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The Daily Fix: Is the Third Front an idea whose time has come?

Everything you need to know for the day (and a little more).

The Big Story: Three to tango

The unthinkable has happened. West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee has defended the Communist Party of India (Marxist). After the Bharatiya Janata Party’s victory in Tripura led to the demolition of a Lenin statue, Banerjee said she would not tolerate attacks on the Left. She even tried to argue, rather unconvincingly, that for all her ideological battles with the Communist Party of India (Marxist), she had never targeted them. For those who lived through the glory days of the Trinamool in opposition in Bengal, or even remember the chief minister seeing a Marxist conspiracy everywhere in the early days of her government, this will sound quite fantastic. But Banerjee’s attentions have now turned to the BJP, emerging as the chief opposition in her state.

The rise of the BJP as the main force to reckon with has collapsed other regional oppositions as well. Only think of the unearthly alliance of the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party for the Lok Sabha by-polls in Uttar Pradesh. Once they were the two poles around which Uttar Pradesh’s politics were arranged but the BJP’s clean sweep in the last elections seems to have made that rivalry irrelevant. The Bihar elections of 2015 saw the Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) join hands with Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, the union of “nyay ke saath vikaas” (social justice with development) and Jungle Raj. The union was not to last but the BJP juggernaut did manage to reconcile two of the most legendary rivals in Indian politics over the last two decades.

These regional reconciliations have held up once more the intriguing possibility of a Third Front. Recently, Telangana Chief Minister KC Rao called for a Third Front before the general elections of 2019 and was met with an enthusiastic response from Banerjee and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen leader Asaduddin Owaisi. Leaders of Rao’s party, the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti, also claim regional parties such as the Jhakhand Mukti Morcha, the Samajwadi Party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam had shown interest. If it succeeds, it would be a diverse group, bringing together a range of regional interests.

The Congress has finally been jolted to action, with former party president Sonia Gandhi reaching out to opposition leaders. In such a situation, the BJP would only be too happy to have the opposition vote divided. But could there be a Third Front that is more than a vote divider? In reality, it has never worked well. The Third Front governments formed in the 1990s were unstable and fractious, riven by internal dissensions and regional rivalries. Let alone form government, if the new Third Front is to be a credible political force, it cannot just be a conglomeration of parties held together by the negative attribute that they are not Congress and not BJP. It needs a political idea to bind it together. But with such diverse constituents, it will have hard work finding common ground.

The Big Scroll

Anita Katyal notes that a non-Congress Third Front can only bring cheer to the BJP.

Aarefa Johari reported on how disillusioned Patels were waiting for a Third Front in Gujarat, but in vain.

Back in 2016, Anita Katyal had found Mamata Banerjee saying that an anti-BJP front was a possibility but she was not going to lead it.

Punditry

  1. In the Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes on Raag Darbaari, “one of the finest books on Indian democracy ever written”.
  2. In the Hindu, Suhasini Haider on why India should go back to making the neighbourhood first again.
  3. In the Telegraph, Sankarshan Thakur compares Kashmir to Shakespearean tragedy.

Giggles

Don’t miss...

Nidhi Jamwal reports on how hail storms have brought more woes to Maharashtra’s farmers:

Patil’s loss isn’t limited to his winter crops alone. Last year, he had planted Bt cotton on 14 acres. But a pest attack of pink bollworm destroyed his crop. “The cotton plants kept growing till 6-7 ft height, but when very few buds developed, I realized there was some problem,” he said. “On checking with the agriculture department, I realised it was a pink bollworm attack. I had to burn and destroy my crop so that the pest does not affect my next crop cycle. My investment of Rs 150,000 in Bt cotton went down the drain.”  

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People who fall through the gaps in road safety campaigns

Helmet and road safety campaigns might have been neglecting a sizeable chunk of the public at risk.

City police, across the country, have been running a long-drawn campaign on helmet safety. In a recent initiative by the Bengaluru Police, a cop dressed-up as ‘Lord Ganesha’ offered helmets and roses to two-wheeler riders. Earlier this year, a 12ft high and 9ft wide helmet was installed in Kota as a memorial to the victims of road accidents. As for the social media leg of the campaign, the Mumbai Police made a pop-culture reference to drive the message of road safety through their Twitter handle.

But, just for the sake of conversation, how much safety do helmets provide anyway?

Lack of physical protections put two-wheeler riders at high risk on the road. According to a recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 1.25 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes. Nearly half of those dying on the world’s roads are ‘vulnerable road users’ – pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. According to the Indian transport ministry, about 28 two-wheeler riders died daily on Indian roads in 2016 for not wearing helmets.

The WHO states that wearing a motorcycle helmet correctly can reduce the risk of death by almost 40% and the risk of severe injury by over 70%. The components of a helmet are designed to reduce impact of a force collision to the head. A rigid outer shell distributes the impact over a large surface area, while the soft lining absorbs the impact.

However, getting two-wheeler riders to wear protective headgear has always been an uphill battle, one that has intensified through the years owing to the lives lost due on the road. Communication tactics are generating awareness about the consequences of riding without a helmet and changing behaviour that the law couldn’t on its own. But amidst all the tag-lines, slogans and get-ups that reach out to the rider, the safety of the one on the passenger seat is being ignored.

Pillion rider safety has always been second in priority. While several state governments are making helmets for pillion riders mandatory, the lack of awareness about its importance runs deep. In Mumbai itself, only 1% of the 20 lakh pillion riders wear helmets. There seems to be this perception that while two-wheeler riders are safer wearing a helmet, their passengers don’t necessarily need one. Statistics prove otherwise. For instance, in Hyderabad, the Cyberabad traffic police reported that 1 of every 3 two-wheeler deaths was that of a pillion rider. DGP Chander, Goa, stressed that 71% of fatalities in road accidents in 2017 were of two-wheeler rider and pillion riders of which 66% deaths were due to head injury.

Despite the alarming statistics, pillion riders, who are as vulnerable as front riders to head-injuries, have never been the focus of helmet awareness and safety drives. To fill-up that communication gap, Reliance General Insurance has engineered a campaign, titled #FaceThePace, that focusses solely on pillion rider safety. The campaign film tells a relatable story of a father taking his son for cricket practice on a motorbike. It then uses cricket to bring our attention to a simple flaw in the way we think about pillion rider safety – using a helmet to play a sport makes sense, but somehow, protecting your head while riding on a two-wheeler isn’t considered.

This road safety initiative by Reliance General Insurance has taken the lead in addressing the helmet issue as a whole — pillion or front, helmets are crucial for two-wheeler riders. The film ensures that we realise how selective our worry about head injury is by comparing the statistics of children deaths due to road accidents to fatal accidents on a cricket ground. Message delivered. Watch the video to see how the story pans out.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Reliance General Insurance and not by the Scroll editorial team.