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Counterpoint: in response to ‘Can privatisation help?’ December 24, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Sundaram, Manu , comments closed

Manu Sundaram

The article titled ‘Can privatisation help?’ reviews the challenges in implementing the Right to Education Bill. In doing so, the authors weigh up the role of private education providers in meeting our goal of universalizing education, and in conclusion, provide two major findings: a) “The cost of private schooling limits the accessibility and has negative implications for the breadth and depth of school accessibility across socio-economic groups”; and b) “A well equipped and functioning government school sector will encourage a quality private school sector.”

While the discussion on the Right to Education Bill is timely and welcomed, educationists and policymakers must take note of the misdirected conclusions, arising from wrongful interpretation and omission of research, in this article. In fact, recent research has unearthed strong evidence directly contradicting the hypotheses suggested in the abovementioned article. (more…)

Winning the confidence of the Tamil electorate December 23, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Perera, Jehan, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Jehan Perera

Who the Tamil people will vote for has become an important question at the forthcoming Presidential elections.  The departure of former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka, and his joining the opposition, has deprived the government leadership of its monopoly regarding credit for the war victory over the LTTE.  This has meant that President Mahinda Rajapaksa can no longer appeal to the majority Sinhalese electorate for their vote of gratitude to himself alone.

The entry of General Fonseka into the ranks of the opposition has also rejuvenated it, particularly the UNP, which was unable to face up to the President’s war victories and appeal to the ethos of the Sinhalese electorate.  Many traditional UNP voters from the Sinhalese ethnic majority began to vote either for the President’s party or for other Sinhalese nationalist parties.  With General Fonseka becoming the common opposition candidate there is a strong likelihood of these renegade UNP voters returning to the fold. (more…)

Nuclear deal or nuclear recognition: which first? December 21, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Weigold, Auriol , comments closed

Auriol Weigold

While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was greeted in Washington by President Obama naming India as a nuclear power, their late November 2009 meeting was not scheduled to conclude discussions on the reprocessing of spent fuel, a crucial part of the Indo-US Nuclear Agreement.

Logically the conclusion of the Indo-US nuclear deal ought to see India’s recognition as a nuclear state but Obama appears to have jumped the gun and given India its long-sought status without its signing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) or the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and without approval from the international community.  With nuclear energy agreements in place, however, with Russia, Canada, France and Italy, India has, ipso facto, international recognition.

A timetable for completion of Article 6 (iii) of the 123 Agreement on bilateral nuclear cooperation sets out that that final agreement on procedures should commence no later than one year after the start of formal consultations. They took place in late July followed by further negotiations in late November, leaving some eight months to completion in 2010.

The last area of dispute relates to the United States’ right to withhold reprocessing technologies if India carries out a future nuclear test.  Washington is still waiting for a written undertaking not to test from New Delhi, a requirement before the US Energy Department can license American nuclear firms to operate in India. This is seen at least in India, as a matter of working out specific words that can be agreed too. (more…)

Andhra Pradesh: the politics of separation December 17, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

Union Home Minister Chidambaram’s announcement that Andhra Pradesh would have its Telangana component become a separate state emerged at an inopportune moment in the region’s history and, at face value, seems a high risk strategy from the Congress political viewpoint. Currently India’s fourth largest state by area and fifth by population, Andhra is central to Congress success nationally proceeding from its strong local base. Chief Minister K. Rosaiah’s Government emerged from Congress holding 158 seats in the State’s 294 seat parliament and on that basis his predecessor, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy who died recently in a helicopter crash, was an important Congress figure nationally.

YSR consistently opposed calls for a Telangana state, as has influential former Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, present leader of the opposition Telugu Desam Party. Following the Union’s announcement, over 30% of Congress MLAs have tendered resignations, leading to the distinct possibility of Congress having to resort to a coalition, perhaps even losing power, or maybe having the state placed under President’s rule. With the range of opposition and the high stakes for Congress, the decision seems odd.

The evolution of Andhra Pradesh holds some clues, though. During the later nineteenth century the emergent Andhra movement was based almost totally in the coastal regions of the present state, with some support in the present Rayalaseema. By the early twentieth century that movement was almost synonymous with that of Congress. In the period leading up until 1947, the call for a separate state was supported by Congress in that from 1920 onwards the Andhra provincial Congress Committee ran regional affairs within the British administrative unit of the Madras Presidency. The call for an Andhra state was effectively subordinated to that for independence, but once independence was in sight the call for a state grew.


Indian Parliament roundup, 7-11 December 2009 December 14, 2009

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Manu Sundaram

The week at the Indian Parliament provided a glimpse of the tumultuous past and the tentative future of the nation. The fate of India as a multicultural, multiethnic and multilingual society was at the centre of Parliamentary discussion and deliberation.

On 7 December, the Lok Sabha initiated discussion under Rule 193 (Parliamentary discussion with no voting) on the Liberhan Commission Report. The Liberhan Commission was a one-man Commission—retired High Court Justice Liberhan—that was constituted to look in to the events of 6 December 1992 at Ayodhya. After 17 years and multiple extensions, the Report was submitted in July 2009 and generated great controversy after citing Mr Kalyan Singh (Former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh), Mr LK Advani (Leader of Opposition), Mr AB Vajpayee (Former Prime Minister of India) and much of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as well as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leadership, among those responsible for demolishing the disputed structure. The disputed structure may be referred to as the Ram Janma Bhoomi Babri Masjid (RJBBM) complex which was demolished by karsevaks (cadres) of the RSS, to facilitate the building of a Ram Mandir, despite the protest of Muslim groups. (more…)

Presidential elections and the fear of a militarised government December 9, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Perera, Jehan, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Jehan Perera

The entry of former army commander General Sarath Fonseka into the political arena as the common opposition presidential candidate has set off a vigorous debate about the danger it can pose to Sri Lanka’s democracy. At the same time, the retired General’s entry into the political contest has rejuvenated the opposition and revived public interest in the result of the elections. These are benefits to democracy that require an active opposition and public interest that keeps the Government on the alert and responsive to popular opinion.

The strength of Sri Lankan democracy over the years has been the unbroken commitment of its people and political leadership to the conduct of elections as the means of ensuring legitimacy in governance.  General Fonseka’s entry into national politics at the highest level has given rise to concern about the longer term fate of Sri Lankan democracy. The General has no experience of being a politician. What he has is a forty year record of being a professional soldier.  During this time he gained the highest position in the Sri Lankan army and led it to a victory over the hitherto tenacious LTTE during his three year tenure as army commander.


‘De Dana Dan’ – Anatomy of a Bollywood ‘Quickie’ December 8, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Chemboli, Srinivas, India , comments closed

Srinivas Chemboli

A down-on-luck domestic help steeped in debt, a courier boy with dreams of stardom, a mafia don, a hired assassin, a lecherous businessman, and lissome lasses at every turn—these are just a few of the perquisites for a successful Bollywood ‘quickie’—and the list is not even half-done!

There’s ‘popular cinema’, and ‘cinema for discerning connoisseurs’ that proclaims grandiose ambitions of a ‘message’ sandwiched in ninety-odd minutes. And, there’s Bollywood cinema—defying any attempt at categorisation or classification, deplored by ‘intellectuals’ for incessantly pandering to the sensibilities of the ‘masses’. The Bollywood ‘quickie’ is an even stranger breed: commercial entertainment and quick return on investment are its selling points—nothing preachy or epochal. Yet, there is an undercurrent of sharp wit and social commentary that often goes unnoticed in most successful mainstream Bollywood quickies.

De Dana Dan is a thoroughly revamped and stylised remake of critically acclaimed director Priyadarshan’s earlier Malayalam movie, Vettom. The movie is packaged as a ‘commercial entertainer’, also known as a ‘feel-good movie’ in popular parlance.  Though the recipe is rather well-known and easy to replicate – zany characters, impossible situations, foot-tapping songs, and outrageously funny interludes – making it all work is ultimately down to the director. (more…)

Indian Parliament roundup, 30 November – 4 December 2009 December 7, 2009

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Manu Sundaram

This week, the Central Universities (Amendment) Bill 2009 was passed through the Lok Sabha. This Bill amends the Central Universities Act 2009 which deals with the setting up and running of centrally funded universities across the country. The Central Universities Act 2009 had proposed to establish a Central University of Jammu and Kashmir, based in Srinagar. Following protests by Kashmiri youths, the Government promulgated an ordinance – the Central Universities (Amendment) Ordinance 2009 – to establish separate universities for the Jammu and Kashmir divisions. This Bill seeks to replace the ordinance and provide Rs 240 crores for each university to start operations before the next academic year (commencing June 2010). The Government of India has launched a concerted effort to greatly expand the number of higher education institutions on the recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission and Yash Pal Committee Report. While speaking on the floor of the Lok Sabha, the Union Minister for Human Resource Development, Kapal Sibal, stated that the Government aims to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio for higher education from the present 12 per cent to 30 per cent by 2020.

Following extensive negotiations between India and the United States of America on the issue of climate change, the Lok Sabha witnessed an enthusiastic discussion on the topic, under Rule 193 (which provides for a discussion without voting). The Union Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, outlined three non-negotiables for India at the Copenhagen Summit: (more…)

Australia-India relations: looking for respect? December 4, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Brewster, David, India , comments closed

David Brewster

Auriol Weigold in ‘A media-driven view of the Australia-India relationship‘  has captured well the type of difficulties that Australia is likely to face in trying to develop a closer political relationship with India.

Weigold highlights the types of issues which many in New Delhi (and not just the Indian media) see as inhibiting the further development of the relationship. She nominates: Australia’s neutral stance on India’s border dispute with China; Australia’s failure to join the proposed Quadrilateral dialogue in 2007; and Australia’s refusal to supply uranium to India. There is some value in considering each of these issues in turn in order to understand what they really mean for both India and Australia.

First, is the question of Australia’s position on the long-running Sino-Indian border dispute. While India naturally wants as much international support as it can get in its dispute with China, it is difficult to see how Australia would have any interest in taking a position on an argument over the validity of colonial-era territorial claims. There would be significant costs to Australia from inserting itself into this dispute between these two Asian giants – for what gain?