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Alliances not leaders will decide 2014 Indian elections February 19, 2014

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

Arun R. Swamy

Political posturing in India has not changed since 1999, when there was a fascist party posing as a conservative one, and a royalist party posing as a liberal one. The posturing continues, but since then the Indian National Congress (INC) party has embraced coalition politics. And it may now be in a stronger position to attract allies than its rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

INC president Sonia Gandhi’s recent decision not to publicly project a prime ministerial candidate for the upcoming elections has met with disappointment in the party and derision outside. But Gandhi may be shrewder than her colleagues. With the two largest parties typically receiving only a little more than half the votes, the decisive contest between them is for the support of regional parties, not voters. In that contest the INC continues to have an edge — and publicly committing to a prime ministerial candidate would hinder their efforts.


Sham election sets dangerous standard for Bangladesh February 17, 2014

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

Tom Felix Joehnk

For more than two decades Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League (AL) and Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have ruled Bangladesh. They hate each other viscerally and refuse to communicate, much less negotiate. Both women inherited their political followings from relatives who were assassinated. They have since turned the country’s two largest parties into patronage-based personality cults that specialise in looking backwards.

Bangladesh is the world’s eighth most populous country. It has made tremendous progress in recent years — very much despite its appalling leaders. Their greatest feat might have been when they joined hands in 1990 to oust Mohammad Ershad, a dictator. Ever since, the two autocratically inclined ‘begums’ have given Bangladeshis no choice but the choice between the two of them.

The incumbent prime minister has always lost — until now. But now Bangladesh is entering a new phase. In a farce of an election on 5 January Sheikh Hasina won a second consecutive term as prime minister. She laid the ground for this victory in 2011, by junking a provision added to the constitution in 1996 which had called for neutral, ‘caretaker’ governments to oversee elections.


India’s mission to Mars: money well spent? February 6, 2014

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

Eshan Motwani

In November 2013 India joined an exclusive club of nations to have launched a mission to Mars. Informally referred to as ‘Mangalyaan’ (Mars-craft), the launch represents an unparalleled scientific and technological achievement for India; one that has already drawn praise for its shoestring budget of $78m. Media coverage of the scientific and human efforts involved in managing this mission on an extremely small budget has often been accompanied with attention to India’s wide-scale poverty and social welfare issues. The intention of mentioning these distinct events and circumstances together has seemingly been to question the Indian rationale in launching an ambitious project in light of existing challenges.

The argument that the space program somehow diverts valuable resources away from public welfare projects is imbalanced. It is surprising that global (and some Indian) condemnation of the launch is so readily expressed without considering other activities that have severely drained public funding. The drain in resources from India’s space program is in fact trivial when compared to the effects of corruption and graft that plague India’s public welfare initiatives. Condemning the space program for redirecting attention away from social welfare problems ignores the potential commercial, scientific and long-term impacts of the successful launch.

Photo: Indian Space Research Organisation, Copyright 2008 ISRO