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The growth of private English-medium schools in Almora February 28, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : India , comments closed

Mark Jones

The Kumaon is the little patch of the Himalaya tucked up where India, Tibet and Nepal all meet in a tangle of green hills, plunging valleys and icy peaks a few hundred kilometres Northeast of Delhi. The geographic and cultural heart of the region is the old hill town of Almora that straggles along a spur at about 1500 meters that runs off from a higher forest clad massif. The icy peaks of the great Himalaya can be seen from many places around town.

Almora is centred on a flagstone paved pedestrian market lined with many medieval buildings featuring elaborately carved wooden facades. Off the market runs a maze of alleys and galleries that bustle with life. Forest and farmland fringe the town. Almora is far from a pristine museum piece, but for those of you who have visited the Himalaya, think of it a miniature blend of old Kathmandu and old Shimla.

I have been lucky enough to be a frequent visitor to Almora over the years and regard it as in some ways my second home. I have seen it grow and change, watched the arrival of cars, satellite television, mobile phones, the internet and felt it move from isolation to integration with the global world. One of the biggest institutional changes I have noticed, particularly over the past decade, is the mushrooming of private English-medium schools. They seem to have sprouted up just about everywhere.

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India’s churning democracy: future directions February 27, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Doron, Assa, India, Nelson, Barbara , comments closed

Barbara Nelson and Assa Doron

This article appears in the most recent edition of the East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Ideas from India.

Indian democracy continues to puzzle many foreign observers. But for most Indians, democracy — however imperfect — is a matter of practice, something they grow up with. Indian democracy may not be perfect — which democracy is? — but it would be safe to say that debates that raged until at least the 1980s about whether it will survive are now firmly in the rearview mirror. Millions are going to the polls this year as elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur begin this January. Most attention is focused on the Uttar Pradesh poll, India’s most populous state and the sixth largest in the world, a state so large that the logistics of ensuring security for voters affects the election; the poll must be conducted in seven distinct phases.

That India has survived as a democratic nation since independence in 1947 has, until recently, remained an anomaly to social scientists. According to the view that democracy requires economic development, a common culture and high levels of literacy, India’s claim to be democratic has rested largely on the fact that it holds elections, has universal suffrage, and transfer of power occurs without trouble. Rather than viewing India as an anomaly, democratic theory now accounts more comprehensively for the Indian case.

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Another bead in the ‘string of pearls’?: interpreting Sri Lanka’s foreign policy realignment February 24, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, India, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Sergei De Silva-Ranasinghe

In this article, Sergei De Silva-Ranasinghe argues that India should be differentiated from the West in analysing Sri Lanka’s apparent drift towards a strategic relationship with China.  The West’s diminishing influence in relation to China should be seen as a manifestation of its overall decline.  Not so with India, which seeks to balance China’s involvement with Sri Lanka, and which also has a dynamic, on-going aid and trade relationship with the strategically placed island.  To read the article in Issue 19 of ChinaSecurity click here.

Maldives: putting democracy back on track February 23, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Future Directions International, Guest authors, Maldives , comments closed

Guest author: N. Sathiya Moorthy

First published in Future Directions International on 15 February 2012

A week after President Mohammed Nasheed resigned, to be succeeded by his Vice-President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, Maldives is limping back to normality. Hassan is to complete the residual part of Nasheed’s five-year term, ending November 2013. The deep political divisions remain, and the wounds of the previous week’s events have left a bad taste in the mouths of the people at large, and Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) cadres in particular. All now need to take stock of the recent developments with equanimity and arrive at solutions for the medium- and long-term good of the nation.

Nasheed’s sudden resignation had been preceded by a series of events, not just over the previous weeks, as is often being said now, in a reference to the ‘protect Islam’ call by the ‘December 23 Coalition’ launched by religious NGOs, to which desperate Opposition political groups, whose egos were matched only by the personal ambitions of their leaders, tagged along. It had commenced as early as mid-2010, when the parliamentary polls threw up a minority for the President’s party.

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India’s Iranian sanctions predicament February 17, 2012

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

Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe

First published in Future Directions International on 8 February 2012

The implementation of the tough new US and EU sanctions against Iran has encountered practical challenges, with India, an important Western strategic partner, voicing its concerns. Given that India is a major recipient of Iranian oil, a major investor in Iran’s energy sector and has other vitally important strategic interests at stake in Afghanistan and Central Asia, its quandary encapsulates the difficulties   involved in the full implementation of sanctions.

In a press conference on 29 January, India’s Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, clarified India’s position on sanctions targeting the sale of Iranian oil: ‘It is not possible for India to take any decision to reduce the import from Iran drastically [emphasis added by author] because, after all, the countries which can provide the requirement of the emerging economy, Iran is an important country amongst them.’ From this statement, it is clear that India has emphasised its willingness to cooperate with the US and EU sanctions regime, but with certain limitations in mind.

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Uttar Pradesh goes to the polls February 16, 2012

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

Ronojoy Sen

State legislative assembly elections are being held in Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s largest state, over seven phases between 8 February and 3 March. UP elections are notoriously difficult to call because of the state’s size and the complex interplay of region, caste and religion. But what can be said with some certainty is that no party is likely to win a majority on its own, and this will lead to a scramble for post-poll alliances.

Given its size, with a population of around 200 million, the UP elections always assume greater significance than those in other states. This time it has taken on additional importance for two reasons. First, the two dominant national parties – the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – have fared poorly in the state in recent times, so the current elections will be a test of strength for both. Second, the Congress is desperately shopping for allies at the federal level, since its largest coalition partner, the Trinamool Congress, has been persistently blocking major policy initiatives and voting against it in parliament. The two main players in UP – the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) – have both lent some ‘issue-based’ support to the government. Thus, in the likely event of a fractured mandate in UP, the Congress could ally itself with either the SP or the BSP – and in return bring either into the federal government, ensuring the marginalisation of the Trinamool Congress.

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Indian car sector booms but transport infrastructure lags February 13, 2012

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

Guest author: Mahendra Ved

Reprinted from East Asia Forum, 7 February, 2012

While the Indian car sector is travelling in the fast lane, road and public transport projects have not kept pace. Indians bought about 2.5 million cars last year, worth US$30 billion, while another half a million were exported.

This year, assuming that car-loan rates decline and the economy improves, the market could grow by 10 to 12 per cent — and even if rates remain static, the car market will still grow by 5 to 7 per cent. But even these figures pale in comparison to the 30 per cent growth experienced in 2010, at which time interest rates were lower and the economy was booming, and the double-digit annual sales throughout the 2000s. No wonder global automakers scrambled to attend the 2012 Delhi Auto Expo earlier this year, where some 60 new models were launched.

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Pakistan and the Afghan End-Game: need for a rethink? February 11, 2012

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

Sandy Gordon

Washington has now moderated Secretary for Defense Leon Panetta’s statement that the US as a fighting force would be in the barracks by mid-2013.  US forces may now come out to fight as and when necessary till departure at the end of 2014.  But that doesn’t change much.  The fact is the Afghan endgame has been in play at least since the death of bin Laden.

On the surface Pakistan appears to be a highly dysfunctional country caught up in the current ‘AfPak’ uncertainty and poorly positioned to benefit from the endgame.  Perilously poised between a dysfunctional civilian government and an Army reluctant to seize power but willing to shape events from the wings, beset by terrorist and insurgency violence, with a failing and near bankrupt economy and shocking social sector indicators, on numerous occasions commentators have predicted Pakistan’s demise.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar

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Nepal: politicking without governing February 10, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Dowler, Amy, Nepal , comments closed

Amy Dowler

It was high farce on the streets of Kathmandu recently when Raj Lal Yadav attempted – unsuccessfully – to resign from his ministerial post in Nepal’s coalition government. Yadav is a member of the Madhesi Janaadhikari Forum-Republican Party, a junior partner in the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (UCPN(M))-led coalition. His dissatisfaction with his post was due ultimately to its meaninglessness. Despite frequent and well-publicised expressions of frustration, he remained minister without portfolio four months after his elevation to the ministry.

Two weeks ago Yadav finally decided his role was never going to grow substance and scheduled an appointment with Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai to tender his formal resignation. Unfortunately, the date of that appointment coincided with a bandh. Bandhs, city or nation-wide shutdowns called and enforced by various interest groups, are a much used political device in Nepal. During a properly enforced bandh motorised transport is prohibited (except in the case of emergencies, or tourists).

Not to be deterred, Yadav, along with his aides, took to the pavement to walk to the Prime Minister’s office at Singha Durba, the seat of Nepal’s government. Upon arrival he however discovered his efforts had been in vain: while it could not stop Yadav, the bandh had acted as a deterrent to the PM who decided against venturing to his office that day.

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Future Directions International Strategic Weekly Analysis February 9, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Future Directions International, South Asia - General , comments closed

This week’s Strategic Weekly Analysis has several pieces of South Asia interest:

Pakistan and the Afghan end-Game: need for a rethink
Washington has now moderated Secretary for Defense Leon Panetta’s statement that the US as a fighting force would be in the barracks by mid-2013.  US forces may now only come out to fight as and when necessary, till their departure at the end of 2014. But that doesn’t change much. The fact is, the Afghan endgame has been in play at least since the death of bin Laden.

India’s water plight
Water management will play a key role in determining the state of food security in India in the coming decades, according to speakers at a symposium titled “India and the Age of Crisis: A Symposium on the Local Politics of Global Economic and Ecological Fragility”, held at the University of Western Australia last week.

India conference: food security worsened by government policy
FDI recently attended a symposium held at the University of Western Australia. The two day programme, titled “India and the Age of Crisis”, covered issues of governance and how these affect access to food and water. In attendance was journalist Palagummi Sainath – Rural Affairs Editor for the influential Indian daily, The Hindu – and Dr Swapna Banerjee-Guha – Professor for Development Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Both speakers have written extensively on the critical situation in India, including the damaging policies of the government.

Also:

India, China and Japan co-ordinate anti-piracy patrols

India’s Iranian sanctions predicament