North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Communist-governed Indian State swept from power

Vaguely, we all know that India is mysteriously the world's largest democracy, and that it might grow someday like China has in the past decade. News this week focused on a surprise crumbling of power held by a communist party in one of India's states. Apparently, voters turned on a party cadre who had begun to reap rewards to themselves, use power politics to deny jobs and social approval to anyone who opposed the rulers.

India, the second most populous nation in the world at 1.2 billion, a former British colony, has 28 states, with West Bengal having been ruled by a communist party for nearly 1/3 century. West Bengal is not a minor state in any case - with 91 million it is actually the 4th most populous state in the country, with its internationally known city of Calcutta.

India with its 28 states, West Bengal located to the East, next to the country of Bangladesh

The BBC reports ... "In the gloomy headquarters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Calcutta, the usually convivial apparatchik, Biman Basu, glumly tells us that the results were "totally unexpected". A collective gasp goes up in the room. A slew of opinion polls, exit polls and reportage had all predicted the rout. But, no, the communists and their allies had not expected it.

So what went so horribly wrong leading to such a debacle for a party which had ruled the state for 34 years without a break, and prided itself on reading the pulse of the people like no other party? "The opposition slogan for ushering in parivartan [change] was endorsed by the people. We didn't understand that," Mr Basu says. So are the communists out of touch with the people? "We have grassroots connection with people, but people didn't open their mouths, and we couldn't assess their stirrings for a change," he says.

Does that mean India's communists are losing their touch - with the people, and the fast changing world around them? Have people stopped believing them? It does appear so..."

The article actually goes on with some interesting points, "the communists had a few standout achievements after they were swept into power in 1977. The party carried out far-reaching land reforms, ushered in local democracy through village councils and gave the peasants and working class some dignity. There was a sharp decline in poverty and a perceptible rise in living standards of a very politically conscious people. Nobody can take away the credit from the communists here.

Somewhere down the line in a fast-changing world the communists, many believe, began losing their way. After the first wave of farm reforms had exhausted its potential, they needed fresh ideas as governments cut back on spending, and private capital was touted as the main driver of growth and jobs. Land reform had run its course in Bengal, and farm produce prices were falling. Peasants, with enough food in their bellies, now aspired to better lives.

But a largely gerontocratic and hidebound leadership - already stunned into stasis by the break-up of the Soviet Union - "lost its way coping with the pressures of a globalised market", says social scientist Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya. "

On top of cleaning out an entrenched party, the Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee further emphasizes women's status in the country. Her own story is worth the research, having made her mark as a Youth Congress leader, rising through the party's ranks without the backing of a political godfather, and breaking away from the Congress in 1998 to form the Trinamool Congress. (India's famous Congress party is that of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, and other noteworthy Indian leaders, including the current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, India's first Sikh in such a leadership role).

The article goes on to describe corruption and favoritism worming their way into the governing elite and new issues rising to the surface. But let's focus just briefly on the safety valve of democracy - where voices can be heard, and where a mechanism for change is put in place. The vote in West Bengal has upended its governing dynamic, but did not need the widespread uprising, crackdown, and bloodshed that is taking place in the Arab world (and elsewhere). How much better when political space for allowing change can be established rather than an eventual uprising that truly drags a population to ruin and mistrust.

Students at West Bengal University

West Bengal state is somewhat awkward, perhaps drawn in response to the breaking off of Bangladesh into its own nation decades ago. The state touches the sea to the south and the Himalayas to the north.

In the north of the state, one sees the Himalayas while passing through the tea-producing hill region of Darjeeling

while to the south, the state is similar to its low-lying neighbor Bangladesh and its rice economy.

The communist party leader Jyoti Basu, (shown in flag) who had died in 2010, left a leadership increasingly out of touch with the changing population

The ability of West Bengalese to change their government is a practical example of how democracy can work for the stability and betterment of society, though it always needs due diligence and attention.

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