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Effectiveness of Track II in promoting BCIM: The K2K example January 28, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, India, Mishra, Binoda Kumar , comments closed

Binoda Kumar Mishra

The idea behind BCIM

Originating in 1999 as the Kunming Initiative, the Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (hereafter BCIM) initiative is now  gathered for its 9th forum. There is optimism about the prospects of the initiative in promoting regional cooperation between the geographically contiguous BCIM countries. Contiguous countries all over the world are coming together to form blocs to harness benefits from the opportunities created by globalisation. Realising this, four institutes from the four countries initiated this idea of involving stake-holders and using experts to promote mutual development.

The region is not only geographically contiguous but also complementary in economic terms. But there are also certain negative similarities such as underdevelopment. Trans-border crime and other non-traditional threats are equally threatening. The idea behind BCIM is to address these issues and create an environment for mutual development focusing on the contiguous region. The initiative also seeks to promote people-to-people contact through tourism and cultural exchanges. And at the base is the objective of improving of trade and commerce .


The Fifteenth Prime Minister of India January 24, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

The Left Front and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the only non-dynastic, national, and ideological competitors of the Indian National Congress, are struggling with leadership and ideological crises. BJP’s national defence credentials have been compromised due to allegations of Hindu terror whereas the pro-poor credentials of the Left have been compromised in Singur and Nandigram. Regional parties like Shiva Sena and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) are in disarray due to succession struggles within reigning families headed by ageing patriarchs. In contrast, the Congress, with a transparent succession policy and a bland centrist agenda, seems to be a safe bet for voters. Also, in this age of Raja of Niligiris, no Raja of Manda can credibly leave the government. So, barring bizarre developments, Manmohan Singh will complete his second term, the Congress will return to power in 2014 with a clear majority, and Rahul Gandhi will become India’s fifteenth prime minister.

But is the next general election indeed going to be a cakewalk for the Congress? Not if a reasonable number of opposition parties join hands. I have argued earlier  that in the next general election young, inexperienced leaders of provincial parties are likely to shy away from the uncertainty of coalition politics and play the son-of-the-soil card. However, the coordination problem can be surmounted if the opposition can choose its leader in advance. The prospective leader should have the right age and good governance credentials to challenge Rahul Gandhi. Otherwise, the leader of a coalition of provincial parties cannot afford to raise particularistic issues.

Let us have a look at the probable candidates. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya (Left Front, West Bengal) is stuck in Singur and Nandigram. Narendra Modi (BJP, Gujarat) has mounted a tiger and is unable to dismount. Chandra Babu Naidu (Telugu Desam Party, Andhra Pradesh) is a spent force. B.S. Yediyurappa (BJP, Karnataka) is besieged in his own province. V. S. Achuthanandan (Left Front, Kerala), Parkash Singh Badal (Shiromani Akali Dal, Punjab), Prem Kumar Dhumal (BJP, Himachal Pradesh), M. Karunanidhi (DMK, Tamil Nadu), and Navin Patnaik (Biju Janata Dal, Orissa) will be more than 65 years old in 2014. Neiphiu Rio (Nagaland People’s Front, Nagaland) is constrained by his province’s cartographic rhetoric. Raman Singh (BJP, Chhattisgarh) is vulnerable due to his support for Salwa Judum. Ramesh Pokhriyal (BJP, Uttarakhand) and Omar Abdullah (National Conference, J&K) lack experience.

Pawan Kumar Chamling (Sikkim Democratic Front, Sikkim), Shivraj Singh Chouhan (BJP, Madhya Pradesh), Nitish Kumar (Janata Dal United, Bihar), Kumari Mayawati (Bahujan Samajwadi Party, Uttar Pradesh), and Manik Sarkar (Left Front, Tripura) are the only leaders who have the baseline qualifications: developmentalist credentials, optimal age, and substantial public experience. However, a prospective leader of the opposition alliance should have additional qualifications, listed below.

Candidate Chamling










Nationwide appeal No No Yes Yes No
National level experience No Yes Yes No No
Access to a national political network No Yes No No Yes
Coalition experience No No Yes Yes Yes
Large (primary) support base No Yes Yes Yes No
Acceptable to BJP as well as the Left No No Yes No No

At present, Chamling lacks additional qualifications, which leaves us with four contenders, belonging to four different parties.


India’s water dilemma January 18, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Noor, Habeeb , comments closed

Habeeb Noor

This article first appeared in the Charitiarian, Third Edition, June 2010.

One problem arising out of India fast-paced process of urbanization is the lack of sufficient, clean water for all. India is highly vulnerable to the inefficiencies in the water sector. A report by the McKinsey Global Institute highlights just this problem and raises the red flags on India’s blind approach to managing its growth.

Experts warn that the world’s population will face severe water shortages within the next twenty years. India’s water problem, however, is already manifesting itself in its cities and villages, where faucets run dry much too often during the year. The country is still heavily dependent on the monsoons to replenish its supply of water and the intermittent disruption of this cycle often proves costly for farmers, manufacturers and end users alike. Already under pressure, this poses a heavier burden on India’s ailing water infrastructure.

This is no doubt that the specific issue of water scarcity, which is compounded by urbanization, is a complex issue, as the nature of the problem varies from state to state and city to city. So in that sense, it is prudent to ask if water scarcity – a problem central to daily life in India – is purely a resource issue, or a political management problem? In many cases it amounts to both.


Pakistan: he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword January 11, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Pakistan, Snedden, Christopher , comments closed

Christopher Snedden

Recent Facebook postings showed that many Pakistanis applauded Malik Mumtaz Qadri’s brutal assassination of the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer.  So also did statements such as by Maulana Shah Turabul Haq Qadri, a scholar of the less hardline Barelvi inclination.  For either Qadri—the malik or the maulana—Taseer was engaging in blasphemy against the Prophet, Muhammad.  His death was necessary, even laudable.

Hardline Pakistanis advocating or employing violence against other Pakistanis should stop and think.  Such brutality has a nasty habit of getting out of control, with violence able to be used against anyone not considered politically or religiously ‘correct’.  And those delivering the violence invariably determine correctness.  Equally, someone ‘correct’ today could become incorrect—and therefore disposable—tomorrow.

History shows that illegal and arbitrary violence is a fickle master.  Two example of its capriciousness come to mind: the revolutionaries executed by ‘Madame Guillotine’ as the French Revolution ‘ate its own’; the millions of deaths of innocent, patriotic Soviet citizens that Stalin’s merciless KGB and gulag killed.

Closer to home, vicious Sunni-Shia violence in Pakistan claims an increasing number of victims each year—which, in turn, inspires further inter-sect hatred and violence.  Equally, the Pakistan Army’s forceful and bloody removal from Islamabad’s Red Mosque in 2007 of Muslims who had ‘strayed from the correct path’ helped to inspire the current crop of Islamic fundamentalists now rampant throughout Pakistan. (more…)

The demand for good governance in Bihar and the rise of Nitish Kumar January 11, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

People expect three things from a government: a) external defence, b) law and order, and c) general public welfare. All Indian political parties are perceived to be equally inefficient on the external defence front, whereas external defence is not an issue in provincial elections. So, both in national and provincial elections, people assess a political party’s capacity to deliver good governance with respect to the last two. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost the 2004 and 2009 General Elections to the Indian National Congress. Large sections of the electorate realized, particularly after the 2002 Gujarat riots, that the Congress cannot be worse than BJP on the law and order front, whereas both are equally pro-market with the Congress having greater commitment to redistribution.

But the calculus is complicated at the provincial level. There are three reasons for this. First, national politics is essentially bi-polar with both the leading parties having support bases in a number of ethnically unconnected provinces. However, in most provinces multi-polarity is the norm with at least one of the key parties being largely confined to just one province and one ethnic community. (Ethnic is used here in a broader sense to denote any ascriptive affiliation.) Presently, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan are exceptions to this rule. Second, India is ethnically more heterogeneous at the national level than at the provincial level. So, the central government has been, by and large, ethnically non-discriminatory due to a delicate balance of forces. However, unless otherwise checked by a strong central government, provincial governments have a remarkable propensity to indulge in ethnic discrimination. Third, provincial governments know that the Centre will step in if things go wrong dramatically, which in turn artificially suppresses the cost of bad governance at the provincial level. In short, if good governance has to establish itself as the decisive selection criterion in elections then that has to happen at the provincial level, including in economically backward large North Indian provinces like Bihar, hitherto known for corruption and caste and religious conflicts. (more…)

Hambantota is symbolic of a realignment of economic and political power away from Colombo January 11, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, Future Directions International, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Serge DeSilva-Ranasinghe

As the first ship entered the newly opened port facility at Hambantota on November 18, there continues to be more speculation that the facility could potentially be used as a Chinese naval base as part of a so called ‘string of pearls’ strategy to encircle India. However, evidence suggests that the Hambantota port has a largely different function that is likely to alter Sri Lanka’s political and economic centre of gravity.

For many decades, plans to develop a port at Hambantota have been talked about and studied, but they remained a low priority to successive governments that were either unable to acquire adequate funds or were preoccupied by the outbreak of three full scale insurrections. However, this state of affairs changed when Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected as Sri Lanka’s president in November 2005. A notable feature of his election platform was a strong emphasis on infrastructure development. As such, the most significant project among his development ambitions was to construct a large, modern, world class port facility at Hambantota.

However, the breakdown of the Norwegian mediated ceasefire agreement (2002-2007) led to the commencement of the final phase of Sri Lanka’s civil war, from 2006-2009, and temporarily suspended these initiatives. Nonetheless, even while the war was at its peak, funding for the development of the Hambantota port was actively sought, and in view of India’s disinterest and reluctance to be involved, China proved willing to offer funding and technical assistance and, by early 2008, construction to build the port at Hambantota finally commenced.

Given the size of the port project, Hambantota has been the subject of much speculation and negative commentary. A salient example of this was seen by Indian academic Professor Brahma Chellaney who in April 2009 told The Times of India: “The Chinese are courting Sri Lanka because of its location in the Indian Ocean; Chinese engineers are currently building a billion-dollar port in the country’s southeast, Hambantota, and this is the latest `pearl’ in China’s strategy to control vital sea-lanes of communication between the Indian and Pacific Oceans by assembling a `string of pearls’ in the form of listening posts, special naval arrangements and access to ports.” (more…)