Monday, January 4, 2021

Bengal Elections: Will there be a transfer of power or TMC’s will rule continue?

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Raya Tripathi

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Bengal Elections: Will there be a transfer of power or TMC’s will rule continue?

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Global Views 360

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January 4, 2021

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Representative image of people voting

Representative image of people voting | Source: Election Commision of India

As the assembly elections in West Bengal are getting closer, the competition between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Trinamool Congress (TMC) is getting more intense. This election and its result will  be historic. Whole nation is looking forward to the Bengal Elections keenly.

Recently, there was a lot of hue and cry by the BJP when some people allegedly tried to attack the BJP party president JP Nadda's convoy near Diamond harbour in West Bengal. While the BJP labelled the attack as a “sponsored violence”, CM Mamata Banerjee called it a “drama” staged by the BJP to gain media attention. But apart from all this, there are other things which make this election important.

Other than the BJP and the ruling TMC, there are other players as well – Left Front, led by CPI(M), Congress Party, AIMIM.

The situation of the Left Front and the Congress

Rally of Congress and Left Alliance | Source: IBTimes

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Left Front did not win a single parliamentary seat. Also, except the Jadavpur constituency, it lost all its deposits in all the seats. The Indian National Congress, which is its alliance partner, did not fare well as well and managed to get two seats only. In the upcoming 2021 assembly elections, the two parties have again joined hands, and this time, it’s not just about the electoral victory, but also about maintaining their relevance in the state.

The Left Front, which used to be a major party in the state and ruled for decades, is now seeing an existential crisis. Their first aim is to retain themselves as the main opposition party of West Bengal. Mamata Banerjee’s thumping victory in the 2011 elections marked the end of the Left rule in West Bengal. In the 2016 Assembly Elections, Trinamool Congress had a landslide victory, whereas the BJP got only two seats. But now, the BJP is emerging as the main opposition to TMC, which should be a matter of concern for the Left Front which is losing ground. In an article by The Quint, CPI(M) leader Shatarup Ghosh said, “Of course the BJP is our main opposition—not just in West Bengal but also nationally. They are ideologically and politically completely opposed to us. But that being said, we are not ready to give an inch to Mamata Banerjee either. The TMC needs to go, but they can’t be replaced by the BJP. That is our position”. The Left also alleges that TMC violence against them increased especially after 2016. “At this point, because we couldn’t function in full strength, there was a void in the space of the opposition. The BJP came in at that point and said that they’re running the centre, have CBI, ED and other machinery and can help fight the TMC in a way that the Left can’t. Those who wanted to vote against TMC, therefore, naturally went to them”, he adds.

The Indian National Congress has ruled West Bengal first from 1947–62, and then again from 1972–77. After that, Congress has not performed well in the elections here.

Rise of AIMIM in West Bengal

Asaduddin Owaisi, the face of AIMIM | Source: Wikimedia

All India Majlis-e-Ittehad Ul Muslimeen– better known as AIMIM, has seen a rise recently outside their home state, after winning 5 seats in the Bihar elections. Party President Asaduddin Owaisi held a meeting with AIMIM West Bengal party functionaries for taking their views with regards to the upcoming elections and political situation in the state, calling it a “fruitful” meeting.

On AIMIM focusing on Bengal Elections, TMC MP Saugata Roy took a jibe at the party’s chief and called him “an assistant of the BJP, who is being used by the latter to split non-BJP votes”.

A Muslim voter in Bengal | Source: Wikimedia

Muslim votes are crucial for the TMC. AIMIM senior leader Syed Asim Waqar tweeted, telling Mamata Banerjee’s party that their enemy is the same, the BJP. Aurangabad MP and AIMIM Maharashtra President Imtiaz Jaleel tweeted: "Bihar tou jhaaki hai...WB, UP baaki hai" (Bihar is just the beginning, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh are remaining). Other than this, party chief Owaisi recently said that it has been the consistent stand of the party that it would not contest elections in Assam and Kerala, as AIUDF and the Indian Union Muslim League are present in the two states. These points clearly show which states the party is aiming for.

AIMIM rallies had also gathered large crowds in Bihar. It won 5 seats in the Seemanchal region of Bihar, which borders West Bengal. It is also trying to emerge as the voice of the Muslims in states like West Bengal and UP. AIMIM was part of the Grand Secular Democratic Front, that had two UP based parties—Bahujan Samaj Party(BSP) and the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP)—besides Samajwadi Janta Dal and Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP). Owaisi's party was the best performer among all of them, other than that only BSP managed to get one seat.

Muslims in West Bengal

Muslims form about 27% of the West Bengal state population, but still remain underrepresented. They account for only 6% of government jobs. Although their representation has been better under the TMC, they still need improvement in the representation for the betterment of their community.

BJP and TMC

CM Mamata Banerjee (L) and PM Narendra Modi (R) meeting | Source: Wikimedia

Recently, TMC MLA Suvendu Adhikari—along with 23 others—joined BJP, at Home Minister Amit Shah's Midnapore rally, as a major blow to Mamata Banerjee and the TMC. Shah alleged that Mamata Banerjee has changed her party’s slogan from “Maa, Maati, Manush” (Mother, Earth, Humanity) to “extortion, corruption and pandering to the nephew”, targeting Banerjee’s nephew and MP Abhishek Banerjee.

The BJP increased its seats from 2 to 18 in West Bengal in the 2019, which came as a surprise. Almost 57% of Hindu votes went to the BJP, and 32% to TMC. The party is trying to woo Hindus and also the Hindi-speaking population of West Bengal. Recently, BJP-supported Hindutva organisations such as the VHP, Bajrang Dal and the RSS, which had only a little presence in the state, have become more assertive, as was seen through their armed processions for Ram Navami.

Suvendu Adhikari, TMC leader who recently joined BJP | Source: মঞ্জুর আলম খান via Wikimedia

To keep a check on the saffron party’s rise, the Mamata government made sure to announce new schemes and that the previously implemented policies remain fresh in the minds of the people. Recently, the TMC released its 'report card' on the work they have done and the promises kept. They have mentioned the 'Sabujsathi' scheme in it, which, according to the Mamata government, has been fulfilled. In this scheme, bicycles were to be distributed among approximately 40 lakh students from classes 9th to 12th studying in govt run and govt aided schools in West Bengal. The scheme was launched in September 2015. A scheme called “Swasth Saathi” was launched recently by the West Bengal government, as the BJP attacked the government by saying it did not implement the Ayushman Bharat scheme of the central government.

Even after opposition from newly emerging parties in the state, like the BJP and AIMIM, other than that from the already existing parties, the Left Front and the Congress, the TMC is trying to remain optimistic about their third term. Who’s winning? Only time—and the people of West Bengal—will tell.

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April 13, 2021 2:10 PM

Detecting The Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays With Smartphones

Smartphones have become the most commonplace objects in our daily lives. The unimaginable power that we hold in our hands is unrealized by most of us and, more importantly, untapped. Its creativity often gets misused but one can only hope that it’s fascinating abilities would be utilized. For example, did you know that the millions of phones around the globe can be connected to form a particle detector? The following article covers the CRAYFIS (Cosmic RAYs Found in Smartphones) phone-based application developed by the physicists from the University of California—Daniel Whiteson, Michael Mulhearn, and their team. CRAYFIS aims to take advantage of the large network of smartphones around the world and detect the cosmic or gamma rays bursts which enter the Earth’s atmosphere almost constantly.

What Are Cosmic Rays?

Cosmic rays are high velocity subatomic particles bombarding the Earth’s upper atmosphere continuously. Cosmic ray bursts have the highest energy compared to all forms of electro-magnetic radiation. When we say ultra-high energy particles (energy more than 1018^eV), we mean two million times more energetic than the ones that can be produced by the particle colliders on Earth.  These rays are thought to be more powerful than typical supernovae and can release trillions of times more energy than the Sun. They are also highly unpredictable as they can enter Earth’s atmosphere from any direction and the bursts can last for any period of time ranging from a few thousand seconds to several minutes.

Despite many theoretical hypotheses, the sources of these ultra-high energy cosmic rays are still a mystery to us even after many decades of their discovery. These rays were initially discovered in the 1960’s by the U.S. military when they were doing background checks for gamma rays after nuclear weapon testing. Cosmologists suggest that these bursts could be the result of super massive stars collapsing - leading to hypernova; or can be retraced to collisions of black holes with other black holes or neutron stars.

How Do We Detect Them?

When the high-energy particles collide with the Earth’s atmosphere, the air and the gas molecules cause them to break apart and create massive showers of relatively low-energy particles. Aurora borealis i.e., the Northern and the Southern lights are the lights that are emitted when these cosmic rays interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. Currently, these particles are hitting the Earth at a rate of about one per square meter per second. The showers get scattered to a radius of one or two kilometers consisting mostly of high-energy photons, electrons, positrons and muons. But the fact that these particles can hit the Earth anytime and anywhere is where the problem arises. Since the Earth has a massive area, it is not possible to place a detector everywhere and catch them at the exact moment.

Energetic charged particles known as cosmic rays hit our atmosphere, where they collide with air molecules to produce a shower of secondary particle | Source: CERN

Detecting such a shower requires a very big telescope, which logically means a network of individual particle detectors distributed over a mile or two-wide radius and connected to each other. The Pierre Auger Observatory in South America is the only such arrangement where 1,600 particle detectors have been scattered on 3,000 square kilometers of land. But the construction cost of the same was about $100 million. Yet, only a few cosmic ray particles could be detected using this arrangement. How do we spread this network around the Earth?

In addition to being cost-effective, such a setup must also be feasible. The Earth’s surface cannot possibly be dotted with particle detectors which cost huge fortunes. This is where smartphones come into the picture.

Detecting The Particles Using Smartphones

Smartphones are the most appropriate devices required to solve the problem. They have planet wide coverage, are affordable by most people and are being actively used by more than 1.5 billion users around the planet. Individually, these devices are low and inefficient; but a considerably dense network of such devices can give us a chance to detect cosmic ray showers belonging to the highest energy range.

Previous research has shown that smartphones have the capability of detecting ionizing radiation. The camera is the most sensitive part of the smartphone and is just the device required to meet our expectations. A CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) device is present in the camera- in which silicon photodiode pixels produce electron-hole pairs when struck by visible photons (when photons are detected by the CMOS device, it leaves traces of weakly activated pixels). The incoming rays are also laced with other noises and interference from the surroundings.  Although these devices are made to detect visible light, they still have the capability of detecting higher-energy photons and also low-ionizing particles such as the muons.

A screenshot from the app which shows the exposure time, the events- the number of particles recorded and other properties

To avoid normal light, the CRAYFIS application is to be run during nighttime with the camera facing down. As the phone processor runs the application it collects data from its surroundings using a camera as its detector element. The megapixel images (i.e., the incoming particles) are scanned at a speed of 5 to 15 frames per second, depending on the frame-processing speed of the device. Scientists expect that signals from the cosmic rays would occur rarely, i.e., around one in 500 frames. Also, there is the job of removing background data. An algorithm was created to tune the incoming particle shower by setting a threshold frequency at around 0.1 frames per second. Frames containing pixels above the threshold are stored and passed to the second stage which examines the stored frames, saving only the pixels above a second, lower threshold.

The CRAYFIS app is designed to run when the phone is not being used and when it is connected to a power source. The actual performance would be widely affected by the geometry of the smartphone’s camera and the conditions in which the data is being collected. Further, once the application is installed and is in the operating mode, no participation is required from the user, which is required to achieve wide-scale participation. When a Wifi connection is available the collected data would be uploaded to the central server so that it could be interpreted.

There is much complicated math used to trace back the information collected from the application. The most important parameters for the app are the local density of incoming particles, the detection area of the phone and the particle identification efficiency. These parameters are used to find the mean number of candidates (photons or muons) being detected. Further, the probability that a phone will detect no candidates or the probability that a phone will detect one or more candidates is given by Poisson distribution. The density of the shower is directly proportional to the incident particle energy with a distribution in x and y sensitive to the direction in which the particle came from. An Unbinned Likelihood (it is the probability of obtaining a certain data- in this case the distribution of the cosmic rays including their energy and direction, the obtained data is arranged into bins which are very, very small) analysis is used to determine the incident particle energy and direction. To eliminate background interference, a benchmark requirement has been set that at least 5 phones must detect and register a hit to be considered as a candidate.

It is impossible to express just how mind-blowing this innovation is. As the days pass, Science and Technology around us keep on surprising us and challenge us to rack our brains for more and more unique ways to deal with complex problems. The CRAYFIS app is simply beautiful and it would be a dream-come-true to the scientists if the project works out and we are able to detect these high energy, super intimidating cosmic rays with smartphones from our backyard.

Further Reading

The paper by Daniel Whiteson and team can be found here.

An exciting book “We Have No Idea” by Daniel Whiteson and cartoonist Jorge Cham can be found here.

The CRAYFIS app can be found here.

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