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Thinking about the defeat of the Left Front in West Bengal Assembly elections, May 2011 May 23, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala , comments closed

Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt

On Friday, 12 May, the 34-year old local Kremlin in West Bengal, ruled by a Left Front, led by a Stalinist Communist Party, was pulled down by a straight-talking, straight-forward, simple woman from a lower middle class family of Kalighat, Kolkata. This woman is most unusual to Indian politics: she neither brings a family name to politics (as does Sonia Gandhi), nor did she have a political mentor (as did the dalit leader Mayavati). She is Mamata Banerjee, the leader of Trina Mool Congress (TMC). Soon, she will give up her job as the Railways Minister in the Central Government and walk into the Writers’ Buildings, the hub of government power in West Bengal, where she was pulled by the hair and thrown out in 1993 by the police for protesting in front of the then chief minister, Jyoti Basu’s, office. Although this was not the only time she was physically beaten by the hired goondas of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M) (Mamata’s head was fractured in 1991 by a CPI(M) thug), she will have a broad smile on her face when taking the chief ministerial seat, I am sure. This is because she has, at last, succeeded in her often single-handed, decades-long struggle to overthrow a Left Front that came to power in 1977 in a landslide victory.  Politically, it is an important event. But it is more significant because, in the process of overthrowing the Communists, she has redefined contemporary Bengali ethnic identity, loosening the grip of the urban-based, dhoti-clad, intellectual middle class bhadralok ideologues on the state politics.

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Book review: Bina D’Costa’s ‘Nationbuilding, Gender and War crimes in South Asia’ (London, New York: Routledge, 2011) May 17, 2011

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

Sandy Gordon

In her new book, Bina D’Costa provides a convincing picture of the role of war, war crime (especially against women) and myth in the construction of modern South Asian nation-states. The story of the women caught up in the violence of 1971 is movingly told, in terms of how they originally suffered and how they continue to suffer due to family and societal ostracism, the re-emergence of the religious right in Bangladesh and the failure of the state to acknowledge their stories or suffering.

I liked a great deal about this book – its density, its extensive reading into the problem, its intellectual subtlety and especially its use of history.  Dr D’Costa argues convincingly that the atrocities of 1971 cannot be understood without reference to those of 1947; that South Asia is not just India, but constitutes a culturally inter-connected set of countries that interact constantly over porous borders; and that the analysis of nation-building should incorporate the micro-level stories of women as well as the macro-level ones.  This last is especially difficult to bring off analytically, and D’Costa accomplishes it superbly.

Women fighters during the 1971 war.

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Ten years of the War on Terror: a strategic reassessment May 13, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Afghanistan, Kumar, Vikas, Pakistan , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

The future of international terrorism and the War on Terror is being hotly debated after Osama bin Laden’s death. Osama’s liquidation could increase the risk aversion of Islamic extremists and trigger competition for supremacy among them. But it could as well lead to more attacks from his enraged supporters and nudge the otherwise factious extremists to join hands against the West. Irrespective of which of these two effects dominates we have no reason to celebrate because the decade long War on Terror, by design the third best solution, is a colossal waste of taxpayer’s money. In fact, the wild celebration of one man’s death highlights the pointlessness of the War on Terror waged by the most powerful nation of the world.

Under the first best solution, modernist, democratic forces directly ideologically challenge the religious extremists. But this solution is difficult to implement in AfPak, where any ideological campaign presumably has to first clear the Islam-in-danger hurdle. The second best solution involves supporting moderate, traditionalist religious groups in their ongoing conflicts with the religious extremists. The traditionalists need not clear the Islam-in-danger hurdle because they cannot be portrayed as anti-Islamic. The first and second best solutions include provision of physical security and development funding to non-extremists.

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FEATURE ARTICLE: Anglo-Indians as part of the Indian diaspora: making a home in Australia May 11, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Features, India, Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala , comments closed

Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt

A different kind of Indian in Australia?

Besides the Afghan cameleers and the Sikhs in the nineteenth century, one of the earliest communities to migrate from India to Australia was the Anglo-Indians. Anglo-Indians comprise one of the largest communities of mixed descent in the world and are most likely the largest single cultural group of Indians in Australia. In this note, I want to show that on the transnational scale, as part of an Indian diaspora, the changing generational needs and changing policy environments can create new longings for the home that has been left behind and in the process give rise to a new politics of identity. My focus is on the diasporic Anglo-Indians in Australia, who, like other diasporic communities, form transnational links, forge and sustain multi-stranded social relations that connect them to the country of origin and those of their residence. As part of the Indian community in Australia, the Anglo-Indians enrich Australian society as much as any other ethnic Indian group and, above all, they bring new sensibilities of mixed race and culture and a historicity into the diasporic policy debate. My hope is that this note would lead to the recognition of huge diversity inherent amongst immigrant Indians. Intellectually, such recognition would lead to a rethinking of Indian-ness in Australia. In terms of policy, understanding the historically formed cultural diversity would allow us specific policy needs that smaller groupings within a broad group might have, within India as well as in Australia. Ien Ang and Jon Stratton have pointed out that Australian multicultural discourse is shaped by the national origins of the migrants who are then given an ethnic identity, not a racial one. People migrating from Indonesia, for example, would all be articulated as Indonesians, without a differentiation between the Dutch and the Indonesians. Such a removal of race from public debate implicitly reaffirms assimilationist ideology and a strong belief in the existence of a mainstream Australian culture. Thus, one policy outcome could be a greater attention to the diversities within the migrant groups.

Who is an Anglo-Indian? The Census of India of 1911 described the Anglo-Indians as a ‘domiciled community’ of mixed descent, who were also described as Eurasians, ‘country-born’ or ‘half-caste’. Indo-Briton was perhaps the first ever generally accepted designation of the community. Subsequently, terms such as Indo-European, east-Indian, Eurasian were used, but they were seen as ambivalent because of their failure in reflecting the British lineage. Disparaging terms were not uncommon and some of them – half-whites, eight-annas, blacky-whites – were widely used in popular parlance. Not only are the two names derogatory, they also indicate the wider resistance towards this community in India. Such racial and cultural prejudice, as noted earlier, arose primarily from political reasons and the social segregation of lives in colonial India. The 1935 Government of India Act defines Anglo-Indians in terms of their paternal ancestry and domicile: ‘An Anglo-Indian is a person whose father or any of whose other male progenitors in the male line is or was of European descent but who is a native of India.’

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Resounding Victories for both Obama and Osama May 9, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Roberts, Michael , comments closed

Michael Roberts

Both Obama and Osama are happy.

The killing of Osama bin Laden is a major triumph for President Obama and USA. It is a momentous symbolic victory. “Yes We Can” has been confirmed and underlined. It will boost Obama’s re-election chances immeasurably. The triumphalism displayed on the streets and in media outlets in USA reveals the depths of patriotism as well as the hostility to extreme Muslim fundamentalism. Though Australian human rights crusaders have criticised the action as a “summary execution,” there are no qualms in most of USA. The story of this commando strike is pictured as an “act of justice” not as an “outrage.”

This victory for Obama is also a victory for Osama. Having trod the path of mujahid in the path to Allah, he is now a shahid at the feet of Allah. Sura 9: 111 runs thus: “Allah has bought from the believers their lives and their wealth in return for Paradise; they fight in the way of Allah, kill and get killed. That is a true promise from Him in the Torah, the Gospel and the Qur’an; and who fulfils His promise better than Allah? Rejoice, then, in the bargain you have made with Him, for that is a great triumph” (Cook 2005: 9).

It is no accident, therefore, that the attack on the World Trade centre occurred on 9/11. But alongside this faith in numerology lies a commitment to the “salvific covenant between God and the Muslims” as David Cook has argued in his Understanding Jihad (2005: 9). This “covenant,” stresses Cook, “is presented in contractual terms.” The Muslim believer embarking on the journey that involves a “fight in the path of the Allah” receives an assurance of Paradise at its end. He is before Allah as a monad. (more…)

Bin Laden: too big to hide under the carpet? May 4, 2011

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

Sandy Gordon

The crucial issue is the future of nuclear-armed Pakistan, a country of 160 million, mixing a highly sophisticated – albeit semi-feudal – elite with a poorly educated, poverty ridden peasant and tribal mass base.

The US will be doing its sums, including with the material seized from the Bin Laden compound in Abbottabad.  Should it emerge that any elements in the Pakistani administration knew of his presence, it will be hard for the US to justify the US$3 billion aid package it provides to Pakistan each year, especially when it is bleeding financially itself.

Added to this, the timing of Bin Laden’s killing could give additional credibility to the plan to commence the US drawdown in Afghanistan by this July and complete the process by 2014.  Given its massive financial problems, the US badly needs to refocus away from its wars and on to the economy. Ironically, conservatives, so complicit in starting the costly war in Iraq, now want to see the military budget, which will remain tight, refocused on major weapons systems and away from ‘boots on the ground’.  For them, the new challenge is China, not obscure Islamists in far off places. (more…)

The games go on May 2, 2011

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

Brian Stoddart

A few short months ago Suresh Kalmadi reigned supreme as the Commonwealth Games went off successfully in Delhi, even if the lead-in was troubled.  He was seen to have delivered on a showcase that set India towards hosting a future Olympics and demonstrated the “new” India’s capability for doing almost anything.

How times are now changed as he awaits the next steps in a prison cell, having been charged on several counts in connection with the letting of the CWG contracts for the Queen’s Baton Relay and with several other charges pending.  Among the latter, it is speculated, are included his alleged forged signing of official documents relating to a contract for Events Knowledge Services (EKS), the Swiss-based group brought in to “save” the Games.  His two chief aides are awaiting trial.  He has been stripped of his post as President of the Indian Olympic Association.

While several inquiries were initiated in wake of the Games and its alleged business and financial irregularities, the present rush has emerged from the proceedings of the V.K. Shunglu inquiry ordered by the Prime Minister’s Office.  A series of reports began issuing about two months ago, and the findings have been spectacular if contested.  The broadcast and telecast rights for the Games, for example, were found to have been issued at inflated bid levels and against much advice.  The Director-General of Doordarshan was stood down.  The issuing  agency was found to have connections to the winning bidders .  As a result of dubious practice, there may have been losses to the Organising Committee’s coffers of up to Rs 135 crore. (more…)