Pakistan’s transition to substantive democracy April 17, 2013Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan , Comment
When Pakistan holds elections on 11 May 2013 it will be the first time in Pakistan’s history that an elected government hands over power to another elected government.
Though this is a positive development, most Pakistani and international observers are not optimistic that the elections form part of a broader transition from procedural to substantive democracy — a system of government where civil and political liberties are protected.
There are many reasons for this lack of optimism. Ongoing attacks on the minority Shia population have significantly increased, with hundreds killed already this year. Political leaders and candidates are routinely targeted, and there have been regular attacks on development workers seen to be promoting ‘liberal values’. These political and social fault lines have been exacerbated by the worsening economic crisis. Economic growth has averaged just under 3 per cent over the last three years — a level that is insufficient to either substantially improve the population’s living standards or absorb the growing workforce. Prices are rising at around 11 per cent per year, and the price increases on fuel, together with severe electricity shortages, have prompted a growing number of mass protests across the country.
Politically, socially and economically, Pakistanis face deep insecurity.Guest authors, Nepal , Comment
Ramesh Sunam and Keshab Goutam
Since its formation in 1994, the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) has gone through a number of radical transformations, shifting from a guerrilla warfare unit to a key democratising force within Nepali politics.
The party’s early history is defined by its role in launching the ‘people’s war’ of 1996, a decade-long civil war that resulted in the loss of some 16,000 lives and halted the country’s economic development. The Maoists’ original aim was to benefit the poor and marginalised sectors of Nepali society by uprooting the monarchy and feudalism.
Today, many people question the necessity of the war. But the conflict did succeed in providing marginalised populations – particularly dalits (the so-called untouchables), women, the landless and ethnic and indigenous people – with a wider political space to articulate their grievances. The result was a series of protests and rights movements across the country by the Madhesi (people from the Tarai lowland) and ethnic populations. Such incidents have in turn facilitated the democratisation of Nepali politics. In the first Constituent Assembly election of April 2008, minorities gained substantial representation for the first time in Nepali history, with dalits receiving over 8.17 per cent of seats, women 33.22 per cent, ethnic and indigenous people 33.39 per cent, and Madhesis 34.09 per cent.
Indian citizenship and the resilience of democracy July 17, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , Comment
India’s founding leaders were determined to create a democratic state when the country became independent in 1947, but becoming and remaining a democracy was by no means inevitable.
The difficulties were daunting: the mass killings and violence unleashed by the subcontinent’s partition, widespread illiteracy, dire poverty, and the country’s profound religious, ethnic and social diversity. How, in such adverse circumstances, were democratic citizenship and practices institutionalised in India? And how has India’s emerging framework for membership in the nation, the essence of citizenship, enabled the endurance of its democratic polity?
Reviving local level democracy in India July 13, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , Comment
Vikas Kumar, Alok Tiwari and Ragupathy Venkatachalam
India is suffering from policy paralysis due to a crisis of credibility across the political system. The world’s largest democracy is threatened by a growing disconnect between the electorate and elected representatives, which is expressed as distrust and a general sense of a lack of accountability of the latter. Money and power are partly to blame for this disconnect, as is the first-past-the-post electoral system. This is evident at the local level where India’s democracy tends to degenerate into ethnocracies that disenfranchise smaller groups.
Cartoon controversy July 5, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Nelson, Barbara , Comment
Textbooks are back in the news in India. The Republican Party of India (RPI) Athavale held a press conference in April to demand the removal of a 1949 Shankar cartoon depicting Ambedkar and Nehru from a Class 11 textbook, Indian Constitution at Work. This led to the government apologising and promising to remove the cartoon. Minister for Human Resource Development, Kapil Sibal, also commissioned a review of the six textbooks in Political Science “to identify educationally inappropriate material”. The report (Report of Committee to Review NCERT Textbooks and Note of Dissent by M. S. S. Pandian) is available from the Kafila website.
Maldives: democracy, back in transition mode? May 15, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : Future Directions International, Guest authors, Maldives , Comment
N. Sathiya Moorthy
With the People’s Majlis, or Parliament, clearing President Mohammed Waheed Hassan’s vice-presidential nominee, Waheed Deen, after the “majority” Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) group stayed away, the Indian Ocean archipelago seems to be back in democratic transition, for the second time in three years. A new element has been added this time, with a National Inquiry Commission (NIC) probing the circumstances surrounding the resignation of then MDP President Mohammed Nasheed and his succession by Vice-President Waheed. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group has given the Waheed Government four weeks in which to make the probe team credible.
The last time the Maldives went through a similar phase, the nation ushered in multi-party democracy after 30 years of one-person rule under President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. He was elected for six successive terms of five years each, under a constitutional scheme that provided for only a single candidate in national elections. That is firmly in the past, yet, the Nasheed resignation has left a situation of instability. His subsequent charges of a coup-cum-conspiracy, involving some in the uniformed services and “discredited sections” of the polity, and the fact that fresh presidential polls are still a year or so away, in November 2013, have all given rise to the question of whether democracy is really back in transition mode in the Maldives.
Resisting censorship in India March 19, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , Comment
Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jayasankar, TISS
Censorship in India comes in various forms. There is, of course, the ubiquitous censorship of the state, which censors films and plays before release, bans websites and decides what is in the national interest. There is also the censorship of the market, which decides what Indians should see and have market access to, and leaves little space for content that is seen as commercially unviable. And of course there is the vigilante brand of censorship, which is ever ready to defend any so-called attack on ‘Indian culture’.
The notion of censorship is closely linked with the moral panic that informs India’s popular debate about media and new technologies. Many Indians are prepared to take on the role of the ‘moral police’. They are everywhere: in the legislative assemblies, boardrooms, courtrooms, colleges, cinemas, cyber cafes, gardens and pubs, on the street, and even in police stations. The Hindu right-wing parties and groups which demonstrate their love for ‘Indian culture’ by molesting girls wearing jeans and vandalising Valentine’s Day celebrations are unfortunately only the tip of the iceberg.
The wonder of Indian democracy March 9, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , Comment
Ashutosh Varshney, Brown University
In the whole spectrum of India’s political experience, one thing that stands out is the wonder of Indian democracy. Three aspects of Indian democracy cause theoretical surprise and one that generates concern.
First, the stability of Indian democracy is surprising, given that India is a low income economy. Per capita income remains at $1200 per annum, despite thirty years of fairly rapid economic growth. This curious quality of India’s experience has defied the traditional theory of democracy, a theory which linked democratic systems with high levels of income. Democracies simply haven’t lasted that long in low-income societies.
India’s churning democracy: future directions February 27, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : Doron, Assa, India, Nelson, Barbara , Comment
Barbara Nelson and Assa Doron
This article appears in the most recent edition of the East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Ideas from India‘.
Indian democracy continues to puzzle many foreign observers. But for most Indians, democracy — however imperfect — is a matter of practice, something they grow up with. Indian democracy may not be perfect — which democracy is? — but it would be safe to say that debates that raged until at least the 1980s about whether it will survive are now firmly in the rearview mirror. Millions are going to the polls this year as elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur begin this January. Most attention is focused on the Uttar Pradesh poll, India’s most populous state and the sixth largest in the world, a state so large that the logistics of ensuring security for voters affects the election; the poll must be conducted in seven distinct phases.
That India has survived as a democratic nation since independence in 1947 has, until recently, remained an anomaly to social scientists. According to the view that democracy requires economic development, a common culture and high levels of literacy, India’s claim to be democratic has rested largely on the fact that it holds elections, has universal suffrage, and transfer of power occurs without trouble. Rather than viewing India as an anomaly, democratic theory now accounts more comprehensively for the Indian case.
Maldives: putting democracy back on track February 23, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : Future Directions International, Guest authors, Maldives , Comment
Guest author: N. Sathiya Moorthy
First published in Future Directions International on 15 February 2012
A week after President Mohammed Nasheed resigned, to be succeeded by his Vice-President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, Maldives is limping back to normality. Hassan is to complete the residual part of Nasheed’s five-year term, ending November 2013. The deep political divisions remain, and the wounds of the previous week’s events have left a bad taste in the mouths of the people at large, and Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) cadres in particular. All now need to take stock of the recent developments with equanimity and arrive at solutions for the medium- and long-term good of the nation.
Nasheed’s sudden resignation had been preceded by a series of events, not just over the previous weeks, as is often being said now, in a reference to the ‘protect Islam’ call by the ‘December 23 Coalition’ launched by religious NGOs, to which desperate Opposition political groups, whose egos were matched only by the personal ambitions of their leaders, tagged along. It had commenced as early as mid-2010, when the parliamentary polls threw up a minority for the President’s party.