13 APRIL 2016
The power of one against many
Electoral alliances and seat-sharing adjustments have their advantages as well as disadvantages in a first-past-the-post system. In Tamil Nadu, while most of the opposition parties are more conscious of the advantages, the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam seems more mindful of the disadvantages of seat-sharing. Chief Minister and AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa set aside just seven of the 234 Assembly seats for allies; even in those seven, the alliance party candidates will technically be AIADMK members, as they will have to contest on the party’s Two Leaves symbol. But it is not clear whether it is confidence alone that has made Ms. Jayalalithaa spurn alliance proposals from major parties, including the Tamil Maanila Congress. She could be open to the possibility that the election may result in a hung Assembly and worried that alliance partners could switch sides after the results are out. The strategy appears to be one of maximising the yield by contesting as many seats as possible in the hope that a divided opposition will not be able to capitalise on any anti-incumbency sentiment among the voters. A similar strategy worked in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, with the AIADMK winning 37 of the 39 seats in the State. In the opposition camp, minor political parties, which usually rally behind either the DMK or the AIADMK in a general election, have tried to create an alternative. Most significantly, the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam led by actor-politician Vijayakant has decided to assume the leadership of a third front that includes parties such as the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam of Vaiko, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi and the two Left parties. The TMC, after failing to strike an alliance with the AIADMK, is also now part of this front, giving it a semblance of viability.
Ms. Jayalalithaa will be emulating her political mentor, AIADMK founder M.G. Ramachandran, if she returns to power. Since 1984, when MGR came back as Chief Minister despite being confined to a hospital bed in the United States throughout the campaign, no one has been able to retain power in the State. On issues such as prohibition, she is tailing the opposition, offering to introduce it in phases after all the opposition parties made this a major election point. Also, the go-it-alone strategy will not work as well as it did in the Lok Sabha election. While it was unable to bring the DMDK into its fold, and only has the Congress as a major ally, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam led by former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi may be still able to tap into the anti-incumbency vote by virtue of being the largest opposition party by far. Parties such as the DMDK and the Pattali Makkal Katchi, with a rural support base similar to that of the AIADMK, could cut into both the anti-establishment vote and the pro-AIADMK vote. Polarisation will work to the advantage of the DMK. But Ms. Jayalalithaa is banking on the multiplicity of her opponents in the first-past-the-post system.
Keeping tigers in the green zone
In a world facing tremendous pressure on space and resources, a rise in the number of wild tigers is cause for cheer. The big cats are shy and react negatively to human presence. Any credible estimate of growth in their population indicates that a good conservation policy has been at work. According to the latest count released by the World Wildlife Fund and the Global Tiger Forum, over 600 tigers have been added to the global number of some 3,200 in 2010. Yet, determining the health of an elusive species across countries using absolute numbers is a flawed approach, because it risks shifting the focus away from the health of core populations that persist in a small area of individual countries. India made terrible counting mistakes in the past and failed to undertake intensive scientific censusing of tigers across the country. It came as no surprise when tigers were wiped out of Sariska, and a chastened government corrected its methodologies. Using relatively better techniques, including photographic capture and recapture, the national assessment by the Ministry of Environment and Forests came up with the estimate of 2,226 tigers in 2014, representing an increase from the previous count of 1,706 in 2010, and well above the dismal figure of 1,411 four years previously. Now that India is hosting the Third Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation with successes to show, it should commit itself to scientific methods even more.
In the future, wild tigers will survive if countries can maintain inviolate core habitats for breeding populations, ensure habitat connectivity for genetic exchange and crack down on poaching of both tigers and prey. There are wildlife reserves in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Assam, West Bengal and Jharkhand where the Environment Ministry wants to improve conditions for tiger breeding. As part of this exercise, Rs.380 crore has been made available to Project Tiger this year. What is conspicuous, however, is the lack of political will to remove industrial pressures on forests. The proposal to widen National Highway 7 in Central India, for instance, has become controversial because of the dreadful impact it would have on tigers in the Kanha-Pench and Kanha-Nagzira corridors in Maharashtra. It is contradictory to talk of protecting source populations which occupy only 6 per cent of the habitat on the one hand, and simultaneously engage in destructive activities in the same forests. Mitigating the damage through benign alternatives is vital. Such green leadership would also make India’s collaboration with other countries in the Global Tiger Forum meaningful, demonstrating to them the unique experience of a populous nation conserving forests and wildlife and providing life-sustaining ecosystem services to all. The Environment Ministry must also view independent scientific organisations as partners, and stop putting up bureaucratic hurdles to research in protected areas. Effective conservation demands transparency.