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The trouble with ‘eve-teasing’: Some perceptions on sexual harassment and violence in India April 5, 2013

Posted by nishankmotwani in : By contributor, India, Motwani, Nishank , comments closed

Nishank Motwani

India is a dangerous country for women and the government is part of the problem rather than the solution. That was the overwhelming conclusion I observed when speaking to men and women on a visit to India (my home country) following the brutal gang rape of a twenty-three year old medical student in Delhi on the night of December 16, 2012. The victim of that heinous act of sexual violence succumbed to her injuries two weeks later, demonstrating the viciousness of the assault that destroyed her life and that of her family. Since then, three horrific cases in March 2013 have highlighted yet again the danger women face in India – the gang rape of a Swiss woman camping with her husband while on a cycling trip through Madhya Pradesh (central India), a British woman jumping off the balcony of her hotel room in Agra fearing a sexual assault by the hotel’s manager and security guard who tried to forcefully enter her room at 3.45am, and the thrashing of a twenty-two year old woman and her father by policemen in Punjab after she sought police assistance against a group of men sexually harassing her.


India, the ‘New Asia’ and the American presidential elections September 26, 2012

Posted by nishankmotwani in : By contributor, India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

Any American presidential election reverberates around global policy corners but, for India, the 2012 contest carries unusual significance. With its economy slowing, national government under severe pressure, and competition with China over ‘new Asian power’ status sharpening, India has a strong stake in the November result. Superficially, India could be contented. A late 2011 Congressional Research Service report shows two-way trade totalling approximately $US50 billion.

The US is India’s largest direct investment partner at over $16 billion, and one of its largest trading partners. As India’s economic growth flourished, American interest and investment soared. The highpoint was America’s 2008-9 agreement on nuclear development and trade – as for Australia a few years later, that was the cost of doing business with India.

Obama met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November 2009 in what was seen as a further sign of a strong emerging relationship between the two countries. EPA/Shawn Thew


Assam: friction in a crucial corridor July 30, 2012

Posted by sandygordon in : Bangladesh, Bhutan, Gordon, Sandy, India , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

A week ago some 48 people were killed in Assam in clashes between the Bodo ethnic group (a Tibetan-Burmese people who are now predominantly Christian and Hindu) and Muslim Bengali immigrants, mainly from Bangladesh and its previous incarnations. Approximately 400,000 have also been displaced from their villages. These are by no means the first such ethnic clashes in Assam, the most recent being between Bengalis and Bodos four years ago, which left 70 dead. The worst attacks occurred in 1983, when an estimated 2000 Bengali Muslims were killed.

Since well before the British left in 1947, Bengali Muslims have been crossing into Assam. Pushed by desperation, they often occupied the shifting char lands – dangerous but fertile flood plains of the rivers that criss-cross the region. Since independence in 1947, East Pakistanis, and later Bangladeshis, have continued to cross the poorly policed, poorly defined border. There are now an estimated 10-20 million Bangladeshis in India. But of course not all Bengali Muslims are in Assam illegally and many have been there for generations. As pointed out by the New York Times, it is well nigh impossible to distinguish between those legitimately in Assam and those who have come illegally.

Besides the devastating displacement and loss of life, ethnic unrest in Assam is important for a number of reasons.

India's North East - this version includes Sikkim


Uttar Pradesh goes to the polls February 16, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Ronojoy Sen

State legislative assembly elections are being held in Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s largest state, over seven phases between 8 February and 3 March. UP elections are notoriously difficult to call because of the state’s size and the complex interplay of region, caste and religion. But what can be said with some certainty is that no party is likely to win a majority on its own, and this will lead to a scramble for post-poll alliances.

Given its size, with a population of around 200 million, the UP elections always assume greater significance than those in other states. This time it has taken on additional importance for two reasons. First, the two dominant national parties – the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – have fared poorly in the state in recent times, so the current elections will be a test of strength for both. Second, the Congress is desperately shopping for allies at the federal level, since its largest coalition partner, the Trinamool Congress, has been persistently blocking major policy initiatives and voting against it in parliament. The two main players in UP – the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) – have both lent some ‘issue-based’ support to the government. Thus, in the likely event of a fractured mandate in UP, the Congress could ally itself with either the SP or the BSP – and in return bring either into the federal government, ensuring the marginalisation of the Trinamool Congress.


2012 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election and the future of UPA January 13, 2012

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

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.


Mining the politics of corruption July 29, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

Retired Supreme Court Justice and now Karnataka Ombudsman (Lokayukta) Santosh Hegde has just lobbed a political bomb on the desks of that state’s Governor and Chief Secretary.  The bomb takes the form of a 25, 288 page report (943 pages of findings plus annexures) into illegal iron ore mining that, among other things, involved the arbitrary shifting of state boundary pegs between Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka in order to privilege some miners.

The most spectacular finding is that Hegde has recommended charges be laid against the current BJP  Chief Minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa on the grounds that his family received kickbacks from the illegal miners to the tune of Rs 30 crore (approximately $US 6.7 million).  Another former Chief Minister, H.D. Kumaraswamy, son of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, is also set to have charges laid against him – Kumaraswamy formed the breakaway Janata Dal (Secular) backed by the BJP to take power briefly in 2006-7.  There is no rapport between Yeddyurappa and Kumaraswamy, the latter earlier this year describing his successor as a drunkard and a stray dog with lots of bark and no bite.  The mining issue has really eaten into the substance of state politics. (more…)

The importance of 2012 Uttar Pradesh assembly election February 3, 2011

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

Vikas Kumar

The population of Uttar Pradesh (UP) is equal to that of Brazil, the fifth most populous country. It sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha and 31 members to the Rajya Sabha. Unsurprisingly, it has a decisive influence on national politics. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as a national party because of its spectacular performance in UP during the 1990s, when it successfully hawked Hindu nationalism. Ironically, by the late 1990s UP also demonstrated the limits of Hindu nationalism, when caste-based provincial parties began to cannibalize BJP’s support base. In fact, by the late 1990s, other national parties had also been marginalized in UP. In recent times, UP has served as a passive constraint on the freedom of national parties, forcing them to follow coalition dharma in the face of impossibility of attaining majority on their own.

However, the forthcoming assembly election is likely to mark the return of UP to national politics as an active player. There are two reasons for this. First, it will significantly influence the choice of prime ministerial candidates of non-Congress coalitions. If Kumari Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) loses then Nitish Kumar will gain in influence because he is one of the very few mass leaders, acceptable to both the Left Front and BJP. Recall the ease with which Nitish resisted Hindutva in 2010 Bihar election. BJP hadn’t forgotten Navin Patnaik’s effortless leftward swing in 2009 Orissa election after it played the communal card. However, a comfortable majority for Mayawati will erode Nitish’s bargaining power by providing the Left Front-led Third Front with another prime ministerial candidate. Once his outside option is vitiated Nitish will lose his bargaining power within the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), giving BJP a freehand to choose NDA’s candidate.

Second, the forthcoming election will have an enormous impact on whether political parties across India will rely on good governance to win elections. Nitish’s successive electoral victories in Bihar, one of the strongholds of politics of authenticity, have raised hopes that good governance can help win elections. However, this hope might be premature because his success was driven among other things by factors not obtained elsewhere, which is why the forthcoming election in UP is important. (more…)

The Fifteenth Prime Minister of India January 24, 2011

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

Vikas Kumar

The Left Front and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the only non-dynastic, national, and ideological competitors of the Indian National Congress, are struggling with leadership and ideological crises. BJP’s national defence credentials have been compromised due to allegations of Hindu terror whereas the pro-poor credentials of the Left have been compromised in Singur and Nandigram. Regional parties like Shiva Sena and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) are in disarray due to succession struggles within reigning families headed by ageing patriarchs. In contrast, the Congress, with a transparent succession policy and a bland centrist agenda, seems to be a safe bet for voters. Also, in this age of Raja of Niligiris, no Raja of Manda can credibly leave the government. So, barring bizarre developments, Manmohan Singh will complete his second term, the Congress will return to power in 2014 with a clear majority, and Rahul Gandhi will become India’s fifteenth prime minister.

But is the next general election indeed going to be a cakewalk for the Congress? Not if a reasonable number of opposition parties join hands. I have argued earlier  that in the next general election young, inexperienced leaders of provincial parties are likely to shy away from the uncertainty of coalition politics and play the son-of-the-soil card. However, the coordination problem can be surmounted if the opposition can choose its leader in advance. The prospective leader should have the right age and good governance credentials to challenge Rahul Gandhi. Otherwise, the leader of a coalition of provincial parties cannot afford to raise particularistic issues.

Let us have a look at the probable candidates. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya (Left Front, West Bengal) is stuck in Singur and Nandigram. Narendra Modi (BJP, Gujarat) has mounted a tiger and is unable to dismount. Chandra Babu Naidu (Telugu Desam Party, Andhra Pradesh) is a spent force. B.S. Yediyurappa (BJP, Karnataka) is besieged in his own province. V. S. Achuthanandan (Left Front, Kerala), Parkash Singh Badal (Shiromani Akali Dal, Punjab), Prem Kumar Dhumal (BJP, Himachal Pradesh), M. Karunanidhi (DMK, Tamil Nadu), and Navin Patnaik (Biju Janata Dal, Orissa) will be more than 65 years old in 2014. Neiphiu Rio (Nagaland People’s Front, Nagaland) is constrained by his province’s cartographic rhetoric. Raman Singh (BJP, Chhattisgarh) is vulnerable due to his support for Salwa Judum. Ramesh Pokhriyal (BJP, Uttarakhand) and Omar Abdullah (National Conference, J&K) lack experience.

Pawan Kumar Chamling (Sikkim Democratic Front, Sikkim), Shivraj Singh Chouhan (BJP, Madhya Pradesh), Nitish Kumar (Janata Dal United, Bihar), Kumari Mayawati (Bahujan Samajwadi Party, Uttar Pradesh), and Manik Sarkar (Left Front, Tripura) are the only leaders who have the baseline qualifications: developmentalist credentials, optimal age, and substantial public experience. However, a prospective leader of the opposition alliance should have additional qualifications, listed below.

Candidate Chamling










Nationwide appeal No No Yes Yes No
National level experience No Yes Yes No No
Access to a national political network No Yes No No Yes
Coalition experience No No Yes Yes Yes
Large (primary) support base No Yes Yes Yes No
Acceptable to BJP as well as the Left No No Yes No No

At present, Chamling lacks additional qualifications, which leaves us with four contenders, belonging to four different parties.


The demand for good governance in Bihar and the rise of Nitish Kumar January 11, 2011

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

Vikas Kumar

People expect three things from a government: a) external defence, b) law and order, and c) general public welfare. All Indian political parties are perceived to be equally inefficient on the external defence front, whereas external defence is not an issue in provincial elections. So, both in national and provincial elections, people assess a political party’s capacity to deliver good governance with respect to the last two. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost the 2004 and 2009 General Elections to the Indian National Congress. Large sections of the electorate realized, particularly after the 2002 Gujarat riots, that the Congress cannot be worse than BJP on the law and order front, whereas both are equally pro-market with the Congress having greater commitment to redistribution.

But the calculus is complicated at the provincial level. There are three reasons for this. First, national politics is essentially bi-polar with both the leading parties having support bases in a number of ethnically unconnected provinces. However, in most provinces multi-polarity is the norm with at least one of the key parties being largely confined to just one province and one ethnic community. (Ethnic is used here in a broader sense to denote any ascriptive affiliation.) Presently, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan are exceptions to this rule. Second, India is ethnically more heterogeneous at the national level than at the provincial level. So, the central government has been, by and large, ethnically non-discriminatory due to a delicate balance of forces. However, unless otherwise checked by a strong central government, provincial governments have a remarkable propensity to indulge in ethnic discrimination. Third, provincial governments know that the Centre will step in if things go wrong dramatically, which in turn artificially suppresses the cost of bad governance at the provincial level. In short, if good governance has to establish itself as the decisive selection criterion in elections then that has to happen at the provincial level, including in economically backward large North Indian provinces like Bihar, hitherto known for corruption and caste and religious conflicts. (more…)

India after 2014 General Elections December 10, 2010

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

Vikas Kumar

Mamata Banerjee, the union railways minister, is brazenly courting extreme left insurgents, who according to the Indian Prime Minister are the single biggest threat to the Indian state. The Congress Party that leads the coalition government at the Centre is overlooking these overtures because, in the forthcoming provincial assembly elections, Banerjee’s regional party is likely to end more than three decades of Left-rule in West Bengal. Also, the Congress is selectively using investigation agencies in terror cases purportedly involving close affiliates of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). By trying to incapacitate its national competitors, BJP and the Left Front, the Congress is jeopardizing its own interests as well as the Indian federal system, even though inadvertently. Its myopia is particularly puzzling given its comfortable electoral position. The Congress is all set to stage a comeback, howsoever modest, in Uttar Pradesh, the state which is crucial for BJP’s return to New Delhi, and West Bengal, the citadel of the Left. Also, provincial/ethnic parties will not be able to marginalize the Congress any further while the latter is quite likely to improve its tally in future assembly elections. Moreover, unlike the Congress, which has a stable leadership, other parties are struggling with leadership crisis due to either intra-party ideological struggles or succession struggles within reigning families headed by ageing patriarchs. Even the recent mega-corruption scandals have not seriously dented the brand Congress. In short, barring some bizarre development, the Congress will return to power in 2014 with a clear majority and that is when the Indian federal system will be severely tested.

One is reminded of the early 1980s, when provincial and ethnic conflicts erupted across the country after the Congress returned to power with a thumping majority following a brief spell of non-Congress rule. Lack of effective opposition drove people towards particularistic organizations to counter the threat of centralization under the Congress. This efflorescence of parochialisms severely strained Indian federalism and ended with the end of the Congress rule at the Centre. History is likely to repeat itself. (more…)