Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Politics / 06.06.2008

A number of readers have expressed reservations about our comments on the first census in British India (Democracy in India – 3). It is argued that disclosure of full information is always for the better and cannot but be helpful in the long run. This misses the point. It is not always the case that pre-existing information is lying unobserved and a neutral process is involved in bringing this knowledge into the public domain. With the first census in British India, knowledge was actually created. This is what Kamaljit Bhasin-Malik explains in her essays on the census: The Punjab census illustrates that the census was not a passive data-gathering instrument. It did not merely count what is.  Census officials first had to create categories and define them. But this was no simple process and the realities that census takers encountered collided with their imperial taxonomies, which assumed Punjabi society...

Democracy/Governance / 06.06.2008

A number of readers have expressed reservations about our comments on the first census in British India (Democracy in India – 3). It is argued that disclosure of full information is always for the better and cannot but be helpful in the long run. This misses the point. It is not always the case that pre-existing information is lying unobserved and a neutral process is involved in bringing this knowledge into the public domain. With the first census in British India, knowledge was actually created. This is what Kamaljit Bhasin-Malik explains in her essays on the census: The Punjab census illustrates that the census was not a passive data-gathering instrument. It did not merely count what is.  Census officials first had to create categories and define them. But this was no simple process and the realities that census takers encountered collided with their imperial taxonomies, which assumed Punjabi society...

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...

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

BySamia 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 South...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics / 01.03.2008

This is a companion piece to The Politics of Identity in which we outlined the views of Professor Stanley Fish on identity politics. In this post we present a critique of Professor Fish’s analysis, apply his framework to politics in Pakistan, and try to demonstrate the importance of context in such matters.  Professor Fish’s articulation of identity politics is most easily understood in the concrete context of the contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. An ideal non-identity voter would be one who behaves as if he or she is completely unaware of the “skin color, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other marker [of identity]” of the two candidates. The voter (visualized as an abstract “citizen”) selects the candidate best qualified to lead the country and advance the policies (say on the war in Iraq, the Middle...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Modernity, Politics, South Asia / 23.02.2008

In setting up the next set of articles we use a thought-provoking op-ed by Professor Stanley Fish as the point of departure. Professor Fish deals with an issue, identity politics, which is of great relevance for us in South Asia. While the author’s application is to the election in the US (voting on the basis of color or gender), we can easily extrapolate some of the ideas to our context. Here is Professor Fish’s definition of identity politics: You’re practicing identity politics when you vote for or against someone because of his or her skin color, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other marker that leads you to say yes or no independently of a candidate’s ideas or policies. An identity politics voter says, in effect, I don’t care what views he holds, or even what bad things he may have done, or what lack of ability...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics, South Asia / 22.02.2008

It is useful to study the history of democracy in Japan to highlight an aspect that is almost completely overlooked in South Asia – the critical relevance of electoral rules. Japan is termed “the only stable industrialized democracy in Asia, with a well-established parliament, political parties that vigorously compete in elections, and a solidly legitimate democratic constitution.” It is a “predominant party democracy” in which the same party was consistently supported by voters under free and competitive conditions for a very long time (38 years). However, “the Japanese formula for a successful, dominant party democracy has had its negative effects – the role of excess money in politics and corruption.” All these aspects are related to electoral rules “since the electoral system is a major determinant of a political regime:” In many newly-emerging democracies the choice of an electoral system is increasingly being recognized as a vital element...