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South Asia Masala recommends September 2, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India , comments closed

“Delhi drift” Deep political disillusionment in India won’t be solved simply by creating a new anti-corruption czar, writes Robin Jeffrey

Robin Jeffrey begins his Inside Story, 31 August 2011, piece on the problems currently facing Manmohan Singh’s Congress-led coalition government with a reference to the parallel drawn by Bruce Grant between the 1975 Indira Gandhi emergency and the dismissal of the Whitlam government.

This week also sees the release of a book of essays that covers a range of aspects of the India-Australia relationship, India and Australia: Bridging Different Worlds. The book is edited by Brian Stoddart and Auriol Weigold who are both South Asia Masala contributors. Auriol is also one of the editors of SAM, as is another contributor to the collection, Sandy Gordon. Louise Merrington and Christopher Snedden are other SAM contributors whose work appears in the book.

Click here for details.

Reddy and able: Congress problems in Andhra August 29, 2011

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

Brian Stoddart

As the UPA struggles through the Anna Hazare uproar and the continuing fallout from the Commonwealth Games as well as the 2 G matters, all of which have an impact on the government’s composition and fortunes, its potential political nightmare in Andhra Pradesh is taking clearer form. A few days ago a serious number of MLAs resigned from the state parliament, among them 24 Congress members who also indicated to Delhi that they would also leave the party. Given that the strong Congress cohort from Andhra has been central to the UPA’s power, this is potentially devastating.

The ostensible reason may be even more so. The recusants say that they have been moved primarily by the Delhi moves, via the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), to investigate what are said to be financial irregularities in the vast array of companies created by former Chief Minister the late Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) and now inherited by his son, Jagan Mohan Reddy. Jagan has already resigned from Congress to lead the newly formed YSR Congress in frustration at not having been made Chief Minister to succeed his father. In the polite parlance of some of the commentary, it is suggested that the considerable wealth inherent in these companies sprang from “donations” by other companies seeking preferential treatment in development project tenders put up by the YSR government. In less polite terms, of course, the suggestion is that corruption helped YSR and his family build up a massive fortune.


The (Jan) Lok Pal fiasco August 25, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Noor, Habeeb , comments closed

Habeeb Noor

Politics isn’t just the sorry story that many of have us have become used to reading about in newspapers. According to the popular discourse, the successive failures to deliver good governance, access to services, and an enhanced life, has bred anger, contempt and scorn for those representatives locked away in the ivory towers of the state and national assemblies. Ironically, the simplistic view contained within this discourse masks the complexity of the governance issues involved, and herein lies the nub of the problem in terms of the current Lok Pal bill debate.

It is in the context of this crumbling pile of false promises, especially the recent spate of corruption scams, that Anna Hazare’s phoenix like rise has gained prominence. He demands the passage of the Jan Lok Pal bill, which will create an all powerful ombudsman, bereft of all control. It is not likely that this magic bill will end all corruption – the disease eating away the Indian State. While no one can argue in favor of corruption, logic should also rein in thoughts on knee jerk, demagogue solutions.

Not a Gandhian struggle: Mahatma Gandhi on his salt march, 1931.


South Asia Masala Recommends … Arundhati Roy and Anna Hazare. August 24, 2011

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

Sandy Gordon

Arundhati Roy, author of that most beautiful of novels, The God of Small Things, and much splendid social commentary besides, is nothing if not brave. In taking on Anna Hazare and his supporters she is meeting head on the genuinely felt grievances about corruption of millions of Indians.  See her article in The Hindu.

Author and social commentator Arundhati Roy.


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…)

Quiet revolution against corruption in India June 1, 2011

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

Guest author: Vidya Sharma, Melbourne

This article was first posted in East Asia Forum on 27 May 2011.

A plethora of commentary has recently appeared in the Western media about the extent of corruption plaguing India. Typical of such work was a piece, ‘India hobbled by heavy weight of corruption’ by ex-foreign minister Jaswant Singh and a senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader.

Singh failed to mention that last year, Outlook magazine found the BJP-led Karnataka state government to be the most corrupt in India, but he is broadly correct. Economic deregulation has made corruption all pervasive in India. Perhaps the worst example of alleged corruption is what has come to be known as the 2G spectrum scam: the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) found that ex-Communications and Information Technology Minister Andimuthu Raja may have undersold 2G spectrum frequencies by as much as US$39 billion.


India’s image problem: organisation and transparency February 27, 2011

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

Brian Stoddart

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must wonder what he has done to deserve the current concatenation of circumstances putting his government and country in such a poor light for overseas observers mesmerised by the “new India” but unused to its complexities. Having over the past few months been further and energetically courted by Sarkozy, Cameron, Obama and a string of other world leaders (but not Australia, at a time when it counts), within just a few weeks organisational glitches, old and new, have combined to undermine confidence in India’s ability “to do things”, at least in the way that the outsiders might expect.

The Commonwealth Games fiasco will just not go away.  While CWG boss Suresh Kalmadi has now been largely isolated politically, he has still not been charged with any formal offences, unlike his two main operatives. They have already appeared in court accused of graft in the letting of a timekeeping contract to a Swiss company.  As the revelations from this become public, the picture will likely become ugly, because there are inevitable political and civil administration links with a wide range of companies that gained contracts under profitable conditions.  Many such links have already been revealed by journalists -they remain to be proven in court, of course, but the image of the “great” Games is taking a drubbing.

There were, for example, a myriad of Kalmadi/CWG jokes.  One of the best was an anagram of Suresh Kalmadi: “Sir, u made lakhs”!

The concern all along was that the murky side of official contracting undertaken with public money might become too revealed via the CWG investigations, but the government was under such pressure on the matter from NGOs, opposition figures like Arun Jaitley and international agencies that it could not ignore the calls for investigation.  There will be nervous moments for a good many officials and others as the court cases line up and tell their stories.


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.


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


FEATURE ARTICLE: India’s ‘strategy’ as an emerging power September 2, 2010

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

Sandy Gordon

This paper is a short version of a paper submitted for publication.  It is not to be quoted or cited without the author’s permission.


As India rises to power, some critical questions need to be answered both by analysts of that rise and those in the Indian government determining the strategies to be adopted. The most fundamental of these questions relate to the relationship between India as a rising power, its neighbourhood (South Asia), its region (Asia) and the world. How do these different levels of security inter-relate in the context of a rising power? To what extent does a great power aspirant such as India need to ensure competitors cannot garner undue influence in its South Asian neighbourhood? What strategies might India adopt to deal with the enmeshed nature of dissonance between its domestic and neighbourhood arenas?

A measure of power that includes analysis at different levels of the global structure is somewhat different from, but not inimical to, more traditional measures. These tend to assess power in relation to population and economic strength, while often ignoring the geopolitical and regional circumstances within which a rising power is required to operate. For example, power transition theorists, and for that matter their critics, often tend to look at issues in this way. (Gideon Rose, ‘Neoclassical Realism and Theories of Foreign Policy’, World Politics, Vol. 51, No. 1, October 1998, pp. 144-72, p 146).

A number of analysts – especially of South Asia –  have, however, become interested in emerging powers in relation at least to the regional and global levels, if not the domestic, neighbourhood, regional and global levels we canvass here. This view of power acquisition from the point of view of a power’s region or neighbourhood ipso facto brings the domestic perspective on power acquisition into sharper focus, since the domestic-neighbourhood linkages are inevitably close – a phenomenon strongly evident in South Asia. It thus differs from the perspective of ‘offensive realists’, who claim that factors relating to the international order are always dominant.

India falls well short of a power that can function with ease within its South Asian neighbourhood. Indeed, policy makers in New Delhi are caught in a tightly woven, negative inter-relationship between dissonances within India and dissonances in South Asia. And events in South Asia are, in turn, heavily influenced by global developments. India appears powerless to sever these links.