Doubly anachronistic December 8, 2014Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , Comment
In a recent address, on the occasion of the rededication of Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre in Mumbai, the Prime Minister claimed that Karna’s birth outside a womb was evidence that ancient Indians knew genetic science, whereas the episode of Lord Ganesh acquiring an elephant’s head showed that they also knew plastic surgery. A few days later, the Home Minister and a senior legislator of the ruling party went a step further and claimed that Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle was inspired by Hindu scriptures. As if this was not enough, a historian close to the ruling party suggested that Ancient India had aircrafts and nuclear weapons. While the criticism that followed mostly focused on how the Hindu Right’s sense of history is deeply flawed, this article explores incoherence in the right wing’s use of history.
The caste of the Modi effect May 30, 2014Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , Comment
Before this year’s parliamentary election, it was a truism that the national parties of India were led by English/Hindi-speaking upper castes. Even Chaudhary Charan Singh, the Jat leader from western Uttar Pradesh who was the prime minister during 1979-80, did not lead a national party in a parliamentary election. The other side of the glass ceiling erected by the upper castes spawned regional caste-based parties, whose founders saw no future for themselves and their communities within the national parties. Narendra Modi has broken the glass ceiling and joined the national leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), hitherto a bastion of upper castes. Unlike Bangaru Laxman, a Dalit leader from Andhra Pradesh who served as the BJP president during 2000-01, Modi is not a convenient façade for a party otherwise dominated by upper castes. Equally importantly, unlike his prime ministerial predecessors who with the exception of Deve Gowda were primarily based in Delhi, he spent most of his political career in a medium-sized non-Hindi speaking province. His spectacular rise needs to be examined from the perspective of how it reworked caste equations within his party and how caste played a subtle role in his successful campaign.
Caught between Ramraj and Swaraj April 1, 2014Posted by ruthgamble in : India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed
In the run-up to the forthcoming parliamentary election in India, a few political parties initially tried to choose candidates through innovative methods. For instance, the Congress, India’s oldest political party, briefly flirted with the idea of holding elections within the party to select candidates. On the other hand, a key feature of the selection procedure of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), one of the youngest parties, was a nomination form for prospective candidates, which checked among other things if applicants were familiar with the book Swaraj written by the party’s National Convener. Candidates were given eleven lines to share their opinion regarding this “manifesto of the India of tomorrow”. The mini-book reviews were supposedly meant to serve as screening devices. We can use the book for other purposes, though. For instance, it can help us understand the counter-institutional policies of AAP’s short-lived government in Delhi. Here we will use the book to compare the historical narratives that inform BJP’s Ramraj (government fashioned after the epic state ruled by Lord Rama of Ayodhya) and AAP’s Swaraj (self-rule). (more…)
Can the AAP click elsewhere? December 16, 2013Posted by aungsi in : Kumar, Vikas , comments closed
Launched by anti-corruption crusaders last year, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) defied expectations in the recent Delhi assembly elections. It has shaken up the national parties of India, who thought elections could be reduced to the choice between their prime ministerial candidates. Can the AAP replicate its success elsewhere in the country?
The AAP was fortunate that Anna Hazare undertook his fast in Delhi. The party’s fight for the city of Delhi was simultaneously the fight for control over a state as well as the national capital. Had Anna fasted in Mumbai or Kolkata and the AAP launched there, it would not have appealed to the popular imagination in equal measure, which in turn would have affected its ability to attract donations and volunteers. Delhi also provided the party with other advantages that allowed it to avoid suspect money and launch an intense door-to-door campaign at a low cost.
Nurturing India’s linguistic diversity October 11, 2013Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed
While we still do not have a definitive estimate of India’s linguistic diversity, the Summer Institute of Linguistics’ Ethnologue (17th edition) reports 461 languages from India, compared to the 122 languages with more than 10,000 speakers reported in the 2001 Census and nearly 800 languages counted by the recently concluded People’s Linguistic Survey of India. But a simple headcount could be misleading because, on the one hand, about 17% of the languages listed in the Ethnologue are extinct or endangered and, on the other, 22 languages listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution and their “dialects” together account for more than 95% of India’s population. Furthermore, only 10% of the languages listed in the Ethnologue are used in educational institutions, whereas less than 5% languages account for most of the publications. The rest of the languages are unable to thrive even in fields like entertainment. For instance, in recent years, the Central Board of Film Certification has received submissions in about 5% of the languages. But three languages accounted for 45% of the films produced and more than 90% of the dubbed films.
The missing and unacknowledged Qurans October 12, 2012Posted by auriolweigold in : Kumar, Vikas, South Asia - General , comments closed
The Quran has received a lot of attention in recent times. On the one hand, alleged desecrations of the Quran by NATO forces in Afghanistan or citizens of NATO countries have more than once triggered massive protests across the Islamic world. On the other, critics of ‘Islamic’ extremism have tried to trace its roots to the Quran.
The second kind of attention is of interest to us here. Two points are worth noting in this regard. The core Islamic theology cannot be causally related to violence involving Muslims. And, even if portions of the Quran that are not part of the core theology can be linked to religious violence, we need a more nuanced understanding of such links. In the ancient world knowledge was one seamless realm and means of preserving it were scarce. Religious texts often served as intergenerational carriers of whatever communities found worth preserving, including advice on warfare and statecraft. In short, the ‘theological’ roots of complex modern socio-political developments like Islamic terrorism/extremism are nebulous. But there is a largely ignored aspect of the Quran, potentially related to Islamic extremism and religious violence involving Muslims outside the Arab world, which would bear closer examination. (more…)
Reviving local level democracy in India July 13, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed
Vikas Kumar, Alok Tiwari and Ragupathy Venkatachalam
India is suffering from policy paralysis due to a crisis of credibility across the political system. The world’s largest democracy is threatened by a growing disconnect between the electorate and elected representatives, which is expressed as distrust and a general sense of a lack of accountability of the latter. Money and power are partly to blame for this disconnect, as is the first-past-the-post electoral system. This is evident at the local level where India’s democracy tends to degenerate into ethnocracies that disenfranchise smaller groups.
India and Australia: The end of estrangement? April 4, 2012Posted by nishankmotwani in : India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed
Reprinted from Clingendael Asia Forum at the Clingendael Asia Studies, 9 December 2011. Read the full story.
On the eve of the visit of US President Barack Obama, Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard declared that Australia is willing to reconsider its ban on uranium exports to India. The ban is widely believed to be a major obstacle to a stronger India—Australia relationship, which has so far remained weak despite numerous, and shared maritime security concerns. While estrangement during the Cold War was understandable, Australia’s and India’s subsequent inability to forge a closer relationship is not. Gillard’s latest move is being seen as a game changer that will end strategic discrimination against India and signal Australia’s willingness to shed its Cold War blinkers and come to terms with the end of India’s nuclear isolation. It is unfair, however, to expect a dramatic improvement in the India-Australia relationship as a consequence of lifting the ban.
2012 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election and the future of UPA January 13, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has been paralyzed among other things due to the populist politics of Mamata Banerjee, the leader of All India Trinamool Congress (Trinamool). Dr Manmohan Singh’s historic Bangladesh visit was almost derailed, when mercurial Mamata vetoed the agreement on water sharing. The list of domestic legislations and policy initiatives that have been delayed or even mothballed to keep Mamata in good humour is long: Lokpal Bill, FDI in retail sector, disinvestment of public sector undertakings, and rail fare rationalization. To add insult to injury, Mamata now seems to be keen to get rid of Congress. There can be four reasons why Trinamool may want to change course. First, it does not make sense to contest the next local and parliamentary elections as an ally of a corruption-tainted party. Second, Trinamool is trying to monopolize the non-Left vote in West Bengal. Third, Trinamool now faces a weakened Left Front in West Bengal and is no longer critically dependent on the support of a national party. Fourth, Trinamool is trying to strike roots in other provinces like Uttar Pradesh and Manipur. But Trinamool may postpone its exit from UPA in order to get extra-financial support from the centre for West Bengal and even continue to ‘support’ UPA if an utterly humiliated Congress continues to tolerate Mamata’s populism at the expense of the central exchequer.
Ironically, Congress has no one to blame but itself. Mamata’s assembly election campaign should have alerted Congress long ago that Trinamool will out-left the Left Front. But to get rid of the Left Front, a key ally of UPA-I (2005–2009), Congress promoted Trinamool at the cost of national security. For instance, in the run-up to West Bengal assembly election (2011), the central government extended half-hearted support to the Left Front government’s police campaign against Maoist extremism, the biggest internal security threat according to Dr Singh. Dr Singh also overlooked the misuse of the Railway ministry by Trinamool’s campaign machinery. More importantly, as I have argued earlier, Congress has ignored its long term interests in its single-minded quest to weaken the Left.
Will Buddhism lose its “special position” in democratic Myanmar? December 17, 2011Posted by southasiamasala in : Kumar, Vikas, South Asia - General , comments closed
The British disestablished Buddhism in Myanmar after abolishing the monarchy and the Burmese nationalists in turn projected the British rule, among other things, as a threat to Buddhism. After decolonization, Buddhism slowly reclaimed the public space. To begin with the Union of Burma’s Constitution (1947) recognized the “special position of Buddhism” (Art 21). The Sixth (Theravada) Buddhist Council (1954-56), which concluded on the 2500th Anniversary of Buddha’s nirvana, was organized in Myanmar under the patronage of Prime Minister U Nu. Then in 1961 Buddhism was formally adopted as the state religion. This, however, did little to secure U Nu’s political position. He was deposed soon after in 1962. The nominal changes introduced by the subsequent governments did not alter the relationship between Buddhism and the state, which marginalizes Christian tribes and Muslims.
Post-colonial Myanmar dominated by the Burmese Buddhists has, in fact, been fighting insurgent ethno-linguistic and religious minorities right from the day of its inauguration. However, a number of developments in the last few months have generated optimism about the long impending democratization of Myanmar, which in turn is expected to lead to secularization and de-ethnicization of the state. A comparative survey of histories and constitutions of countries closely related to Myanmar – Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand – where Theravada Buddhism is the dominant faith would help deciphering the future of the “special position” of Buddhism in Myanmar. (more…)