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Delhi voters pick an unconventional winner January 22, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , Comment

Purnendra Jain and Peter Mayer

Voters in Delhi have ushered in an unconventional leader of a new party, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP — the Common Man Party), to the top political position in the National Capital Territory. Delhi’s seventh chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, may be a political novice but he is by no means an unknown figure. A graduate of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology and a former senior official in India’s Income Tax Department, Kejriwal became known nationally in 2011 through his association with the anti-corruption movement led by Gandhian Anna Hazare. Mass demonstrations in Delhi against widespread corruption, and their coverage through national television, made Kejriwal one of the country’s most prominent faces.

Kejriwal was responsible for drafting an anti-corruption Jan Lokpal Bill and played a key role in implementing the Right to Information Act at the grassroots level. But at the end of 2012, Kejriwal parted company with Team Anna, as the latter did not support Kejriwal’s proposal to form a political party and contest elections. When the AAP was formed in November 2012, most commentators were pessimistic about its future. But one year on, Kejriwal surprised many after his party won 28 of 70 seats in the Legislative Assembly, thrashing the long-ruling Congress Party. It’s the first time in Delhi’s history that a party other than the Indian National Congress and the Bhartiya Janata Party has taken the helm. Delhi’s previous chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, belonged to the Congress Party, and after three five-year terms she became the longest-serving chief minister in Delhi and the longest-serving female chief minister in India. Of course, the emergence of political leaders from social movements is not a new phenomenon. In India, however, while many regional parties have emerged and their leaders served as chief ministers, most parties have been developed on the basis of caste, religion, language or regional issues. And none has managed to cultivate the same profile as Kejriwal.

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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.

 

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Constituent Assembly Election II in Nepal: Will it end the prolonged political transition? December 16, 2013

Posted by aungsi in : Guest authors, Nepal , 10comments

After 10 years of Maoist insurgency, Nepal faced two elections for the Constituent Assembly (CA) – one in 2008 (CA I) and the other in 2013 (CA II) to craft a new constitution by peoples’ representatives. Since the CA I was dissolved in 2012 for failing to deliver a new constitution, a CA II election was conducted to get the fresh mandate of the people on 19 November 2013. However, the recent election has produced landslide gains for some political parties and massive setbacks for some other parties, leading to a dramatic change in key players in national politics.  In particular, the Communist Party (Maoist), which had become the largest party in CA I, along with other Madhesi regional parties, has suffered a great loss in the recent election. The party has been advocating for a transformative agenda for Nepalese polity and society. Now, a critical question arises: have the people rejected the agenda for change? In this paper, we look at reasons behind the rise and fall of political parties in the contexts of CA I and CA II, and examine the implications for the political future of the country.

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Can India discard populism? December 2, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , Comment

Ashima Goyal

The Indian economy is suffering from the effects of the government’s high-risk development policy, which relied on volatile capital inflows from US quantitative easing to finance consumption and inclusion.

This strategy is high-risk because, in the long term, capital and investment follow growth, and aren’t determined by the monetary policy of a foreign country. But India has focused excessively on financing deficits and neglected growth-promoting domestic reforms — a strategy which is risky at best and disastrous when the global markets are fragile as they are now. Domestic and international reform to encourage economic growth is the sustainable way forward. Short-term measures to alleviate the current account deficit or reduce pressures on the rupee are all, at best, only stop-gaps.

But of course, in a democracy that is going into an election year, only politically friendly reforms are likely to be undertaken. So can politicians persuade their constituents to accept reform?

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Understanding India’s demographic transition November 27, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Jha, Raghbendra , Comment

Raghbendra Jha

Rising incomes, increasing levels of education — particularly in women — and a variety of social factors contribute to determining the demographic profile of India’s youth and their role in India’s demographic transition.

India’s 2011 census revealed two key trends regarding India’s demographic transition. The first is that the total fertility rate has dropped from 2.9 in 2001 to 2.62 in 2011. And the second is that the gender balance has deteriorated in recent times, particularly among India’s youths. The number of girls per 1000 boys, for age groups 0–4, 5–9 and 0–6, fell from 939 to 891, 920 to 889, and 927 to 914 respectively.

The first trend is usually taken as an indicator of the demographic transition associated with rising per capita income. The second trend, however, may point to the growing widespread gender imbalance that is taking place in India. There is evidence to suggest that sex selection tests exist in India and follow-up abortions are more likely to be carried out if the fetus is found to be female. One study uses household-level data from India’s National Sample Survey (NSS) for 1993–94 and 2004–05 to identify characteristics that increase the chance of feticide, something that the Census data alone cannot identify. The study found, ironically enough, that women with higher levels of education, as well as women from wealthier households, are more likely to contribute to India’s gender imbalance. Only when the level of education and wealth combined reach a relatively high level does the gender imbalance start receding. This implies that over time there will be fewer women than men among India’s youth.

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

Posted by southasiamasala in : Doron, Assa, India, Jeffrey, Robin , 1 comment so far

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.

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Black dust and bicycles November 4, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala , Comment

Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt

Rural peasants once reliant on farming and forestry for their livelihood are turning to bicycles and India’s massive coal industry to survive.

Coal in India is much more than a mineral resource. For a country where coal-fired thermal power plants produce most electricity and one where 540 million people are still waiting to be connected to the grid, coal has always been ‘a national asset’, a symbolic icon of national pride.

A man and boy push bags of coal on their bicycle. Photo by Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt.

India is the world’s third-largest producer of coal, the only country that can boast a separate ministry for coal, and a place where the train to the collieries is lovingly named as the ‘Black Diamond Express’.

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India’s troublesome Nuclear Liability Laws: still an issue for the US? October 31, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Weigold, Auriol , 1 comment so far

Auriol Weigold

In May 2010 I noted that the then Civil Nuclear Liability Bill defined the financial and legal liabilities for groups, seeking “to put the burden of damages on the nuclear plant operator”. (South Asia Masala, “Operationalizing” the Indo-US nuclear agreement) That burden remained unacceptable to potential operators United States’ companies Westinghouse and General Electric Hitachi, which have waited some three years for inter-government agreement to be reached on the unsatisfactory Nuclear Liability laws, before taking up long-since allocated sites in India to develop commercial nuclear power plants.

The Liability bill approved by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Ministerial Cabinet in 2009 and passed by Parliament in 2010, defined financial and legal liabilities, and was the final facilitating step in the 2008 Indo-US Nuclear Agreement, itself several years in negotiation. The benefit for India in the US reversal of a lengthy ban on supplying nuclear fuel and technology is immense, but the fine-tuning in this last stage is as problematic as the earlier delays and trade-offs over the issue of a nuclear reprocessing facility in India.

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India’s Central Asia ambitions outfoxed by China and Russia October 16, 2013

Posted by nishankmotwani in : By contributor, Guest authors, India , Comment

Micha’el Tanchum

Over one year after the announcement of its ‘Connect Central Asia Policy’, New Delhi has been sidelined in four of the five Central Asian Republics. India’s revamped Central Asian initiative is partly directed at counter-balancing Chinese and Pakistani influence in the region. But its attempts to accomplish this goal while maintaining India’s historical insistence on strategic autonomy from Moscow and Washington has done it no favours.

At present, Moscow has essentially shut India out from Kyrgyzstan after sending the first instalments of a new US$1 billion military aid package to the country. This follows the strategic setback that India suffered in 2010 when it lost use of the Tajikistan Ayni airbase to Russia. And in the two larger, energy-rich nations of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, New Delhi has also been sidelined by China’s assertive energy policy.

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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.

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