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FEATURE ARTICLE: Borodin – Christmas in Bangladesh June 6, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, Features, Guest authors , 1 comment so far

Joyce Das

It was around 9 am on Christmas morning. I was on my way to Savar, about 24 kilometres to the northwest of Dhaka city, the place that is mostly famous for Jatiyo Smriti Soudho, the National Monument for the Martyrs of the Liberation War of Bangladesh. But in April 2013, it hit the headlines with the collapse of a large garment factory, causing many deaths and injuries. Both my father and I were going to the Savar Baptist Church to attend the Christmas service. We were travelling by a car, sitting on the back seat scanning the street scene with curious eyes. The driver suddenly broke the silence; “Finally today people have come out with their vehicles after so long”, he said. And he was right. During a month of blockade, violence, and political instability leading to the national elections, people could hardly come out of their homes in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh.

Christmas in Savar (Photo: J. Das)

Christmas in Savar (Photo: J. Das)

Since 25 November, the entire country was embroiled in political violence. Between the night of 25 November and 21 December, the death toll had reached 127, out of which 46 were ‘common’ people, that is, innocent bye-standers without any political affiliation. In this context of turmoil, most of the Christians could not go back to their homes in villages – something that they normally do every festive season – to celebrate Christmas. In retaliation, on 23 December, the Christian Association organised a human-chain in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka, to protest the countrywide blockade so that the ordinary Christians can celebrate. The lack of response to this protest has frustrated many Christians; one of them posted on her Facebook: “Blockade across Bangladesh….!!!! Because we are the minority…No one cares about our festival…!!! We do not have the right to go home and celebrate our festival with our family and friends…do we?!?” Others kept their frustration within themselves and tried to talk about the situation casually, as though it is normal to expect that the political parties would never consider Christmas as a festival significant in Bangladesh. (more…)

Will China ‘wedge’ India and the US? June 5, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Gordon, Sandy, India, Pakistan , 1 comment so far

Sandy Gordon

Commentators have generally assumed that the Obama Administration’s wrong-footedness over Modi’s US visa, along with the latter’s pragmatic approach to Chinese investment in Gujarat, signal a new tilt by the BJP away from the United States and toward China. Neville Maxwell, writing in the Times of India, urges India to seize the opportunity offered by Modi’s election to achieve a border breakthrough with China.

Writing in the Global Times, Liu Zongyi, of the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, has hailed Modi as ‘India’s Nixon’ and characterised his pragmatic approach to the conduct of business and foreign relations as ‘very close to Chinese practices’.

India would certainly favour a thaw in relations with China so it can get on with the urgent task of infrastructure development and economic uplift of its people, including with Chinese investment in the otherwise etiolated international investment climate. If we take a long-term view, however, we can discern a number of wildcards that may complicate relations between India and China.

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Hypocrisy, ignorance or ‘the intellect beyond comprehension’ June 4, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Awasthy, Richa, India , Comment

Richa Awasthy

An open letter to the dissectors of Verdict 2014:

On the 16 May 2014 India ushered in a new era with the BJP winning the historic mandate of a clear majority for a single non-Congress party. Narendra Modi (NaMo)-led NDA alliance scaled new heights with 336 seats, something not predicted by anyone apart from one exit poll by Chanakya.

Never in the history of elections in India have I seen the kind of post-mortem that is circulating these days. I have seen analysis of why a particular party won or lost, but this is the first time I have seen such an effort to prove that the winner has actually not got a mandate. The verdict seems too hard to swallow for some of the elite class of intellectuals and they are trying to bring in all sorts of intriguing parameters to prove that the mandate is not for the winning party/coalition. The flood of posts in this direction inspired me to write this blog.

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SAM recommends June 2, 2014

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

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 

The caste of the Modi effect May 30, 2014

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

Vikas Kumar

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.

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A Modi landslide? May 29, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , 1 comment so far

Babak Moussavi

Narendra Modi’s victory is less impressive than it appears

When the results of the Indian election rolled in, the surprise was not over who was winning, but over the size of the victory margin. No single party had won a majority of the seats in the lower house since Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress victory in 1984, soon after the assassination of his mother, Indira. 30 years on, Narendra Modi has achieved this. He is now set to lead a majority Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government with 282 seats, but is likely to retain his pre-election coalition grouping, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), giving him 336 seats in a 543-seat parliament.

The scale of the victory is unprecedented in recent decades, and the power that incoming Prime Minister Modi is likely to command is more than most expected. Not only are the anticipated checks of coalition politics largely loosened by his single party majority, but the opposition is so fragmented that a divide and rule policy could allow for total domination of the political agenda. If he can muster a two-thirds majority, the government could even change India’s sacrosanct constitution. The 44 MPs of the Indian National Congress, the country’s oldest and once-dominant party, would barely muster a whimper. And if it continues to be led by the notoriously self-restrained Rahul Gandhi, even that might be something.

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Can Nepal unlock its potential? May 25, 2014

Posted by ruthgamble in : Guest authors, Nepal , Comment

Sujeev Shakya

In April 2006, when the second people’s movement, popularly known as ‘Jana Andolan II’, brought an end to 240 years of the Shah monarchy, there was little planning to ensure the country’s rapid political transformation.

The 10-year insurgency that had claimed over 13,000 lives came to an end with the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (UCPN) joining mainstream democratic parties. Nepal was declared a federal democratic republic in May 2008 after elections to the Constituent Assembly, and the Shah dynasty came to an end in June when the last ruler, King Gyanendra, vacated the palace and his position without resistance.

The process of writing a constitution began after the election for the Constituent Assembly (CA). The drafting process was extended on three occasions, adding two years to the deadline to finalise the document, but the 601-member CA engaged mostly in intra- and inter-party fighting and failed to write a constitution. As a result, the assembly was dissolved on 28 May 2012. An interim government of retired bureaucrats led by the chief justice was formed in March 2013 to hold yet another election for the CA. (more…)

Will the Indian National Congress survive? May 25, 2014

Posted by ruthgamble in : Guest authors, India , Comment

Arun R. Swamy

The best summary of the 16th Indian General Election just concluded was offered by a rueful leader of the Indian National Congress party (INC): ‘Our performance was worse than the worst case scenario’. It may get even worse in the years to come as regional factions seeking to remain viable at the state level consider whether association with the national party reduces their appeal.

The outcome is astonishing. In terms of seats, the resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) exceeded the predictions of all but one exit poll. By winning 283 seats the BJP has assured itself a majority of the lower house even without its allies, the first party in 30 years to do so; while the INC dropped to an all-time low of 44 — too low to meet the minimum threshold required to be recognised as the official opposition party. The BJP’s allies alone won nearly as many seats as the INC and its allies together. Three former INC factions that broke away to form regional parties in the last 15 years collectively won more seats than the INC, and two regional parties each have almost as many seats as the INC. Even more stunningly, the INC dropped to 19 per cent of the national vote, a historic low, while the BJP scored its highest vote share ever with 31 per cent. (more…)

Modi: from tea shop to India’s top spot May 25, 2014

Posted by ruthgamble in : Guest authors, India , Comment

Peter Drysdale

Last Friday, Narendra Modi scored a remarkable, historic victory over the Congress party dynasty that has dominated the Indian political scene for decades to become his country’s next prime minister. His rise from lower caste origins, the son of a tea-stall vendor, to the top job is the stuff of Indian soap opera. His success in winning such a huge mandate from a wide cross section of the Indian electorate, whatever baggage he carries from the Hindu nationalist right, is a heart-warming story of the triumph of a social underdog over the political establishment.

The stock market surged as the scale of the pro-business BJP government’s victory became clear. Big business has been solidly behind Modi who has portrayed himself as the can-do chief minister of the state of Gujarat, in office for the past 12 years and with three victorious state elections under his belt. In Gujarat, he says, the roads are paved, electricity never stops, and entrepreneurs get access, permissions and support. His supporters call it a ‘Gujarat model’ of economic progress. Modi aims to make it national. Yet among India’s states, Gujarat ranks around the midway point on most indicators of human development, such as primary school education, female literacy and child nutrition. (more…)

Modi’s Sweeping Victory in India May 25, 2014

Posted by ruthgamble in : India, Jeffrey, Robin , Comment

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…)