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Telangana redux July 15, 2011

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

Brian Stoddart

It is now approaching two years since Home Minister P. Chidambaram, clumsily, at least seemed to offer up the idea that the Union Government would sanction formal recognition of Telangana and carve it out of Andhra Pradesh, India’s first specifically linguistic-based state. All round uproar surrounded the announcement: Telangana supporters wanted immediate action, the Rayalaseema region inside Andhra Pradesh reprised its case; the all-Andhra groups protested. From the Manmohan Singh government’s viewpoint there was immediate political fallout because Andhra Pradesh provided a key electoral base for its very existence, and now several of those members were compromised by this development.

The immediate response was to hive the issue off to the inevitable inquiry, this one headed by Justice B. N. Srikrishna who had earlier led investigations into the Mumbai riots and the Madras High Court riots. While his committee worked away, on the ground demonstrations, strikes, boycotts and the full range of oppositional political activities developed.


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.


India after 2014 General Elections December 10, 2010

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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…)

Corruption in India: bad or worse? December 1, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Gordon, Sandy, India , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

Corruption in India is, of course, nothing new.  But the recent accusations appear to put the country into the category of one of the worst African ‘cleptocracies’.  They have also paralysed the Indian parliament and gravely damaged the reputation of the hitherto successful Congress-led government of Manmohan Singh.

The following account of some recent cases gives a sense of the scale and cost of corruption in India.

Social audit of NREGA in Rajasthan, The Hindu, 17 August 2009


Cricket, money and politics April 27, 2010

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Brian Stoddard

Chennai Super Kings might have beaten the more fancied Mumbai Indians in the final of the Indian Premier League (IPL), but the match was a sideshow to the real battles now faced by cricket bosses, industrial barons, political leaders and even movie stars.

The problems began just a few short weeks ago with the auctioning of two new franchises in what had become the IPL money-mill.  A consortium bidding $333 million to have Kochi in Kerala host a team was successful. Shortly after Lalit Modi, the IPL Commissioner, posted a note on his Twitter site that the bid was flawed, and that the flaws were associated with junior External Affairs Minister Shashi Tharoor, the former UN diplomat and prominent writer who was already struggling in his post. Tharoor struck back with the suggestion Modi wanted the Kochi bid voided so that his more favoured Ahmedabad franchise might then slip in. (more…)