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Census and caste: debating caste enumeration in Census 2011 June 11, 2010

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

Kamala Kanta Dash

The Indian census is a decennial exercise started by the British colonial power in 1872.  It has been religiously followed ever since. The 2011 census, the 15th since the first and the 7th after independence, is touted to be the biggest ever in the history of mankind. This mammoth exercise will cover all 640 districts, 5,767 tehsils, 7,742 towns and more than six hundred thousand villages of the country. More than 2 million primary teachers have been trained to act as enumerators for this census. It  would count more than 1.2 billion people on their socio-economic characteristics including gender, religion, occupation and education. The debate about whether to include ‘caste’ in the 2011 census or not has divided the political and academic spectrum alike.

Collection of caste-based data was stopped after 1931 and independent India has been reluctant to collect such data, except in the case of  people in ‘Scheduled Caste’ (popularly known as Dalits) and ‘Scheduled Tribe’ (popularly known as Adiwasis) categories. However, the debate over the caste census has not ended. The search for a model is on. The incumbent government is a divided house, as also is the opposition party, the BJP. In the cabinet, P Chidambaram and Anand Sharma have shown their disagreements and reservations on the possibility of carrying out the caste enumeration, while other cabinet ministers like Jaipal Reddy, Veerappa Moily, Farooq Abdullah and A. Raja, have talked about the need to do so.  Those who oppose the caste census claim that the census is not an “ideal instrument” for a caste survey and favour the idea that another appropriate body, such as the Backward Commission, being entrusted with this responsibility. This argument can be seen in the pattern of political responses of the incumbent government, when they cite one reason or the other for not conducting the caste enumeration. (more…)

India’s Northeast insurgencies: a somewhat forgotten story June 10, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kirpalani, Kunal P , comments closed

Kunal P. Kirpalani

India’s Islamist and Maoist insurgencies receive critical attention within public and governmental circles domestically and abroad. Incidents, including the Islamist terrorist 26/11 attack of Mumbai and the Indian Army crackdown on Maoist militants in West Bengal’s Lalgarh district, are prime examples. However, general awareness of tribal rebellions occurring within the states of Northeast India is lacking. This is despite the fact that the Assamese, Naga and Mizo guerrilla movements are on the rise. The following is a brief introductory analysis on the causes of these insurgencies and why they should no longer be ignored.

What seems to be a common grass-root cause in South Asian insurgencies is socioeconomic and political developmental deprivation. India’s Northeast is no exception. It is a region that lags behind most of India developmentally. While the southern and western states reap the benefits of India’s booming economy, the economic situation in the Northeast has deteriorated. Poverty rates in the Northeast states linger officially at 22.3 per cent, well under the 28.3 per cent national average. There has even been an improvement in literacy rates, which are higher than the mean rate for the country (65.38 per cent) including those of women.

India’s states of the Northeast.  Source – Wikimedia


India: income transfers through social safety nets June 9, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Jha, Raghbendra , comments closed

Raghbendra Jha, Raghav Gaiha and Manoj Pandey

One of the paradoxes of modern India is the coexistence of high rates of economic growth and widespread under nutrition. Thus, between 2000 and 2005 real GDP per head and real per capita consumption grew at impressive rates of 5.4 per cent and 3.9 per cent per annum respectively. Yet more than 75 per cent of the population has daily per capita calorie consumption below the minimum requirements for Indians.  Concurrently, the food subsidy bill has been rising rapidly and was a staggering Rs. 370 billion for Below Poverty Line (BPL) households in 2009-10.

Now, the government is seeking to enact a National Food Security Bill (NFSB) which purports to provide 25 kg of rice or wheat per month to each BPL family at Rs 3 per kg, failing which a poor person can seek redressal.  Undoubtedly, the logistical and administrative implications of such a sweeping legislation and the subsidy involved would be staggering.  The NFSB therefore needs to be implemented keeping in mind some hard ground realities. (more…)

India’s Maoist threat: ‘state power’ versus state malaise June 8, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Gordon, Sandy, India , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

In 2005, PM Manmohan Singh claimed that the Maoist challenge was India’s “most serious security problem”.  That surprised many commentators at the time, who were fixated on violent jihadi terrorism.

Singh is an economist and would have been keenly aware that the 200-odd Maoist affected districts (out of over 600 – see map) are spread over India’s minerals and energy (coal) provinces and its timber-bearing, broadleaf forests.  In other words, they constitute a ‘dagger at the heart’ of India’s vital extractive industries.

This general co-location of Maoists (also known as ‘Naxalites’) and extractive industries is no surprise.  India’s tribal population (Adiwasis) inhabit the less urbanised and more forested regions where the minerals, coal and timber happen to be.  They have a deep, spiritual relationship with the land somewhat similar to the Australian Aboriginals.  Corruption and incompetence mean that they are often dispossessed by extractive industries with little or no compensation.  This has forced many into the arms of the Maoists.

India’s so-called ‘Red Corridor’.  Source: Wikimedia


“New” India, “Old” Politics: Business, Governance and the IPL June 7, 2010

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

Brian Stoddart

One of the late Warren Zevon’s greatest songs was entitled “Lawyers, Guns and Money”, suggesting that the intersection between force/authority, finance and governance would determine most contretemps either officially or otherwise.  There might be some now in India reflecting that Zevon was not entirely wrong when it comes to cricket, business and politics.

When we left the Indian Premier League (IPL) a few weeks ago its Commissioner was stood down but threatening to “spill the beans”, the tax authorities were investigating the league and its franchises, the UPA was forced to dump a junior Minister, several other Ministers were ducking and weaving along with some prominent industrialists and film stars, while mere players were wondering about their next season pay packets.

As always happens, the media coverage went quiet with focus shifting to matters like the new dialogue with the USA, rising security concerns, another bout of nuclear capability banter with Pakistan, on-going Naxalite challenges, and rising political issues in Jharkhand and elsewhere.

The IPL issue has quietly developed though, with the tax authorities raising serious concerns about several matters, and just in the past few days some further issues relating to politicians and their possible business deals have refreshed attention.  At this point, though, while the IPL details are interesting enough the principles they raise are probably more important.

In particular, this simple cricket competition has produced serious questions about the intersection of business and politics, the so-called “club” commented upon by several commentators in recent years.  As a subset, that in turn raises questions about the efficacy or otherwise of several political figures and the parties to which they belong.

An easy starting point here is with Shared Pawar, Union Minister for Agriculture.  He is about to become President of the International Cricket Council, capping his career as President of the Maharashtra Cricket Association and of the Board of Control for Cricket in India where his most famous public role was in his ousting of Jagmohan Dalmiya, the Bengal cricket boss and industrialist responsible for making India the cricket power it is now. At the same time, of course, Pawar traversed through being Chief Minister of Maharashtra and then, in 1999, after being expelled from Congress for trashing Sonia Gandhi as a foreigner, becoming leader of the new National Congress Party (NCP).  Politics being politics, the Congress need the NCP support to form the new UPA government and Pawar was back in favour – well, almost, because the Gandhi clan never forgave him, so that all negotiations there were effectively via intermediaries.

The “old” politics require networks, of course, and Pawar has those perfected.  While he himself in official returns shows minimal assets by most standards, he is long rumoured to have much bigger holdings particularly by way of various land deals in his home state (especially around Pune) and elsewhere, some at least of which have been to subject of legal proceedings.  Some of those rumours are reinforced directly and indirectly through his networks.  For example, his cricket successor in Maharashtra, Vidarbha specifically and now at the BCCI is Shashank Manohar, whose father was Advocate-General during Pawar’s Chief Ministership.  He was effectively Pawar’s handpicked replacement. (more…)