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Shashi Tharoor’s ‘new India': Foreign policy, citizen engagement and new media April 30, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Dash, Kamala Kanta, India , comments closed

Kamala Kanta Dash

Thanks for all the support & good wishes. U folks are the New India. We will “be the change” we wish to see in our country. But not without pain! (Posted on Twitter, 16 April 2010)

This message is from Dr Shashi’s Tharoor’s twitter after he got embroiled in a controversy over allegedly using his public office for private gain by possibly using his ‘good friend’ Ms. Sunanda Pushkar as a shadow bidder/shareholder for the Kochi (Kerala) team in the cash rich Twenty-20 cricket tournament of Indian Premier League (IPL).

Dr Tharoor is a former Junior Minister in the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India a former UN Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information and a PhD from Fletcher School Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, USA. In this (twitter) post he introduced his idea of New India, referring to his followers with whom he has built a strong relationship of sharing information on his official activities and personal opinion on many issues. Tharoor has, in the meantime, resigned from his post as a junior minister in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) after requesting the Prime Minster to conduct a thorough enquiry to find out details of his involvement and other financial irregularities. Tharoor has defended his decision to support the Kochi (Kerala) team and has made it clear that he mentored the team and did not support for any personal monetary benefit. He defended his position in the parliament by saying ‘my conscience is clear and I have done nothing improper or unethical, less alone illegal.’ Many analysts in India and overseas feel that Tharoor has been made a sacrificial lamb in the IPL controversy. (more…)

Saving Murali’s ‘doosra': Five unsung heroes April 29, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Roberts, Michael, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Michael Roberts

Gunasekara, Wijesinghe, Dhillon, Wijesuriya, Foster. These are five names that should be etched into the commemorative epitaph marking the third stage of the saga around Muttiah Muralitharan.

Muralitharan, best known as ‘Murali’, has been a cricketing-weapon extraordinaire for some time and, as such, is a national icon in Sri Lanka. His survival in the frontlines of cricket has faced three major challenges. In effect, he has been subject to ‘triple jeopardy’ in the ‘courts of cricket’, something unprecedented in international law.

The first massive effort to get rid of him on charges of being an illegal ‘chucker’ was in 1995-96; while the second was in early 1998 Oval. Both were Australian-led. On both occasions the Sri Lankan authorities (led by Dharmadasa and Sumathipala respectively) stood firm; while Arjuna Ranatunga stood out on the second occasion because the resistance was played out in front of a huge crowd at Adelaide (among them this author). (more…)

Cricket, money and politics April 27, 2010

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

Brian Stoddard

Chennai Super Kings might have beaten the more fancied Mumbai Indians in the final of the Indian Premier League (IPL), but the match was a sideshow to the real battles now faced by cricket bosses, industrial barons, political leaders and even movie stars.

The problems began just a few short weeks ago with the auctioning of two new franchises in what had become the IPL money-mill.  A consortium bidding $333 million to have Kochi in Kerala host a team was successful. Shortly after Lalit Modi, the IPL Commissioner, posted a note on his Twitter site that the bid was flawed, and that the flaws were associated with junior External Affairs Minister Shashi Tharoor, the former UN diplomat and prominent writer who was already struggling in his post. Tharoor struck back with the suggestion Modi wanted the Kochi bid voided so that his more favoured Ahmedabad franchise might then slip in. (more…)

Financial reforms should have a macro-economic growth perspective April 23, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Guest authors: T A Bhavani and N R Bhanumurthy, National Institute of Public Finance & Policy

This article first appeared in The Financial Express 2 April 2010.

The global meltdown has brought the focus back on the financial sector’s role in the overall economic activity. In India, where the financial sector is considered to be overly regulated, the issue of financial sector reform was brought forward and debated extensively. Two important committees, set up in the per-crisis period and headed by Raghuram Rajan and Percy Mistry, made a number of policy suggestions to improve and expand the role of the sector. Although these suggestions may be re-looked in light of the drastic changes in the international markets, the issue of financial access/inclusion needs to be the focus of any furthering reforms in India.

We understand that the financial sector reforms were aimed at bringing down costs and risks involved in providing financial services and thus, widening access of institutional credit to the production agents. Based on the macro data, one can infer that the policy changes since 1991 has indeed brought down costs and risks over the period, although it is still higher in comparison with the advanced countries and emerging market economies. However, the policy changes have not achieved the intended results in enhancing formal financial access to production activities and are quite far in removing involuntary financial exclusion as it appears from the policy discussions and also from official committees (including Rangarajan Committee). At this stage, an assessment of the extent of improvement in financial access is quite pertinent for future policymaking.


The 2010 Commonwealth Games and crisis management in Delhi April 22, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Dash, Kamala Kanta, India , comments closed

Kamala Kanta Dash, Monash Asia Institute, Monash University

With a mission to deliver the ‘Best Ever Commonwealth Games’, the 19th Commonwealth Games (CWG) from 3rd to 14th October 2010 is set to transform many facets of public life in Delhi. The Indian government has prepared a budget outlay of more than Rs.10,000 crore (about US$2 billion) with the aim of turning Delhi into truly a ‘global city’. This makeover includes a massive overhaul of infrastructure, public transport and security services in Delhi. In addition, the Chief Minister Ms. Sheila Dixit has put strong emphasis on changing the public culture of Delhi and has urged Delhiites to behave and be exemplary hosts to all the dignitaries, visitors and guests.

The Union government and the city-state government are readying to cash in on the possible success of the CWG. What has become clear is that the Indian government wants to display its soft power through this international event. However, managing more than 8000 athletes from 71 countries and at least 100,000 foreign visitors will be a daunting task for the organisers as well as the government. Apart from the issue of delays in preparing the venue and related facilities, there is serious anxiety concerning security and crisis management, both of which require urgent attention and effective coordination.


Democracy’s historic redemption in Pakistan April 20, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan , comments closed

Guest author: Dr Ashutosh Misra, Associate Investigator, Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security, Griffith University

In the foothills of Margarala, bang opposite the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, lies the mausoleum of former dictator, General Zia-ul Haq, containing few of his remains, including the jaw, recovered from the air crash in 1988. His teeth surely must have been grinding vociferously when a few kilometers away the Pakistan National Assembly passed the historic Eighteenth amendment with the thumping approval of all the parties. The amendment excises the draconian Article 58(2)B which gave the president the powers to dissolve elected national and provincial governments at will; re-christens the North West Frontier Province as Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa; streamlines the appointment process of judges of the Superior judiciary; grants greater autonomy to provinces by abolishing the concurrent list; mandates the appointment of the chief election commissioner in consultation with the opposition leader; and removes the bar on the prime minister to hold the office for only two terms, among other changes.

The repeal of Article 58(2)B is a path-breaking feat of the democratic forces. This article was inserted in the 1973 constitution by General Zia in 1985 under the Eighth amendment, as a trade off for holding elections (albeit party-less). The end-motive was to concentrate draconian powers in the president’s hands in perpetuity, who was then a general too, over the civilian government and prime minister. As expected, the article was invoked several times during the decade of democracy (1988–99) by the president at the behest of the military, in dismissing Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, repeatedly. Unfortunately, due to bitter political vendetta, both leaders failed to unite in the parliament to repeal this article. But, when Nawaz Sharif secured an absolute majority in 1996, he used his numerical strength to scrap the article through the Thirteenth amendment, on April Fool’s day! The move upset the top echelons of the military, and soon it would level with Sharif, when he unceremoniously dismissed Pervez Musharraf in October 1999, triggering the fourth military take over. The article was seen as a necessary evil for the military to maintain its hold over power, and a restive Musharraf, inserted it back in December 2003 under the Seventeenth amendment, with the tacit support of the Islamist party, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal. Now, with the thumping approval of the Eighteenth amendment, history has repeated itself after 14 years, and Nawaz Sharif is yet again one of the key architects. What is more encouraging is that for once all parties across the board have supported the amendment in one voice.


Boat people as blanket categories April 19, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Roberts, Michael, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Michael Roberts

The Australian government’s decision to embargo the processing of asylum-seeker applications from Afghans and Sri Lankans is widely attributed to electoral posturing. But it can also be read as a continuation of the control philosophy that has been the bedrock of Australia’s border policy for decades. The fact is that the number of refugees admitted in the last two to three years has been a tiny tithe of the total number of migrants (for example in the year 2007-08 roughly 6 per cent relative to the 206,135 “permanent migrants” [Graeme Hugo, “Refugee and Humanitarian Settlement in Australia: Recent Trends,” presentation to Symposium on Child Refugee Health and Wellbeing, National Wine Centre of Australia, Adelaide, 29 October 2009]

By emphasising the increase in the number of boats penetrating Australian waters, but avoiding any reference to the proportion of such boat people in comparison with (a) refugees officially admitted and (b) permanent migrants under the skilled and family reunion categories, the media has catered to the fear-mongering pressed by some politicians. In sum, therefore, one can surmise that the hoary Australian paranoia about ‘Asian hordes’ and foreign ‘contaminants’ permeates the hardline position in an insidious fashion.


The US in Southern Asia: power versus influence April 13, 2010

Posted by sandygordon in : Gordon, Sandy , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

The United States and its allies are engaged in two wars in South West Asia.  But this costly involvement does not appear to have won the US and the West the influence they would expect to enjoy in the region. This is not due so much to military factors, but rather to the fact that there are now a number of alternatives to the financial and economic influence of the West.  The most immediate implication of any such decline in influence is likely to be a diminution of the capacity of the West to assert its governance and human rights agendas.

This decline of Western influence was starkly illustrated by the failed attempts of a number of Western powers to influence the Sri Lankan government of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the dénouement of the Sri Lankan civil war in May 2009.  As reported earlier in South Asia Masala, the US and some European powers attempted to bring financial pressure to bear on the Rajapaksa government to allow a humanitarian pause in the fighting to enable civilians to escape the war zone.  Even though Sri Lanka was hard-pressed for cash and had gone cap-in-hand to the IMF, President Rajapaksa was able to ignore Western demands and fight the Tamil Tigers ‘into the ground’.   He could do so largely because of other support from China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.  Such support was unconditional, whereas Western support came garlanded with human rights considerations.

Mr Karzai goes to Beijing.  Source – People’s Daily


Sania, Shoaib and the “new” subcontinent April 11, 2010

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

Brian Stoddart

Superficially, the circus surrounding the proposed marriage between Indian tennis star Sania Mirza and controversial Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik might simply be put down to a need for personality fodder on the part of the now insatiably competitive Indian media. Indeed, that is a prime driver – news channels like NDTV have carried the story in massive detail on all their language outlets, newspapers across India and Pakistan have given it front page status.

But underneath the boil and bubble lie some intriguing dimensions of how the “new” subcontinent comes to terms with “old” traditions and practices.

The story thus far goes like this. In late March Sania Mirza’s family announced in Hyderabad that India’s leading woman tennis player would marry Shoaib Malik in mid-April. That was good news for Shoaib, for he was one of the players fined and banned for a year by the Pakistan Cricket Board following the team’s disastrous tour of Australia that involved allegations of ball tampering. The initial view was that the couple would live in Dubai and that Sania would still play for India and Shoaib for Pakistan once and if he was reinstated.

Then things turned sour. In Hyderabad, Mohammed Ahmed Siddiqui alleged that his daughter Ayesha was already married to Shoaib, and the family published what they argued to be the marriage certificate. Ayesha herself then went public and said that Shoaib was avoiding talking to her, that they had married over the phone, that she had undergone weight reduction surgery to please him, and that she spent time with him in hotel rooms in Hyderabad and Dubai among other places.

By this time Shoaib was in Hyderabad at the Mirza home, and scrums of journalists assembled outside each day for the latest briefings. Shoaib and Sania together fronted the mob. Shoaib argued that while he had spoken to Ayesha he had never met her because she was never available. The story took additional twists with Shoaib then saying that the photograph he was shown of Ayesha was, in reality, of her sister and that the proposed telephone agreement was therefore nullified.


India’s education revolution April 4, 2010

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

Brian Stoddart

While Australia’s “ER” remains bedevilled by arguments over infrastructure and waste, India has made a bold and far-seeing investment with the recent passage of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act.  Kapil Sibal, Union Minister for Human Resource Development and overseer of the Act, argues that the revamp of the entire education system, of which the Act is part, is as much about content as process and structure.  That is, it is an investment in human capital.

Underpinning this, the Eleventh Five year Plan aims at spending something like 19% of Government budget on education, with emphasis also on people rather than infrastructure.

The Gross Enrolment Data (GER) indicates the importance to and potential for India of this revolution.  India’s GER stands just under 13%, while in the so-called “developed” world that mark stands around 40%.  Expressed in numbers for India, of 220 million children now in school just 18 million will go on to college level education.  As Kapil Sibal points out, that leaves 190 million who will not go beyond school. (more…)