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Caught between Ramraj and Swaraj April 1, 2014

Posted by ruthgamble in : India, Kumar, Vikas , 1 comment so far

Vikas Kumar

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, 2013

Posted by aungsi in : Kumar, Vikas , Comment

Vikas Kumar

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, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , 2comments

Vikas Kumar

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, 2012

Posted by auriolweigold in : Kumar, Vikas, South Asia - General , Comment

Vikas Kumar

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, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , Comment

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, 2012

Posted by nishankmotwani in : India, Kumar, Vikas , Comment

Vikas Kumar

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, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , 1 comment so far

Vikas Kumar

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, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Kumar, Vikas, South Asia - General , Comment

Vikas Kumar

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…)

2012 Uttar Pradesh Assembly Election: Samajwadi Party’s Waterloo? November 29, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , 4comments

Vikas Kumar

The forthcoming assembly election in Uttar Pradesh (UP), the world’s most populous sub-national administrative unit, marks the beginning of the long campaign for India’s 2014 General Election. In an earlier post, I have argued that the outcome of UP’s election will influence the choice of prime ministerial candidates and the strategies of political parties for the next general election. In this post I will discuss the existential crisis facing Samajwadi Party (SP), an important regional party based in UP.

The rise of SP in the early 1990s was propelled by the insecurity and aspirations of the middle castes (also known as the Other Backward Castes, OBCs) and Muslims. This was the time when sections of upper castes were supporting Hindu nationalism and economic liberalization to rejuvenate their hegemony that was collapsing in the aftermath of the Shah Bano case, which encouraged radical Islamists, and the implementation of Mandal Commission’s recommendations, which empowered the lower and middle castes. In this atmosphere, SP’s secular socialist manifesto targeted lower and middle caste and Muslim voters with mixed success. On the one hand, its bitter clash with its ally Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) deprived SP of lower caste support. On the other, the decline of Congress in UP and rise of Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) allowed SP to consolidate Muslim votes. In the late 1990s marginalization of BJP’s OBC leader Kalyan Singh buttressed SP’s OBC credentials. As a result SP came to be identified with OBCs, particularly the Yadavs, and Muslims. The Yadav–Muslim combination worked electoral wonders in UP between 1993 and 2007, when SP secured between 17 and 26 per cent of the votes cast in elections and its leader Mulayam Singh Yadav served as the chief minister for six years (1993–95, 2003–07). (The Yadav–Muslim alliance was more effective in neighbouring Bihar, where it helped Lalu Prasad Yadav stay in power for 15 years between 1990 and 2005.) SP also managed to leverage its position in UP to emerge as a national player. Mulayam Singh served as the defence minister (1996–98) in the Third Front government and was also considered for the position of prime minister.


Understanding China’s South Asia policy November 24, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Kumar, Vikas, South Asia - General , 1 comment so far

Vikas Kumar

China’s aggressive posturing in recent boundary disputes with Japan, India, Vietnam, and the Philippines caused widespread concern in the Asia-Pacific. But sensing growing opposition, China renewed cooperation with neighbours to calm tensions. Still policy-makers across the region are panicking at the prospect of China’s premature rise as the regional hegemon. The combination of aggressive and peaceful moves that characterize China’s foreign policy, therefore, bears closer scrutiny.

At least, four competing, but not mutually exclusive, explanations can be offered to explain China’s foreign policy in South Asia, which relate to different understandings of intentions and compulsions of the Chinese leaders and, by implication, different ways of engaging with a rising China. A fuller understanding of different explanations and their inter-relationship is, therefore, indispensable. (more…)