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SAM recommends June 2, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Doron, Assa, India, Jeffrey, Robin, South Asia Masala Recommends , comments closed

Narendra Modi rides technological wave to power in India

Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey

Technology alone did not win India’s general election for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Narendra Modi. But it played a huge part, and the surprisingly decisive results mark the country’s full-scale embrace of the digital age. Indian elections will never be the same.

Modi and his party used the spinal cord of India’s remarkable mobile phone network, with its more than 900 million connections, and added Facebook, Twitter, live 3-D “hologram” appearances in country towns and a gang of tech-savvy young enthusiasts. Read the full story: The Age, 27 May 2014.

Assa Doron, College of Asian and the Pacific, Australian National University, and Robin Jeffrey, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, are authors of The Great Indian Phone Book.

Landslide victory history in the making

With the election of Narendra Modi, India faces a critical turning point which could see not only greater prosperity but also sectarian violence, writes Ian Hall, a senior fellow in the Department of International Relations, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

Read the full story 

Modi’s sweeping victory in India May 25, 2014

Posted by ruthgamble in : India, Jeffrey, Robin , comments closed

Robin Jeffrey

The crushing victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its anointed prime minister Narendra Modi brought joy to India’s stock markets, satisfaction to many millions of exasperated voters and apprehension to religious minorities and others who don’t subscribe to ‘Hindu values’ as defined by the BJP.

The victory was everything the Hindu-chauvinist BJP hoped for — a majority in its own right in the 543-seat house, the first time India has had such a clear result since 1984. With its coalition allies, the BJP-led government will have more than 330 seats.

The defeated Indian National Congress party (INC), which led coalition governments for the past ten years, was reduced to fewer than 60 seats — the worst performance ever by Asia’s oldest political organisation. (more…)

When nature calls in India, phones are on hand November 8, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : Doron, Assa, India, Jeffrey, Robin , comments closed

Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey

Election season has begun in India and media-savvy politicians are taking up the cause of toilets. India has many fewer toilets than mobile phones and this, some politicians agree, is a crying shame.

Narendra Modi, the chief minister of the state of Gujarat and the leading opposition candidate for prime minister in next year’s elections, jumped on the toilet bandwagon this month. He told an audience of young people that although he was a leader of an uncompromising Hindu movement, he believed in ”toilets first, temples later”.

Officially, India has more than 900 million mobile-phone subscribers but fewer than 600 million toilets. With elections in five states due in November and national elections by next May, toilets and telecommunications are hot issues. In the past 10 years, Indians have fallen in love with the mobile phone, but fewer have the chance to use a toilet.


The cell phone: India’s society shaker December 11, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Doron, Assa, India, Jeffrey, Robin , comments closed

Robin Jeffrey and Assa Doron

In a country where one of the ancient texts declares that “if a Sudra [low-caste person] … listens in on a Vedic recitation, his ears shall be filled with molten tin”, cheap mobile phones can be explosive (Patrick Olivelle (ed. and trans.), The Dharmasūtras. The Law Codes of Ancient India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 12.1, p. 98). In India between 2000 and 2012, the telephone, and communications generally, have passed from the control of a tiny elite to become the daily experience of the mass of the population.

                Credit: A Doron

In the year 2000, India had 2 million mobile-phone subscribers. It had 900 million in August 2012, and the cost of a basic phone is as little as a week’s wages for a poor labourer (about INR 500 or SGD 12), and three hours of talk-time can be bought for half a day’s wages. For millions of poor people, a mobile phone has become the first ‘consumer durable’ they have ever owned. In the film The Gods Must Be Crazy, a single Coca-Cola bottle, dropped into a stable society, caused disarray and disruption. The mobile phone is no passive Coke bottle. It’s an interactive, talking, writing, picture-taking, data-keeping, broadcasting trouble-maker – trouble-maker, at least, if you believe that societies are fine as they are and that change and challenge are problems.


Creative destruction: Schumpeter, Shiva and the great Indian mobile phone October 19, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Doron, Assa, India, Jeffrey, Robin , comments closed

Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey

To explain the unnerving and unstoppable march of capitalism in the mid-20th century, Joseph Schumpeter coined the term ‘Creative Destruction’. Capitalism’s engine was fuelled by a voracious impulse to devour yesterday’s commodities and thus clear the way for new products for the insatiable appetite of the consumer to feed on.

In India, ‘Creative Destruction’ once referred to the cosmological realm occupied by the King of Dancers, Shiva-Nataraj, whose continuous dance of creation and destruction governs the universe. In Nehru’s newly independent India, the idea of inducing consumption for the sake of updating to the newest model was almost sacrilege. During the first few decades of independence, material pursuits were frowned upon, while progress and industrialization were founded on ideals of self-sufficiency and self-reliance.

Mobile repair shop in Lucknow's bustling Hazratganj (Credit: A. Doron)


Australia–India: reimagining the relationship March 4, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Jeffrey, Robin , comments closed

Robin Jeffrey

Reprinted from Inside Story. Read the full article

The arrival of 100,000 Indian students in the past five years is the biggest thing to happen to relations between the Australian land mass and the Indian subcontinent since the 1790s. That’s when the Campbell family started trading between Kolkata (Calcutta) and Sydney. Scottish-born Robert Campbell later migrated from India to Australia, where he built the first “bungalow,” became “a leading public figure” and earned a long entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Similar happy outcomes, I hope, lie in the future for many of the students from India who are putting substance into the puzzling 220-year relationship between their country and Australia. You have to look forward to good things, because some very bad things have happened in the past couple of years. When people are murdered, attacked and abused, and when individuals are picked on because they are obvious and alone, a nasty side of Australian society is revealing itself.

As a result, we are at a crucial turning point in the story of Australia and its ties with India. The harrowing tale of the past year can foreshadow the broader, deeper relationship whose absence has puzzled analysts for years. But thought, effort and imagination will be needed to bring a positive ending to an anguished chapter.


Summer reading in the Indian public sphere July 3, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Jeffrey, Robin , comments closed

Robin Jeffrey

As a better-late-than-never monsoon lays the dust on India’s parched plains and on the general elections, the new national government has four sets of documents to ponder. Each illustrates a different facet of the problems confronting the new government.

At the end of last month, the Liberhan Commission report on the destruction of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya in December 1992 was submitted to the government. The Times of India claimed that the report was critical of BJP leaders, including the former leader L. K. Advani. The government is faced with the question of what to do with the report. Is there any point, the Congress Party having just done well out of the general elections, in pursuing persons indicted in the report 17 years after the event? Symbolically, however, the demolition of the mosque in Ayodhya marked an exceptionally dark moment for the dream of a secular India that would bring the best of the past to a modern world. There will be those who will savour an opportunity to make things hot for the forces of Hindu chauvinism.

But there appear to be more urgent and important issues. Consider a second document: Report on Conditions of Work and Promotion of Livelihoods in the Unorganised Sector, August 2007 (Arjun Sengupta Report). The findings have direct relevance to the counter-insurgency battles currently being fought in Medinipur district of West Bengal against so-called Maoists. The report offered the dismal finding that 92 per cent of all Indian workers were in the “informal” sector. It further found a “high congruence between this segment of the workforce and 77 percent of the population with a per capita daily consumption of up to Rs. 20 (in 2004-05) … The number of persons belonging to this group increased from 811 million in 1999-00 to 836 million in 2004-05” (p. i). 811 million! If the data in the report are to be believed, it is not surprising that there is a receptive audience for what seem like outmoded notions of “peasant war”, particularly in the sorts of tribal areas that 40 years ago generated the term “Naxalite.” Has the report and its methodology been rigorously questioned? I am not aware that it has. But does three-quarters of India get by on no more than Rs 20 a day? (more…)