstand repeated lockdowns. This paints a worrisome picture for the Indian economy where almost 90 per cent of all employment happens in the informal sector.

LESSONS FROM THE FIRST AND SECOND WAVES

After the first wave, Kharif sowing and higher MGNREGA activities helped in keeping the rural unemployment rate lower as compared to urban unemployment rates. Source: Wikimedia Commons
While India’s automobile industry expects a continuation of healthy demand along with easing of semiconductor supply issues in the upcoming year, it is still wary of the potential impact of the new COVID wave on the industry’s recovery. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Employment in India has not returned to the levels recorded prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and given the rising cases in light of the third wave, it is unlikely to anytime soon. During the first wave of the pandemic, the unemployment rate in India rose to 23.8 per cent in the week ending 29 March, 2020 – the first week when the lockdown was introduced – from 8.4 per cent in the preceding week. This data was collected from the Consumer Pyramids Household Survey (CPHS) of the CMIE and was the highest unemployment rate recorded since the start of the survey in 2016. Urban joblessness had hit a high of 20.8 per cent in April-June 2020 when the country was under a stringent lockdown following the pandemic. However, the country’s unemployment rate fell dramatically in June 2020 as restrictions were eased and people returned to work. After touching a high of 23.5 per cent in April and May 2020, the unemployment rate first dropped to 17.5 per cent in the first week of June 2020 and then took a steep fall to 11.6 per cent in the second week. Over 12.2 crore people in India lost their jobs in April 2020, according to estimates from the CMIE. Around 75 per cent were small traders and wage labourers. As restrictions continued to be reduced, unemployment in the country reduced further and was recorded at 9.10 per cent in December 2020.

According to the World Economic Forum, young women tend to be more likely to become unemployed as a result of COVID-19 disruption than young men. This calls for the government to take appropriate measures to protect the needs of women.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
While small traders including hawkers were severely affected by the pandemic, CMIE data expects them to get back to work post the lockdown as compared to salaried workers.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Following this, India’s second pandemic wave crashed the labour market in April 2021, erasing at least 73.5 lakh jobs. As per the CMIE, Over 1 crore Indians lost their jobs because of the second wave of the pandemic and around 97 per cent households’ incomes declined from the beginning of the pandemic. CMIE data also revealed that the number of employees, both salaried and non-salaried, fell from 39.81 crores in March 2021 to 39.08 crores in April 2021, in the third straight month of falling jobs. In comparison, in January 2021, the number of people employed in India was 40.07 crore. The employment rate fell from 37.56 per cent in March 2021 to 36.79 per cent in April 2021, hitting a four-month low. The number of people who were unemployed and not yet actively looking for jobs increased from 1.60 crores in March 2021 to 1.94 crores in April 2021. Under the pressure of reduced economic activity and multiple lockdowns, India’s urban unemployment rate soared to almost 18 per cent in May 2021, the highest in a year. After the peak of the second wave, similar to the first wave, things began to recover in July 2021. Since the beginning of July 2021, unemployment in urban India stayed below 9 per cent, and at the national level, it has remained under 8 per cent. This could perhaps be attributed to the fact that several industries and businesses in the second wave had learnt to deal with COVID-19 pandemic-induced lockdowns in a better manner and perhaps had accounted for the same or adjusted their businesses to deal with their impact. The unemployment rate in India in December 2021 was recorded at 7.9 per cent and the estimated unemployment rate on January 2, 2022, is 7.8 per cent, according to a 30-day moving average.

As per economic experts, various policy decisions can help mitigate the impact of this unemployment crisis in the country. This can be done in two main ways: direct employment in government and employment into large private enterprises. In 2020, both the Government and private enterprises reduced their investments in infrastructure projects which led to fewer jobs being created. While the Indian government faced a setback because of the revenue demand, private enterprises were unwilling to work because of the contraction in sales and lack of demand. Since 2020, MSMEs have been shedding jobs, not possessing enough capital to sustain them, sending more and more people into unemployment. Experts suggest that the government should focus on fixing demand-side factors, which have continued to be adversely affected by the pandemic. This, along with accelerated infrastructure investment, will provide support to the economy and help recovery post the third wave of the pandemic.

Contributing reports by Damini Mehta, Junior Research Associate at Polstrat and Ananya Sood, Anurag Anand, Devak Singh, Narayani Bhatnagar, Interns at Polstrat.

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HOW PREPARED IS INDIA FOR THE THIRD WAVE OF COVID-19?

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As of 3 January 2022, India has recorded 1,892 cases of the “very high risk” Omicron variant amongst a surge in COVID-19 cases in the country. The second wave of the pandemic ravaged the health system as daily caseloads topped at around 4,00,000 in April and May 2021. After the peak of the second wave, cases declined substantially, and as vaccinations picked up speed, the national tally of cases remained under the 10,000 daily mark for several weeks in November 2021. However, since mid-December, driven by a surge caused by the Omicron variant, cases have been on the rise. There is a renewed call for caution and action across the globe as countries have recorded a severe uptick in cases driven by the new variant. The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been called a variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO) based on the evidence that it has several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves. This suggests that Omicron may be able to evade some of the immune protection afforded by vaccines, many of which are based on the original spike protein and past infections. Scientists at the University of Hong Kong noted that the Omicron variant multiplies about 70 times faster inside human respiratory tract tissue than the Delta variant does.

India’s official COVID-19 death count by the end of June 2021 was 4,00,000; however, experts suggest the actual figures were significantly higher than official estimates. As daily cases across states continue to climb, the healthcare community and individuals alike are expressing growing concern about the possibility of a third wave in the country. According to scientific projections and medical experts, India will see a rise in COVID-19 cases, which may be termed as the third wave, but its impact will not be as severe as that of the first and the second waves. According to experts, the wave is also likely to be short-lived. The surge is predicted to take place at the beginning of 2022. States have already begun to introduce restrictions, including the closure of schools, colleges, and non-essential businesses, and the implementation of night curfews in several states.

IS THE INDIAN HEALTHCARE SYSTEM READY?

The third wave of the pandemic— driven by the new variant of concern omicron — is projected to peak on 3 February 2022, according to a study by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur. During the second wave of the pandemic in 2021, states around the country experienced an acute shortage of hospital beds, essential medications, ventilators, and oxygen tanks. Since then, both state and central governments have taken steps to strengthen the healthcare system of the country. This started with the vaccination drive in the country, which has been provided free of cost for the eligible population across the country. To improve the COVID-19 vaccination rate, the ‘Har Ghar Dastak’ campaign was also launched in November. States have been supported with the supply of oxygen cylinders and concentrators and the Centre has also helped in the installation of oxygen concentrator plants / PSA (Pressure Swing Adsorption) plants. During 2020-21, funds of around Rs 8,257.88 crore were released to states and Union Territories towards the India COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness Package. The central government has also approved Corbevax and Covovax COVID-19 vaccines and antiviral drug Molnupiravir for restricted use on adults in emergency situations, as cases continue to rise.

India’s medical oxygen capacity, has increased nearly 28 per cent after the 2nd wave of the virus and is being further ramped up keeping in mind the rising cases.
Source: Wikimedia Commons | Apurba Biswas

Overall, India’s medical oxygen capacity, essential for serious COVID-19 patients, has increased nearly 28% between October 2020 and November 2021. During the second wave, there was also a massive shortage of hospital beds across the country, as those with more serious symptoms of COVID-19 required ventilators and round the clock medical care. As part of the final plan of the package, six states will get 60% of 75,218 beds that will be set up to augment the three-tier healthcare systems up to the village level. The six states are Uttar Pradesh (11,770), Bihar (9,920), Andhra Pradesh (9,596), Odisha (8,206), Assam (7,320), and Jharkhand (5,798). Apart from this, states are individually working on their own preparedness and interventions, including the setting of additional hospital beds, ICU beds, supply of oxygen cylinders, concentrators, and cryogenic tankers in order to prepare for the third wave of the pandemic. However, experts still suggest that given the highly transmissible nature of the new variant, government decisions must be taken with caution as the increasing load of cases could strain even a ramped up healthcare system.

Post the aftermath of the 2nd wave, states across the country have been allotted separate hospital beds under Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness Package, to prepare in advance for a probable third wave.
Source: Wikimedia Commons | Government of Odisha

BOOSTER SHOT DRIVE

As the tally of the omicron variant increases, pace of testing for cases has also increased across the country. Source: Wikimedia Commons
In view of the rise in cases of Omicron variant of COVID-19, the government has started vaccination for children in the 15-18 age group from 3rd January 2022. This will also aid in education normalization in schools. Source: Wikimedia Commons | Press Information Bureau

On 25 December 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced vaccinations for children in the age group of 15-18 years, along with a “precautionary” third or booster dose for frontline workers and those above the age of 60 with co-morbidities. The “precautionary” dose vaccination drive will begin from 10 January 2022, and the gap between the last dose and the precautionary dose is 39 weeks (nine months) for both frontline workers and senior citizens. The announcement for the booster dose comes as a relief to those most vulnerable to COVID-19, although countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom have announced booster shots for the general public since November last year.

Although both doses of the COVID-19 vaccination are effective in preventing the severe impact of the disease, medical experts and studies suggest that the vaccination could become less effective over time, especially for those above the age group of 65. With the emergence of highly contagious variants such as the Omicron variant, many fully vaccinated individuals are at the risk of getting infected again. This is why boosters of the vaccine are recommended especially for the elderly and those with low antibody levels – to be able to increase the level of protection by increasing the antibodies by taking another shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. The WHO has maintained that the introduction of booster doses should be “firmly evidence-driven” and “targeted” at population groups at highest risk of serious disease, and frontline healthcare workers.

While booster shots may offer additional protection, it is important to keep in mind that roughly only 44% of all adults have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccination so far in India. Some healthcare experts have pointed out that given supply constraints, the focus of the government will be to vaccinate those eligible adults first, before moving on to providing booster shots to the rest of the adult population. Out of the roughly 146 crore doses administered, about 85.45 crore doses are first doses; and 61.29 crores are second doses. This implies that India will need 21 crore additional doses to fully vaccinate 90% of the eligible population. Add to this the burden of providing booster doses to senior citizens, frontline workers and those between 15-18 years of age, which would signal that it would be a while before a booster vaccine for those in other age groups is announced. While states such as Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Delhi, and West Bengal have been rallying for booster doses, states like Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar are lagging behind other states in providing even the first two doses of the vaccine to their population. Due to this, some healthcare experts have raised concerns about vaccine equity in the country and suggested focusing on states which have been lagging.

As a result of daily cases reaching six-month highs in various states, state governments have announced night curfews to prohibit non-essential travel and some have also announced the closure of schools, colleges, gyms, cinemas, and non-essential shops. In light of the new variant, government advisories and health experts have urged people to follow all COVID-19 prevention protocols such as washing hands regularly, wearing face masks, and maintaining social distance. As per health and medical experts, the key to beating the third wave will be such COVID-19 appropriate behaviour along with a calibrated approach to boosters and additional vaccine doses for the vulnerable population.

Contributing reports by Damini Mehta, Junior Research Associate at Polstrat and Ananya Sood, Madhav Chadha, Megha Pande, Interns at Polstrat.

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WOOING WOMEN VOTERS IN UTTAR PRADESH

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The participation of women as voters in Uttar Pradesh has increased from 44.2% in 1991 to about 63% in 2017, which shows the rise of political decision making for women as well as their importance as a vote bank in the politics of the state. Women are gearing up to play a much more important role in the Uttar Pradesh elections, and their influence has been on the rise since 1991. The first time women outvoted men in exercising their voting rights in the elections was in 2012 during the Assembly elections and this continued in 2017 and 2019. In 2014, women voter turnout was less than that of men by two percentage points, but saw an upward surge in comparison to 2009. Women are more politically mobilized and are emerging as a very decisive vote bloc – parties across the board are leaving no stones unturned to appeal to them.

In Uttar Pradesh, women voters are more inclined to vote in Assembly elections as compared to Lok Sabha elections, making parties’ attempts to woo them during state elections even more important. While the Indian National Congress (INC), led by the state in-charge Priyanka Gandhi, is announcing one promise after another aiming to appease all demographics of women, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is focusing on highlighting its achievements in the last five years in improving women’s safety and welfare. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), led by the only former female Chief Minister of the state, Mayawati, is banking on her image and support from female voters, while Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP) is attacking the lack of safety and welfare for women under the Yogi Adityanath regime. Let’s take a look at the historic patterns of support from women voters in the state and the promises that parties are making to woo them on the road to the 2022 elections.

INC AND THE PRIYANKA GANDHI EFFECT

In the months leading up to the 2022 Assembly elections, the general secretary of the All India Congress Committee in-charge of Uttar Pradesh has been leading the party charge to reach out to women voters in the state. As part of a special manifesto announced on 8 December in Lucknow called the Shakti Vidhan Mahila Ghoshna Patra, the Congress has promised to grant 40% reservation for women in government jobs, while setting aside 25% of jobs in the police for them, if it is voted to power in Uttar Pradesh. Gandhi has also promised that 40% of the tickets from her party will go to women and the allocation of 50% of PDS (public distribution system) shops to women. Priyanka Gandhi also launched a 100-day action plan on 17 November aiming to reach out to women voters. The initiative was launched in Ram Ghat at Chitrakoot and aims to mobilize seven crore women voters in the state through 8,000 women volunteers, 5,000 mobile women’s units and 100 town halls.

However, the party’s efforts to woo women voters do not end here. About four crore women voters in the state are in the age bracket of 18-35 years. In an attempt to woo female voters in this demographic, the party has promised free mobile phones to girls who pass the class 12 examination, and electric scooters to those women who complete graduation, apart from free wifi. In order to appease women voters from older age groups, the party is offering free LPG cylinders, free travel in state transport buses, increasing the wages of ASHA workers and the introduction of an old age widow pension scheme. As per analysts, the INC has focused on making gender issues their main talking point for the Assembly elections as the party lacks the support of any caste / community vote bank. In the past, the Congress has had an edge over women voters even when compared to the BJP. However, a pre-election survey by CSDS-Lokniti found that while the Congress has made gains among women, the BJP too has registered a rise in support from women. This indicates that it could be losing its gender advantage. While the party has made a long list of promises to appease women voters from various demographics, it made several similar promises in 2017. In its 2017 manifesto, the party promised to enact a special law for handling crimes against women (along with other marginalized groups) and the Kanya Sanshaktikaran Yojana amongst several other promises, however, this failed to make inroads with the women voters of UP.

BJP: FOCUS ON WOMEN’S SAFETY AND EMPOWERMENT

yanath. While the party doesn’t have a prominent female leader taking charge in the state, it has been calling in political heavyweights, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi to announce its welfare policies which have benefitted female voters in the state in the past 5 years. In a rally last week, the Prime Minister announced various government schemes for women, including the transfer of Rs 1,000 crore to women-led self-help groups, benefitting around 16 lakh women and laid the foundation stone of more than 200 supplementary nutrition manufacturing units. He also announced that over Rs. 20 crore was transferred to more than one lakh beneficiaries under the “Mukhya Mantri Kanya Sumangala Scheme”. Schemes like Ujjwala Yojana, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and PM Awas Yojana have benefited the BJP and added to the appeal of the BJP for women voters. Apart from lauding its past achievements, the party has also announced ‘Kamal Saheli Clubs’, Gram Sabha Chaupals and constituency-wise Mahila Sammelans (women summits) across the state. The proposal to raise the minimum age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 is also being presented as a step towards women’s empowerment by the party.

Trends from the National Election Study (NES) conducted by the CSDS shows that the BJP still remains a less preferred party for women across different social groups, although their support amongst females is rising. However, the party has undoubtedly benefited from the launch of women-centric welfare schemes, including its flagship Ujjwala scheme. During the 2017 Assembly and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP heavily banked on the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana that provided over 1.47 crore families with free LPG connections in UP alone. The scheme was launched by the PM himself from Ballia in UP in 2016. Since arranging for fuel to cook food is considered a women’s responsibility in various parts of the country, the provision of free LPG cylinders came as a huge relief for women voters and the BJP continues to be popular among beneficiaries of the scheme.

BJP is riding on it’s initiatives such as ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’, launched by PM Modi in 2015 to attract the women electorate in UP ahead of the crucial assembly election in 2022.
Source: Flikr

SP-RLD ALLIANCE

As a part of their campaign for the upcoming assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh as well as in their effort to woo women voters, the Samajwadi Party has promised better education and job opportunities to women.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has been actively campaigning in Uttar Pradesh, ahead of the 2022 assembly polls, with special focus on the welfare of women voters in the state.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Samajwadi Party’s (SP) best performance in an Assembly election was in 2012, when for the first time, the female electorate outvoted men and breached the 60 percent mark. In the past, the party has launched some key welfare schemes, including the 1090 women’s helpline as well as Kanya Vidya Dhan, along with widow and old age pension schemes to win over women voters. The Akhilesh Yadav-led SP government established the Rani Laxmibai Mahila Samman Kosh for providing monetary and medical assistance to destitute women and women survivors of heinous crimes like acid attacks and sexual assault. In the months leading up to the 2022 elections, Akhilesh Yadav has been routinely raising issues of what he calls the “aadhi aabadi”. Yadav has been criticising the Yogi government’s decision to discontinue the Kanyadhan Yojana, and incidents of sexual violence in Hathras and other regions. The party has also created its women’s wing and has allocated two women workers per booth to promise safety to women voters coming out to vote. The party is also in an alliance with Jayant Chaudhary’s Rashtriya Lok Dal which has also promised 50% reservation to women in state government jobs. In addition to this, he has promised to increase the number of women in the police force to 50%. RLD’s manifesto promises to double the pension for widows to Rs. 1500 per month, along with assuring the supply of free sanitary pads to adolescent girls studying in government-funded schools.

BSP AND THE MAYAWATI APPEAL

BSP supremo Mayawati plans to cash in on her image as behenji along with her rhetoric against lawlessness to woo women voters ahead of the 2022 elections.
Source: Wikimedia Commons | Press Information Bureau
BSP supremo Mayawati plans to cash in on her image as behenji along with her rhetoric against lawlessness to woo women voters ahead of the 2022 elections.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The BSP, led by party President Mayawati, who was the first female Dalit Chief Minister of India, has enjoyed significant support from women voters in the past. A 2017 survey showed that the BSP is marginally popular among women as compared to men. As the proportion of female voters went up, the NDA’s vote share dipped and in seats where the female voters were less than 80%, the share of BSP was just 18.7%, whereas in seats where women voted more than men, the BSP’s vote share was about 24%. During her tenure, the BSP government initiated the Saubhagyawati Surakshit Matretev Yojana (SSMY) for pregnant women living below the poverty line. With a special focus on girl students from BPL families, the BSP government launched the Savitribai Phule Balika Shiksha Madad Yojana (SBSMY), under which Rs. 25,000 and a bicycle were given to female students.

Leading up to the 2022 elections, the BSP has been organizing women’s rallies across towns in UP, with a special emphasis on urban women- ‘Prabudha Mahila Vichar Gosthi’. The party is also organizing “BSP Mahila Sammelan’ across the state on issues of women security and honour. In a series of tweets, the former Chief Minister attacked the BJP and INC’s attempts to appease women voters. “The approach of Congress, BJP towards women empowerment is almost the same & mostly publicity oriented… under the BSP govt a lot of efforts were made for social, economic & educational self-reliance of women, which rival parties are now trying to cash in on,” she said. During her tenure, Mayawati was seen as a hard administrator and tough on crime. This made her popular among women, who perceived her as fighting hooliganism, and the party is now banking on her image as behenji to increase its appeal among the women voters across the state.

Contributing reports by Damini Mehta, Junior Research Associate at Polstrat and Madhav Chadha, Intern at Polstrat.

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WILL 2022 BE THE YEAR OF NATIONAL EXPANSION FOR THE TMC?

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In 2021, the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC or TMC) swept the West Bengal Assembly elections, held during the peak of the second wave of COVID-19. The Mamata Banerjee-led party continued its domination in the state for the third consecutive election and bagged 213 out of the 294 seats in the Assembly. The party successfully overcame all attempts of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in getting a foothold on the country’s eastern coast. Shortly afterwards, the TMC also defeated the BJP in the by-polls held in October. After being elected as the Chief Minister of West Bengal for the third time, Banerjee has been travelling across states, meeting opposition party leaders ahead of the Assembly elections scheduled to be held in various important states in 2022 and 2023. Unlike her earlier such meetings, Banerjee’s efforts this time are not restricted to only visiting opposition leaders, as her party continues to expand its footprints across the country by inducting leaders from various parties – especially the Congress. In its path to national expansion, the Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress is now contesting elections in the states of Goa, Tripura, and Meghalaya for the first time. While the induction of senior and high profile leaders from various states into the TMC has been grabbing media headlines, the party’s lack of a clear ideology and strategy is likely to be a hindrance on its path to national expansion.

However, even if the party doesn’t manage to win a significant number of seats in these states, even gaining a foothold in these states will help its aspirations of becoming a national party on the road to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

TMC’s Northeast Expansion Plan

The TMC’s national ambitions are taking shape in the northeast, where the party is targeting the Bengali diaspora in three states— Tripura, Assam and Meghalaya. According to the 2011 Census, around 65% of Tripura’s population is Bengali, while the number is 28% and 9% for Assam and Meghalaya, respectively.

The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress’ national ambitions are seemingly being shaped in the northeast, where the party is targeting the Bengali diaspora in three states — Tripura, Assam and Meghalaya.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

As per industry experts, the TMC’s decision to start its national expansion plans with these three states is likely to play out well as all three states have a significant Bengali presence. The TMC seems to be trying to mobilise anti-Modi support in the three BJP-ruled states — West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee has held at least three meetings with Akhil Gogoi of Raijor Dal over the last month of November in Assam and has been engaging with Pradyot Manikya, chief of the Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA), in Tripura.

In Meghalaya, the TMC, which earlier had virtually no presence became the state’s largest opposition party in the 60-member House as former Congress chief minister Mukul Sangma and 11 other MLAs formally joined the TMC in November this year. Similarly, in Assam, Sushmita Dev crossed over from the Congress ranks into the TMC fold in August 2021.

The TMC gave her charge of the party in Assam and Tripura besides nominating her to Rajya Sabha. In the same month, over 500 Congress workers from Cachar district of Assam officially joined Trinamool Congress Party following Sushmita Dev’s footsteps. In October 2021, former West Bengal minister Rajib Banerjee and Tripura BJP MLA Ashis Das joined the Trinamool Congress in Tripura, where state polls are due to be held in 2023.

The party contested the Tripura Civic assembly polls in November 2021 – one of its first outside West Bengal.

In 2015, the party did not even have representation in the civic body and had only managed to get a vote share of 0.4%. However, in 2021, the party managed to secure 16.4% of the votes overall. Out of the 120 of 222 seats that the party contested, it emerged as the second-highest party with a vote share of 19.9%.

MAMATA BANERJEE’S GOAN AMBITIONS

The TMC has also identified Goa as one of the key states for expanding its footprints nationally. The party is banking on former Goa Chief Minister Luizinho Faleiro, who left the Congress and joined the party in September 2021, to make inroads into Goa. Along with Faleiro, nine other leaders — Lavoo Mamledar, Yatish Naik, Vijay Vasudev Poi, Mario Pinto De Santana, Anand Naik, Rabindranath Faleiro, Shivdas Sonu Naik, Rajendra Shivaji Kakodkar, and Antonio Monteiro Clovis Da Costa have also joined the party after leaving the Congress. The TMC has made substantial progress in Goa with the help of defections from major senior leaders from Congress, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Shiv Sena, and the BJP, who have joined the TMC. The TMC will be fighting the upcoming Goa Assembly elections, scheduled to be held in February 2022 alone on all 40 seats.

The TMC had won a resounding victory in the West Bengal elections held in May this year, defeating its main rival the BJP
Source: Creative Commons | CDC Global Health

Since its announcement of contesting the Goa polls, the party has inducted several eminent Goans from across sectors. These include boxer Lenny D’Gama, former Indian football defender Denzil Franco, and former international footballer Anthony Rabello. Actor and activist Nafisa Ali and tennis star Leander Paes also joined the Trinamool Congress in the state. Party defections to the TMC also included Goa Forward Party’s (GFP) working president Kiran Kandolkar, second only to party chief Vijai Sardesai. Along with Kandolkar came 40 others, including sarpanches of five villages from Assembly constituencies of Tivim and Aldona in North Goa. The TMC is completely eroding the Congress’ base in Goa and is building its cadre in the state mainly with a pool of former Congress workers. About 200 Congress workers and office-bearers had given their support to the Trinamool Congress. This included Priya Rathore, general secretary of the Congress’ women’s wing in Goa, as well as Dashrath Mandrekar, the Congress’ block president for Valpoi, an assembly constituency in North Goa. While the party has ruled out the possibility of an alliance with the AAP or Shiv Sena, it has announced it will be joining hands with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP). Even if the TMC doesn’t win a large number of seats in Goa, gaining recognition as a political party will help its aspirations of becoming a national party on the road to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

ROADBLOCKS TO TMC’S NATIONAL PLANS

Babul Supriyo joined the AITC in September 2021, a few months after he was dropped from the union cabinet leading a stream of defections from the other parties to the TMC
Source: Wikimedia Commons
To create a more national appeal, sources said the TMC plans to induct new faces in its various party committees, the most recent being the inclusion of Yashwant Sinha in its working committee. Sinha is a Rajya Sabha MP and was formerly a BJP leader and now is the TMC’s Vice President.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

While the TMC is going at full speed with its plans to expand its electoral presence outside of West Bengal, the lack of clear ideology, vaguely defined party interests and the linguistic barrier all stand in the way of its long path to emerge as a major opposition party in the country. Firstly, while Mamata Banerjee remains the undisputed leader of Bengal, she does not enjoy the same popularity outside the state, especially in the Hindi-speaking parts of the country. The BJP’s stronghold in the country is the Hindi heartland, including states such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand and the only opposition that it faces in this decisive region is from the Congress.

Additionally, the TMC’s “strategy” for expanding its foothold in other states including Goa, seems to be to induct partyless politicians or encourage senior party leaders from other parties to defect. The party believes that it will pose a challenge to the BJP through the induction of disgruntled Congressmen such as Sushmita Dev, president of Mahila Congress, former Goa chief minister and Congress leader Luizinho Falerio and former President Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijeet Mukherjee amongst many others. However, in the long run, this move will at best only fragment the opposition and aid the BJP. The party needs to focus on building an organisation at the micro-level in states where it plans to contest elections. While high-profile inductions help the party gain media attention, it is unlikely to have the electoral impact that TMC expects.

Another very important roadblock that stands in the way of TMC’s national expansion is the lack of a core ideology. Political analysts and industry insiders state that while Banerjee has performed well in her role as a “street fighter” and is well versed in oppositional interest-based politics, she doesn’t have an ideological compass. In sharp contrast to the BJP, the Trinamool Congress remains devoid of an ideological core. For all major issues, including Ram Mandir, Triple Talaq, the border dispute with China, or CAA/NRC, TMC’s stance has almost always been dictated by an immediate political goal or vote bank instead of a clear ideological position. As the party continues to try and make inroads in other states, this will be a major obstacle as outside of the Bengali diaspora, no community would be able to relate to the TMC due to its lack of ideology.

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