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Cartoon controversy July 5, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Nelson, Barbara , comments closed

Barbara Nelson

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.

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Maldives: democracy, back in transition mode? May 15, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Future Directions International, Guest authors, Maldives , comments closed

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.

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Resisting censorship in India March 19, 2012

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Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jayasankar, TISS

This article appeared in the most recent edition of the East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Ideas from Indiaand on East Asia Forum 2 March 2012.

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.

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The wonder of Indian democracy March 9, 2012

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Ashutosh Varshney, Brown University

This article appeared in the most recent edition of the East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Ideas from India’, and on East Asia Forum, 29 February 2012

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.

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India’s churning democracy: future directions February 27, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Doron, Assa, India, Nelson, Barbara , comments closed

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.

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Maldives: putting democracy back on track February 23, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Future Directions International, Guest authors, Maldives , comments closed

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.

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Uttar Pradesh goes to the polls February 16, 2012

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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.

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Politics grips Pakistan January 20, 2012

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

Alicia Mollaun, Crawford School, ANU

Reprinted from Inside Story. Read the full article

Back in Islamabad after spending Christ mas and New Year in Australia, I find that the “Memogate” scandal is on everyone’s lips and relations between the military and the ruling Pakistan People’s Party have continued to deteriorate. The controversial memo, leaked to Pakistan’s media late last year and allegedly authosed by President Asif Ali Zardari, sought the assistance of the Obama administration in pressuring senior military and intelligence figures to “end their brinkmanship aimed at bringing down the civilian apparatus.”

With US–Pakistan relations already fraught, the release of the memo whipped the media into a frenzy, fuelling speculation that the prime minister would sack the chief of the army and that the military, in response, would unseat the government. For the embattled civilian government, the scandal opened up a new and destabilising front.

Civil–military relations have always been uneasy in Pakistan, a nation that has been ruled for over half of its existence by the military. No democratically elected government has ever been replaced with another democratically elected government, and governments rarely serve a full term before being ousted. All of which can make living in Pakistan depressing and at the same time fascinating.

Read the full article in Inside Story.

Sovereignty and separatism in China and India: The myth of difference November 2, 2010

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

Guest author: Dibyesh Anand, Associate Professor in International Relations, London’s University of Westminster

This article first appeared on the East Asia Forum on 20 October 2010.

When it comes to dealing with dissent within the country, the contrast between the two rising powers in Asia — China and India — is distinct. The Chinese government believes in total co-option or complete marginalisation of intellectuals; the foreign ministry’s strong response to the Nobel Peace Prize for Liu Xiaobo is an interesting case study in this regard. In contrast, the response of the Indian government to international recognition of critics — such as Binayak Sen of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, known for his campaigns against state-sponsored armed vigilantes in Naxal-affected Chhattisgarh in central India — is usually muted. An active civil society, competing media sources, multi-party electoral system, and effective judiciary — all with their own flaws, no doubt — cannot ensure an accountable government in India, but it does mean that dissenting voices aren’t suppressed as easily. This different attitude toward intolerance of dissent is to be expected as India is a multiparty democracy and China is a Party state (where no redressal mechanisms exist against the ruling party).

But it would be misleading to buy fully into a democratic India versus authoritarian China narrative and assume that more plurality, openness and fairness flows automatically out of the former. Anti-minority violence perpetrated by Hindu fanatics, often with state complicity, reminds us of the precariousness of life as a minority in India. While majoritarian nationalisms (Hindutva in India and Han chauvinism in China) are dangerous threats to the mainstream multiethnic nationalisms in both the countries, their lethality is more obvious in India than in China. The Chinese system is authoritarian, but it is so for everyone. Many Han Chinese feel that the government appeases the minorities but they cannot do anything about it. In India, this feeling of perceived appeasement of minorities contributes to the success of rightwing political parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

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When will India attend to Naxalism? July 16, 2010

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

Vikas Kumar, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion

This article first appeared on the East Asia Forum on June 25th, 2010.

According to the latest estimates, the Indian economy continues to grow at a rate of 8 per cent. But the question of whether this economic growth will create opportunities for all sections of society remains hotly contested.

In 2004, the National Democratic Alliance lost the parliamentary elections to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). This election was largely decided on the question of whether the fruits of economic growth were accessible to the poor, minorities, tribes, and socially underdeveloped communities. UPA subsequently won the 2009 parliamentary elections as well. Yet despite the ascendancy of the Indian centre-left, in the last five years, extreme left-wing insurgency, or Naxalism, which is opposed to the economic policies of New Delhi, has emerged as the single biggest challenge to the Indian state and economy.

This situation is historically unprecedented.

None of India’s historical insurgent movements ever encompassed more than 5 – 6 per cent of the population and area at any one time. By contrast, Naxalism currently affects 25 – 30 per cent of India. The Naxalism-affected areas include about 200 districts in more than 15 provinces. These districts account for almost the entire mineral wealth of India, and are responsible for a large share of India’s electricity generation and forest products. Naxalism has also engulfed two important ports and six major cities including Hyderabad.

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