Archive for the ‘India’ Category
Much has been written and discussed about the recent ‘civil society’ protests against corruption in India. Social activist Anna Hazare’s four day fast in April compelled the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to re-consider the Lokpal Bill through a joint committee involving ministers and members of civil society. Yoga guru, christened as ‘Baba’ Ramdev, launched his hunger strike in protest against the black money stashed in foreign banks earlier this month. There has been some debate among the supporters of Anna Hazare and Ramdev regarding entrepreneurial recognition for the “fast-track” approach to combat corruption. The Government claims to have been responsive to the demands of civil society in both instances, though Ramdev’s uncompromising attitude necessitated use of force to disband his yoga-cum-protest camp.
Responses to this wave of civil society protests can be broadly classified into two categories. Supporters of the protests justify civil society’s unease on the basis of Government’s growing incompetence, excessive corruption and power induced arrogance. Critics, see the over-zealous members of civil society as a threat to the democratic law making process and institutional separation of powers. Both sides make valid arguments. Is it possible to accurately identify the villain and hero in this confrontation?
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to Africa received extensive attention in the Indian media. Prime Minister Singh attended the second India-Africa Forum Summit in Addis Ababa on May 24th and 25th and visited Tanzania thereafter. The visit was used not only to demonstrate India’s commitment to Africa’s development needs but also highlight the strategy of engagement. As observed by Sudha Ramachandran, “India’s partnering in Africa’s development while laudable is not wholly altruistic”; it serves India’s diverse foreign policy interests. The strategy, however, is of greater significance. The focus is no longer limited to competing with China but on demonstrating the difference in partnership approaches pursued by India and China. Jairam Ramesh, India’s Minister for Environment and Forests, had referred to this difference during the First India-Africa Forum Summit in 2008 when he stated that, “The first principle of India’s involvement in Africa is unlike that of China. China says go out and exploit the natural resources, our strategy is to add value.”
In the same week that President Obama delivered his much awaited Middle East speech, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton inaugurated the State Department’s new diplomatic outreach initiative - The Global Diaspora Forum held during May 17-19, 2011. The initiative, christened as idEA (International Diaspora Engagement Alliance) is based on simple understanding: Diaspora communities often have the local knowledge and contacts; U.S. Government agencies have the technical expertise, global presence, and convening power. Based on these complementarities, the State Department shall develop new diaspora-centric partnership models and undertaking new programs to encourage intra-diaspora collaboration and learning.
“Revenge is history, change is victory. The target is not to just overthrow CPM. It is to get Bengal back its glory.” Going by these comments of Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Mamata Banerjee, her victory in the recent West Bengal Assembly elections is just the beginning. She has been successful in unseating the CPM for the first time in 34 years. But the goal of ‘regenerating Bengal’ will get underway only when the red bricked Writer’s Building (State Government Secretariat) turns green from inside on May 20. [Red is the color of the Left Front while TMC, the grassroots party, is identified with green in the state]. Mamata Banerjee’s victory is by itself a huge change for West Bengal but the people of the state look forward to better education and employment opportunities, increased industrialization and improved infrastructure. For Didi (sister) as she is lovingly called by the people of Bengal, the job has only begun. TMC’s election manifesto outlines a “blueprint of the regeneration and rejuvenation of West Bengal.”
The U.S. operation that led to the killing of Al-Qadea leader Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad earlier this week has stirred a hornet’s nest. While details of the operation continue to pour in each day, the sentiment that “Pakistan has some explaining to do” is gaining force. Pakistan’s Ambassador to U.S. Husain Haqqani, has appeared on more television shows that I can count and attempted to defend Pakistan. Though I may disagree with his analysis, I am much impressed by his diplomatic abilities. After all diplomacy, even in the age of nuclear weapons, is the best tool to defend a country’s interests. This led me to explore India’s diplomatic response to Operation Osama and the larger issue of fighting terrorism in the region. While there is much discussion within the country on how should India deal with the situation, here is a list of diplomatic do’s and don’ts for India.
Almost a year ago, I enthusiastically wrote about the recognition of Right to Education (RTE) as a Fundamental Right in India. Making elementary education an entitlement for children in the 6-14 age group, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 was expected to directly benefit close to ten million children who did not attend school. According to The Hindu, a leading English daily in India, “the enforcement of this right represents a momentous step forward in our 100-year struggle for universalising elementary education.” On April 1, 2011 Union Human Resource Development Minister, Mr Kapil Sibal released the one-year report card of RTE. Few had expected that in a year the Act would dramatically raise the number of school going children in the country. The explicit commitment was viewed as a beginning to identify and implement innovative measures to realize the goal of providing primary education to the target population. Like most other official policies the RTE turns out to be more about making the politically correct gestures without adapting to socially flexible techniques for achieving the proposed goals. Implementation of RTE is challenged on many fronts but more critically there appears to be an inveterate aversion to review and adjust policy.
Palagummi Sainath a renowned journalist and rural affairs editor of The Hindu delivered the First Maharaj Kaul Memorial Lecture at University of Berkeley, California on April 11. Sainath has written extensively on farmer suicide and paid news, issues that have not been widely reported in the mainstream Indian media. At Berkeley, Sainath choose to speak on the issue of paid news prevalent in Indian media. He particularly highlighted the problem of political paid news (reported for the first time during Maharashtra State Assembly elections in 2009) described as the phenomenon where money is paid by candidates contesting elections to representatives of media companies for favorable coverage. P. Sainath’s views during the lecture and expressed elsewhere point to a grave crises confronting the state of Indian media.
[Photo Courtesy: The Hindu]
It is important to keep Gandhi untarnished. The Gandhian can be negotiated with.
Two developments in India during the past week convinced me of the above approach in Indian politics. American journalist Joseph Lelyveld’s book The Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India created furore in the country. The book has been banned in Gujarat and Maharashtra is considering a ban. The Central government has serious objections to the book.
Anna Hazare, a Gandhian and social activist, began his fast unto death on April 5 to pressurize the Government to legislate a rigorous anti-corruption bill.
Protest or advocacy, Gandhi continues to occupy the centre stage in India.
As the attention of the Indian cricket fans moves away from Mohali to Mumbai, the India-Pakistan game earlier this week entered the Hall of Fame of Indo-Pak cricket diplomacy encounters. The unique reverence for the game in the sub-continent has been regularly used as diplomatic ice-breaker in the past. The special place accorded to cricket in India-Pakistan relations is evident from a concomitant lack of ‘nationalist’ fervor in the upcoming India-Sri Lanka World Cup Final in Mumbai on March 2. P.M. Singh has not invited his Sri Lankan counterpart or President Mahinda Rajapaksa to watch the game at Wankhede Stadium. (However, President Rajapaksa is expected to watch the game in Mumbai and he will be joined by Indian President Pratibha Patil). The game at Mohali was another occasion to witness the craze for cricket, its value in the conduct of national diplomacy and much beyond.