Democracy/Governance, India, Pakistan, South Asia / 26.06.2009

There was a music program in Washington, DC recently in which the three performers on stage were of South Asian origin – the vocalist from Bangladesh, the tabla player from Pakistan and the harmonium player from India. All three were young and together they created a beautiful music. The Indians in the audience asked for Faiz, the Pakistanis for Nazrulgeeti, and the vocalist herself sang the verses of poets from India. The program was a huge success lasting over five hours. It was an occasion that was symbolic of what was possible in terms of coexistence. Is that an unrealistic dream for South Asia? The election primary in the U.S. this year is a ready reminder of the transformations that are indeed possible. A mere fifty years after the Civil Rights Act when black Americans were second-class citizens afraid of being lynched and cities were burning with...

Cities/Urban, India / 23.05.2009

By Anjum Altaf Being a Tribute to Dr. G.M. Mehkri  The 2006 Sachar Committee report on the status of the Muslim community in India found that Muslims were amongst the poorest of the poor in the country. How do we square that with the fact that up until 1857 Muslims had ruled parts of India for over 800 years? I mention this fact because, in the minds of some people, Muslims had expropriated all the wealth of India during this period and oppressed all the non-Muslims. India has been independent for a little more than 60 years, so this transformation from being the owners of the land to being the poorest of the poor could not conceivably have occurred during this short period. So, did the decline of the Muslims occur during the less than hundred years of British rule between 1857 and 1947? If so, how? I don’t know.  I...

India / 20.05.2009

Seen as separate events both the 2004 and the 2009 elections in India surprised the analysts and the political parties as well. But is it possible that seen in tandem the surprise falls away and a perfectly plausible story can be told? Let me attempt such a broad-brush explanation before fleshing out the story: In 2004, there was an anti-incumbency sentiment but no one magnet to which the disaffected were attracted resulting in a scattering of the vote and a fractured outcome. In 2009, there was a pro-incumbency sentiment with a clear recipient of the goodwill yielding a much more consolidated outcome.
India / 19.03.2009

Now that we are engaged with issues of analysis this is a good issue to try our skills on. We have often wondered about the political prominence of film related personalities (NTR, MGR, Karunanidhi, Jayalalitha) in the Indian South without devoting enough attention to come up with a decent hypothesis or explanation. With the emergence of Chiranjeevi in AP as the potential ‘fourth-force’, we are face to face with the questions again. How do we explain the following? The acceptance in South India of movie related personalities as leaders of political parties and as Chief Ministers. The much less prominent profile of equally popular movie stars in North India–there are quite a few members of parliament but no political stars of equal rank. The virtual absence of film stars in the politics of other South Asian countries. In order to put this in a global perspective, we could also consider the...

India / 18.03.2009

By Dipankar Gupta [Note from The South Asian Idea: This article forms part of the series (Governance in Pakistan) on this blog that deals with issues of analysis. The preamble to this piece by Professor Dipankar Gupta is an article on Narendra Modi by Robert Kaplan in the April 2009 issue of Atlantic Monthly (India’s New Face). The bottom line of Kaplan’s article is that “Under Modi, Gujarat has become an economic dynamo.” Professor Gupta’s op-ed originally appeared in the Times of India on January 31, 2009 under the caption Credit Misplaced. Note how much difference it makes when all the evidence is taken into account and the starting point is not chosen arbitrarily. Note also the varying explanations for the same set of events. Readers are invited to join this discussion and give their opinion on which of these two analyses is more robust.] Gujarat grew...

India / 27.01.2009

By Aakar Patel Manmohan Singh had his arteries bypassed on Saturday, a procedure that increasing numbers of Indians are having. Last year, medical journal Lancet reported a study of 20,000 Indian patients and found that 60 per cent of the world's heart disease patients are in India, which has 15 per cent of the world's population. This number is surprising because reports of obesity and heart disease focus on fat Americans and their food. What could account for Indians being so susceptible -- more even than burger-and-fries-eating Americans? Four things: diet, culture, stress and lack of fitness. There is no doctrinal prescription for vegetarianism in Hindu diet, and some texts explicitly sanction the eating of meat. But vegetarianism has become dogma. Indian food is assumed to be strongly vegetarian, but it is actually lacking in vegetables. Our diet is centered round wheat, in the north, and rice, in the south....

India / 04.12.2008

Continued from Hinduism – 3: Interaction with Muslims This series of posts has a limited objective – to understand the nature and impacts of the historical interactions of Hinduism with Muslims and Britons. In order to make our point we took the incursions of Mahmud of Ghazna around 1000 AD as an adequate starting point. However, this created the impression that the first Muslims in India came as raiders. This is an incorrect impression and in fact there is an extensive prior history of peaceful contact. Although this history is not directly related to the objective of this series, it is important to document it in order to avoid misunderstandings. Arab, Greek and Jew contact with the Malabar Coast of India had long existed on account of trade in spices and other articles and became predominant in the post-Roman period. Thus Arab contact with India pre-dates Islam....

India / 28.11.2008

Mumbai is big but not as big as New York. 11/26 is huge but not as huge as 9/11. India is powerful but not as powerful as America. What does this set of propositions tell us about how we should respond to 11/26 in Mumbai? Think it over. There are two choices. We can root out terrorists or we can root out terrorism. They are not the same. Powerful America responded to 9/11 in New York by vowing to root out terrorists. Pledging to get Osama bin Laden, dead or alive, it launched the War on Terror. Seven years later, there are more terrorists than ever before, more Americans have died than in 9/11, the number of innocent victims has been lost count of, the entire world is in turmoil, and the economic and financial systems have broken down. So, when one hears Dr. Manmohan Singh state that he would get...

Governance, India, Politics / 26.07.2008

Let us put the big question on the table. Modern democracy as a form of governance has evolved following the emergence of the belief that “all men are created equal.”  How do we look at Indian democracy in this context? Do Indians believe today that all men are created equal? If not, how does it affect the nature of democracy in India? In the West it took social revolutions to force the acceptance that all men were created equal. So the sequence of events was the following: the emergence of a realization that all men should be equal; a social revolution overthrowing the hierarchical aristocratic order to force the recognition of that equality; the gradual emergence of representative governance (the franchise was extended very slowly with women becoming “equal” much later than men) as the form of governance most compatible with a society comprised of individuals equal...

Democracy/Governance, India, Modernity, Politics / 26.07.2008

Let us put the big question on the table. Modern democracy as a form of governance has evolved following the emergence of the belief that “all men are created equal.”  How do we look at Indian democracy in this context? Do Indians believe today that all men are created equal? If not, how does it affect the nature of democracy in India? In the West it took social revolutions to force the acceptance that all men were created equal. So the sequence of events was the following: the emergence of a realization that all men should be equal; a social revolution overthrowing the hierarchical aristocratic order to force the recognition of that equality; the gradual emergence of representative governance (the franchise was extended very slowly with women becoming “equal” much later than men) as the form of governance most compatible with a society comprised of individuals equal...