Loader

Blog Categories

Check out my latest posts. I post every day.

Governance, Pakistan / 04.06.2008

Samia Altaf  The furor over the display of nudes at the National Art Gallery in Islamabad made me think of the Partition. Both situations represent the challenge of reconciling different points of views without conflict. And both are complicated by the fact that we desire to live in a democratic society. In the case of the Partition we failed. It was perhaps the most tragic failure of our times – a million people lost their lives and over ten million lost their homes. The conflict at the National Art Gallery is the same type of problem in principle but the stakes are much smaller and we can think about how to resolve the dilemma without losing control of our emotions. Hopefully we can draw some macro conclusions from a micro situation. The first thing to note is that democratic governance is not equivalent to majoritarian rule. The views...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Politics / 31.05.2008

In the first article of this series (Democracy in India – 1) we had highlighted the importance of the introduction of elective governance in India by the British, the choice of separate electorates based on religion, and its negative impact on communal relations. The following quote from the Indian Statutory Commission in 1930 showed how religion was turned from a social distinction into a political one that mattered in terms of who got what: So long as people had no part in the conduct of their government, there was little for members of one community to fear from the predominance of the other. The gradual introduction of constitutional reforms, however, had greatly stimulated communal tension as it aroused anxieties and ambitions among many communities by the prospect of their place in India’s future political set-up. Thus “while the goal of achieving independence from British rule was never a...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics / 21.04.2008

By Samia Altaf   There is a point of view that the political culture of Pakistan is more like that of a monarchy than of a democracy. The external appearance of the political system is that of a democracy; its internal spirit is that of a monarchy. A lot more can be explained better when events are looked at in this perspective.   Take for example the exiling of political opponents, inconceivable in a modern democracy but quite common in earlier monarchies. The phenomenon of ban-baas finds frequent mention in Indian history and the banishment of English pretenders to France was not uncommon.   Similarly, the arrest of individuals on arbitrary charges and their incarceration in dungeons if they displease the ruler of the day is also a phenomenon associated with monarchies. Large cabinets and the movement of an entourage with the ruler are more akin to durbaars than to the...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics / 11.04.2008

By Samia Altaf  I don’t really care if the cabinet eventually includes all 342 members of the national assembly. As an analyst, I am interested in understanding what the size and distribution reveal about the nature of politics in Pakistan. I want to explore why an Opposition, vociferous in its condemnation of the previous government’s excessively large cabinet, feels so compelled to go one better when it inherits power. What is going on is obvious – a largely indiscriminate division of portfolios without matching qualifications to job requirements. Why it is going on is of greater interest. Mark first the discussion about who should get what. A lot turns on the ‘deservingness’ of the candidates. How unfair to deny X who spent the most time in prison while the leaders were exiled? How about Y who had her assets confiscated and was humiliated to boot? This is the...

Democracy/Governance, Pakistan, Politics / 07.04.2008

By Shreekant Gupta  On the crowded and chaotic streets of Rawalpindi, Sheikh Rashid the former federal minister is everywhere.   His corpulent, moustached face looks down at you beatifically from huge billboards and hoardings, from posters dangling from lamp posts and on the back of rickety smoke-belching vehicles.  At some places it is only him and at others he is pictured along with other party candidates.  At roadside tea stalls and in the homes of the elite in Satellite Town and elsewhere, views for and against him are equally vehement.  In the National Assembly elections in 2002, though he won from both Pindi constituencies NA 55 and NA 56, the race seems wide open this time, and he is up against strong ‘noon’ (PML-N) candidates at both places. Welcome to Pakistan’s noisy and vibrant democracy.  Wait a minute, democracy and Pakistan, isn’t that an oxymoron?  Well, that is...

Modernity, South Asia / 04.04.2008

The bottom line in our last post on this subject was the conclusion that there is no distinct event in South Asia quite like the Enlightenment in Europe that can be used to distinguish between pre- and post-event values in terms of ways of thinking about the world. The 1857 Mutiny and the 1947 Partition are both major events in recent South Asian history but they do not mark a profound break in ways of thinking or of comprehending the world. Thus the defining characteristic of South Asian values is their continuity. This was the reason why in an earlier post we had remarked that “South Asians have either always been modern or they remain pre-modern depending how one prefers to look upon the phenomenon.” Subsequently we have dropped the use of the term “modern” because of its various distracting connotations. Our inference is that South Asian...

Leadership, Pakistan / 31.03.2008

By Samia Altaf  There is a fascinating news report (Jinnah’s New Republic) in an American weekly datelined November 15, 1947 that puts its finger on Pakistan’s most critical weakness – the quality of its leadership. Reporting from Karachi, the author comments on the country’s first cabinet: “With enormous problems, Pakistan has only a very ordinary set of leaders to cope with them”; barring a few “the other members of the cabinet are all mediocrities.” The exceptions identified by the author were the “brilliant” Mr Jinnah, the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister. In 2008, the problems have become much more enormous and the leadership has become much more mediocre. Even the exceptions at the very top are conspicuous by their absence. The quality of political leadership went into a steep decline after Mr Jinnah. This was exacerbated by the military’s interruption of the political process that serves as the...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics, South Asia / 28.03.2008

By Samia Altaf An editorial in The News on March 21, 2008 (“Bilawal to the rescue”) got it wrong when it expressed sadness at the “strange dynastic politics that have taken root in the region.” Dynastic politics have been rooted in the region much like they were in most other parts of the world in the past. The distinction of South Asia is that, unlike elsewhere, it has not left dynastic politics behind. Three centuries ago it was quite normal to have a Dauphin and a regent in France. Today, a French citizen would be completely nonplussed by the thought of such a practice. In South Asia, however, the practice is not only familiar, it is actually demanded by the citizenry. How else would one explain a democratic India feeling the need to transplant Rajiv Gandhi from an airline pilot to a Prime Minister? Examples abound across...

India, Modernity / 26.03.2008

By Dipankar Gupta Why should the best graduates from a strong middle class society cash in their chips to head for the Silicon Valley? But this is what happens in India. As a knowledge society, can we hold our head contents high when even the Philippines has more than six times the number of qualified engineers per thousand than we have here? Is it surprising then that in a land of a billion people the Information Technology sector employs only three million and no more? If we now go below the brain line then is our consumption standard at least indicative of a strong middle class? In which case, why is it that only 3% of Indian households own cars?  Does our boast not sound ridiculous especially when more than 4.5 million American households below the poverty line own cars with 290,000 of them actually owning three...