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Democracy still taking root in Bhutan July 24, 2015

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

Mark Turner

Bhutan was a latecomer to democracy. The small Himalayan kingdom joined the ranks of democratic nations only in 2008 when the first national elections were held and its constitution approved. But since then, how is democracy developing in the country?

Elections are the most visible symbols of democratic rule. There have been two national elections — in 2008 and 2013 — to choose the members of the partisan National Assembly and the non-partisan National Council. The system seems to be working well. The 2013 election saw greater political competition with two new parties running alongside the two original parties for the National Assembly. And there were more candidates for positions in the National Council. This non-partisan body acts as the house of review in the Bhutanese parliament.

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Hypocrisy, ignorance or ‘the intellect beyond comprehension’ June 4, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Awasthy, Richa, India , comments closed

Richa Awasthy

An open letter to the dissectors of Verdict 2014:

On the 16 May 2014 India ushered in a new era with the BJP winning the historic mandate of a clear majority for a single non-Congress party. Narendra Modi (NaMo)-led NDA alliance scaled new heights with 336 seats, something not predicted by anyone apart from one exit poll by Chanakya.

Never in the history of elections in India have I seen the kind of post-mortem that is circulating these days. I have seen analysis of why a particular party won or lost, but this is the first time I have seen such an effort to prove that the winner has actually not got a mandate. The verdict seems too hard to swallow for some of the elite class of intellectuals and they are trying to bring in all sorts of intriguing parameters to prove that the mandate is not for the winning party/coalition. The flood of posts in this direction inspired me to write this blog.

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SAM recommends June 2, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Doron, Assa, India, Jeffrey, Robin, South Asia Masala Recommends , comments closed

Narendra Modi rides technological wave to power in India

Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey

Technology alone did not win India’s general election for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Narendra Modi. But it played a huge part, and the surprisingly decisive results mark the country’s full-scale embrace of the digital age. Indian elections will never be the same.

Modi and his party used the spinal cord of India’s remarkable mobile phone network, with its more than 900 million connections, and added Facebook, Twitter, live 3-D “hologram” appearances in country towns and a gang of tech-savvy young enthusiasts. Read the full story: The Age, 27 May 2014.

Assa Doron, College of Asian and the Pacific, Australian National University, and Robin Jeffrey, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, are authors of The Great Indian Phone Book.

Landslide victory history in the making

With the election of Narendra Modi, India faces a critical turning point which could see not only greater prosperity but also sectarian violence, writes Ian Hall, a senior fellow in the Department of International Relations, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

Read the full story 

The caste of the Modi effect May 30, 2014

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

Vikas Kumar

Before this year’s parliamentary election, it was a truism that the national parties of India were led by English/Hindi-speaking upper castes. Even Chaudhary Charan Singh, the Jat leader from western Uttar Pradesh who was the prime minister during 1979-80, did not lead a national party in a parliamentary election. The other side of the glass ceiling erected by the upper castes spawned regional caste-based parties, whose founders saw no future for themselves and their communities within the national parties. Narendra Modi has broken the glass ceiling and joined the national leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), hitherto a bastion of upper castes. Unlike Bangaru Laxman, a Dalit leader from Andhra Pradesh who served as the BJP president during 2000-01, Modi is not a convenient façade for a party otherwise dominated by upper castes. Equally importantly, unlike his prime ministerial predecessors who with the exception of Deve Gowda were primarily based in Delhi, he spent most of his political career in a medium-sized non-Hindi speaking province. His spectacular rise needs to be examined from the perspective of how it reworked caste equations within his party and how caste played a subtle role in his successful campaign.

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Will the Indian National Congress survive? May 25, 2014

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

Arun R. Swamy

The best summary of the 16th Indian General Election just concluded was offered by a rueful leader of the Indian National Congress party (INC): ‘Our performance was worse than the worst case scenario’. It may get even worse in the years to come as regional factions seeking to remain viable at the state level consider whether association with the national party reduces their appeal.

The outcome is astonishing. In terms of seats, the resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) exceeded the predictions of all but one exit poll. By winning 283 seats the BJP has assured itself a majority of the lower house even without its allies, the first party in 30 years to do so; while the INC dropped to an all-time low of 44 — too low to meet the minimum threshold required to be recognised as the official opposition party. The BJP’s allies alone won nearly as many seats as the INC and its allies together. Three former INC factions that broke away to form regional parties in the last 15 years collectively won more seats than the INC, and two regional parties each have almost as many seats as the INC. Even more stunningly, the INC dropped to 19 per cent of the national vote, a historic low, while the BJP scored its highest vote share ever with 31 per cent. (more…)

Modi: from tea shop to India’s top spot May 25, 2014

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

Peter Drysdale

Last Friday, Narendra Modi scored a remarkable, historic victory over the Congress party dynasty that has dominated the Indian political scene for decades to become his country’s next prime minister. His rise from lower caste origins, the son of a tea-stall vendor, to the top job is the stuff of Indian soap opera. His success in winning such a huge mandate from a wide cross section of the Indian electorate, whatever baggage he carries from the Hindu nationalist right, is a heart-warming story of the triumph of a social underdog over the political establishment.

The stock market surged as the scale of the pro-business BJP government’s victory became clear. Big business has been solidly behind Modi who has portrayed himself as the can-do chief minister of the state of Gujarat, in office for the past 12 years and with three victorious state elections under his belt. In Gujarat, he says, the roads are paved, electricity never stops, and entrepreneurs get access, permissions and support. His supporters call it a ‘Gujarat model’ of economic progress. Modi aims to make it national. Yet among India’s states, Gujarat ranks around the midway point on most indicators of human development, such as primary school education, female literacy and child nutrition. (more…)

Modi’s sweeping victory in India May 25, 2014

Posted by ruthgamble in : India, Jeffrey, Robin , comments closed

Robin Jeffrey

The crushing victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its anointed prime minister Narendra Modi brought joy to India’s stock markets, satisfaction to many millions of exasperated voters and apprehension to religious minorities and others who don’t subscribe to ‘Hindu values’ as defined by the BJP.

The victory was everything the Hindu-chauvinist BJP hoped for — a majority in its own right in the 543-seat house, the first time India has had such a clear result since 1984. With its coalition allies, the BJP-led government will have more than 330 seats.

The defeated Indian National Congress party (INC), which led coalition governments for the past ten years, was reduced to fewer than 60 seats — the worst performance ever by Asia’s oldest political organisation. (more…)

Alliances not leaders will decide 2014 Indian elections February 19, 2014

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

Arun R. Swamy

Political posturing in India has not changed since 1999, when there was a fascist party posing as a conservative one, and a royalist party posing as a liberal one. The posturing continues, but since then the Indian National Congress (INC) party has embraced coalition politics. And it may now be in a stronger position to attract allies than its rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

INC president Sonia Gandhi’s recent decision not to publicly project a prime ministerial candidate for the upcoming elections has met with disappointment in the party and derision outside. But Gandhi may be shrewder than her colleagues. With the two largest parties typically receiving only a little more than half the votes, the decisive contest between them is for the support of regional parties, not voters. In that contest the INC continues to have an edge — and publicly committing to a prime ministerial candidate would hinder their efforts.

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Sham election sets dangerous standard for Bangladesh February 17, 2014

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

Tom Felix Joehnk

For more than two decades Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League (AL) and Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have ruled Bangladesh. They hate each other viscerally and refuse to communicate, much less negotiate. Both women inherited their political followings from relatives who were assassinated. They have since turned the country’s two largest parties into patronage-based personality cults that specialise in looking backwards.

Bangladesh is the world’s eighth most populous country. It has made tremendous progress in recent years — very much despite its appalling leaders. Their greatest feat might have been when they joined hands in 1990 to oust Mohammad Ershad, a dictator. Ever since, the two autocratically inclined ‘begums’ have given Bangladeshis no choice but the choice between the two of them.

The incumbent prime minister has always lost — until now. But now Bangladesh is entering a new phase. In a farce of an election on 5 January Sheikh Hasina won a second consecutive term as prime minister. She laid the ground for this victory in 2011, by junking a provision added to the constitution in 1996 which had called for neutral, ‘caretaker’ governments to oversee elections.

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Delhi voters pick an unconventional winner January 22, 2014

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

Purnendra Jain and Peter Mayer

Voters in Delhi have ushered in an unconventional leader of a new party, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP — the Common Man Party), to the top political position in the National Capital Territory. Delhi’s seventh chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, may be a political novice but he is by no means an unknown figure. A graduate of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology and a former senior official in India’s Income Tax Department, Kejriwal became known nationally in 2011 through his association with the anti-corruption movement led by Gandhian Anna Hazare. Mass demonstrations in Delhi against widespread corruption, and their coverage through national television, made Kejriwal one of the country’s most prominent faces.

Kejriwal was responsible for drafting an anti-corruption Jan Lokpal Bill and played a key role in implementing the Right to Information Act at the grassroots level. But at the end of 2012, Kejriwal parted company with Team Anna, as the latter did not support Kejriwal’s proposal to form a political party and contest elections. When the AAP was formed in November 2012, most commentators were pessimistic about its future. But one year on, Kejriwal surprised many after his party won 28 of 70 seats in the Legislative Assembly, thrashing the long-ruling Congress Party. It’s the first time in Delhi’s history that a party other than the Indian National Congress and the Bhartiya Janata Party has taken the helm. Delhi’s previous chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, belonged to the Congress Party, and after three five-year terms she became the longest-serving chief minister in Delhi and the longest-serving female chief minister in India. Of course, the emergence of political leaders from social movements is not a new phenomenon. In India, however, while many regional parties have emerged and their leaders served as chief ministers, most parties have been developed on the basis of caste, religion, language or regional issues. And none has managed to cultivate the same profile as Kejriwal.

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