LSE’s David Lewis maps alternative outcomes of the standoff between the government and opposition in Bangladesh.
The political standoff between the Awami League (AL) government and opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) seems to have come to a head. A BNP-led alliance of 18 political parties has rejected a schedule calling for general elections on 5 January 2014. The BNP dismissed the election schedule announcement as a ‘unilateral’ move and continues to call for the restoration of the old caretaker government system to provide neutral oversight of the polls. The party maintains that the AL will rig the elections if it is allowed to remain in power until polling day. For its part, the AL maintains that caretaker governments can also be biased (it abolished the 13th Constitutional Amendment requiring the establishment of a caretaker government in 2011 following allegations that the BNP crowded an interim set-up with supporters in 2006).
On 26 November, the BNP called for a 48-hour-long strike, which then spilled into the first week of December. Election-related violence has been escalating since the opposition protests began—Election Commission offices in multiple locations have been attacked, and numerous AL offices vandalised. At least 18 people were killed on the first two days of the strike.
The opposition has also called for a countrywide blockade of rail, roads and waterways. On 4 December, at least three people were killed and more than 40 injured when opposition activists derailed a train in northern Bangladesh. According to media reports, voters who were previously sympathetic to the BNP’s position are beginning to tire of the electoral violence and strike-related disruptions.
What options does Bangladesh have in this scenario? It is always unwise to try to predict the future, but there would seem to be three main possibilities.
- The first is business as usual. Confrontational politics of this kind has long defined the country’s democracy, and face-offs have been regular features of elections since the end of the military era in 1990. At the last minute, the BNP and its allies may agree to take part in the election, having further enhanced their reputation with their core supporters by taking such a hard-line stance. Continue reading
Pakistani writer and journalist Fatima Bhutto recently launched her debut novel, “The Shadow of the Crescent Moon”, before a full house at LSE. Saleha Riaz reports on Bhutto’s conversation with LSE’s Dr Mukulika Banerjee about her new book. A version of this article first appeared in The Express Tribune.
Bhutto’s new book, “The Shadow of the Crescent Moon”, is set in Waziristan, a region that is often in the news for all the wrong reasons. Launching the book at LSE, Bhutto said that she wanted to write about northern Pakistan but did not choose Peshawar, Bajaur Agency or Banu as those settings had too many prejudices connected with the Taliban and drones attached to them. Bhutto therefore picked the small town of Mir Ali – albeit a highly fictionalised version of the town – as the setting for her debut novel.
Bhutto also explained that she believes a novel’s characters unfold on their own: “It’s a strange process … You think you are building people, but they make themselves and they change across the writing of the book.”
The characters in Bhutto’s book are struggling with things she herself is curious about, and she sympathised with each of them, whether with their fears, longings or their suffocation. “In all of them, even the ones I didn’t agree with or felt offended by, I didn’t feel I could judge them.” Continue reading
LSE’s Emrys Schoemaker argues that the spread of mobile internet in Pakistan is likely to drive social change rather than economic growth.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court in September ordered the government to auction third generation (3G) mobile spectrum licenses. The order was met with excitement and claims that mobile internet would catalyse the economy and usher in a naya (new) Pakistan, claims based on statistics that correlate internet penetration to GDP. But these claims will not materialise because they fail to account for the reality of the way people actually use mobile internet. In Pakistan, although aspirations of a mobile internet-fuelled economic revolution are unlikely to be met, there may yet be a mobile internet revolution with more far-reaching implications than a potential contribution to GDP.
Interest in the 3G auction is driven by the fact that new communication technologies have already had a big impact in Pakistan. Pakistan’s 180 million people have nearly 120 million mobile phone subscriptions and more than 20 million internet connections. The country has the region’s highest mobile phone penetration, some of the lowest calling costs, and an established software and technology sector. New media technologies have already enabled political activism and development innovations such as government accountability initiatives, mobile money services, and tools to make market prices more accessible.
The specific claims for mobile internet’s contribution to economic growth rest on the assumption that it combines the benefit of fixed line internet access with the accessibility of mobile phones. Since rolling out mobile networks is cheaper than laying expensive copper wires, wireless internet promises to ‘leapfrog’ the obstacles to internet adoption. According to one study, a 10 per cent substitution from 2G to 3G penetration increases GDP per capita growth by 0.15 percentage points.
But there are several reasons to be sceptical of the economic claims for mobile internet. Continue reading
Dr Don Slater’s new book asks how can we democratise the ways we think and practice new media, development and globalisation.
New media, development and globalisation are the key terms through which the future is being imagined and performed in governance, development initiatives, and public and political discourse. Yet these authoritative terms have arisen within particular cultural and ideological contexts. In using them, we risk promoting over-generalised and seemingly unchallengeable frameworks for action and knowledge production which can blind us to the complex global patterns and promises of diverse social realities.
New Media, Development and Globalisation: Making Connections in the Global South draws on more than 10 years of ethnographic fieldwork on new media in South Asia, Latin America and West Africa, including a two-year UNESCO programme of ICT research that included five innovative ICT-for-development programmes in India. The ethnographies are used to challenge the three terms in the title as voicing specific Northern narratives rather than universal truths, and to see them from the perspective of Southern peoples and communities who are equally concerned to understand new machines for communication, new models of social change and new maps of social connection.
The India-specific research reported in the book was part of a UNESCO-funded programme called ictPR (ICTs for Poverty Reduction). Continue reading
Milan Vaishnav questions whether regional political actors threaten the status of India’s national political parties. This post is an excerpt of an article first published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The “rise” of regional political parties seems to be an eternal theme on the Indian political scene. Indeed, it has become a standard trope of Indian political analysis to deluge readers with excited descriptions of India’s fragmented party system and the multiplicity of local parties that appear to crop up like weeds after a monsoon rain. Observers also like to note the continued decline of India’s two genuinely national parties, the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
There is, of course, a kernel of truth to these claims. Many of the leading power brokers in contemporary Indian politics hail from regional parties—such as former chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati as well as Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee. Looking at them, it is not hard to believe that times have changed.
There is plenty of hard data to back up this sentiment. The exponential increase in the number of parties contesting elections, particularly over the past two decades, and the shrinking margins of victory in parliamentary elections are direct results of the emergence of new regional power centres. At last count, the fifteenth Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, boasted 38 parties, all but two of which are largely ethnic, regional, or subregional enterprises.
The rise of regional parties has indisputably transformed the very nature of electoral politics in India. For the foreseeable future, it is unimaginable that a single party could form the government in New Delhi—a testament enough to this tectonic shift.
But whether regional parties will be able to wrest greater control over the shape of governance in the capital and in India’s states remains an open question. Continue reading
A recent IGC Working Paper by Andrew Fraker, Neil Buddy Shah, and Ronald Abraham assesses the performance of Bihar’s ICDS Supplementary Nutrition Programme as a first step toward designing policy interventions to address the state’s malnutrition crisis.
Child malnutrition is a critical problem in Bihar, where the prevalence of underweight children is far worse than the Indian average and higher than any country in the world. Recognising this, the Bihar State government (along with the Central government) commits over 1,100 crore rupees per year (US$200 million) to the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP). But the government is aware that programme funds are regularly pilfered, and it is common for anganwadi (government pre-schools) centre staff to fail to provide meals and dry rations to the intended beneficiaries.
Based on random, unannounced visits by independent surveyors, this assessment quantifies the shortcomings of ICDS’ SNP by providing in-depth analysis of ground-level realities.
The main findings from this quantitative assessment are:
- 53 per cent of the SNP budget was “missing” due to leakage
- 71 per cent of the budget for food served at anganwadis was missing
- 38 per cent of the budget for take home rations was missing Continue reading
Ruth Kattumuri argues that young South Asians are uniquely positioned to take control of their futures, despite the region’s challenges. This post first appeared on the British Council’s Voices blog.
Among the world’s nearly seven billion people, 1.7 billion live in South Asia. By 2050, that number is expected to rise to 2.4 billion people. One fifth of South Asia’s population is aged between 15 to 24 years old. India alone has about 200 million young people in this age group. This decade sees the largest number of young people ever to transition into adulthood in South Asia.
Things in South Asia are getting better
South Asia’s GDP growth has almost doubled in the last 25 years. The region’s development indicators are better than they have been in the last 50 years. Bhutan (0.54), Maldives (0.69) and India (0.55) are now classified as middle-income countries, while Sri Lanka (0.72) is classified as a high-income country (Human Development Index 2013; HDI is based on life expectancy, education, standard of living, etc.). There are improvements in HDI for Pakistan (0.52) and Bangladesh (0.52), but growth is still low in Nepal (0.46) and Afghanistan (0.37).
The urban young in South Asia have better access to education and career opportunities. Their parents also have a greater ability to support and invest in the higher aspirations of their children. A growing number of students can now afford to pursue undergraduate education in developed countries.
Meanwhile, rural youth also have better access to education and opportunities than ever before, and their parents want to support their upwardly mobile aspirations. Continue reading
LSE’s Romola Sanyal introduces a special issue of Political Geography, “Geographies at the Margins: Borders in South Asia”, and argues that borders and margins are central to understanding South Asia’s history and present.
This special issue began as an attempt to explore the different meanings and forms borders take in South Asia and to study the histories and geographies of borders through an analytical lens that was at once relational and comparative. The region is appropriate for this study not only because of the myriad borders that exist here, but also because much of South Asia’s history, whether in the colonial or postcolonial moment, can be described through the lens of boundary making and border making.
What is more, boundaries in contemporary South Asia tend to bleed into and transpose themselves onto one another. It is a place where international borders are transcribed onto urban regions as communitarian divisions are played out at state frontiers. Border security forces patrol the boundaries of national parks while NGOs regulate the movement of bodies across international boundaries. National histories are re-appropriated by subaltern histories as national identities are increasingly codified from beyond the narrow geographical boundaries of South Asia. Borders and margins in South Asia are therefore central to understanding its history and present.
Our contributors looked at a number of issues to explore the various meanings of marginality in border-zones. Continue reading
Do we need another biography of Gandhi? Yes, according to Dr Ramachandra Guha.
Do we need another biography of Gandhi? This is the question with which Dr Ramachandra Guha launched Gandhi Before India, the first volume of his two-part biography of Mohandas K. Gandhi, at LSE last week (click here for an audio recording of the event). The biography spans Gandhi’s life from his birth in 1869 to 1914, when he returned to India after living in South Africa for two decades.
Mahatma Gandhi when he was practising as an attorney in South Africa. He is seated in front of a window bearing his name, on the left is Henry Polak, and on the right is his secretary Sonja Schlesin.
Speaking at LSE, Guha explained why he felt another telling of Gandhi’s time in South Africa was necessary. He pointed out that Gandhi’s time outside India comprised half his life, but receives about one-fifth of the attention from his many biographers. Moreover, Gandhi’s early years are often viewed teleologically, interpreted to inform what came later.
But for Guha, Gandhi’s years in South Africa are truly formative, essential to understanding his personal and professional trajectory. It was through his relationships in South Africa with people of other religions that Gandhi became a religious pluralist; it was through his exposure in the diaspora to a variety of Indians – Hindi-speakers, Muslims, Tamils, Bengalis – that Gandhi understood his country’s heterogeneity and diversity and became a true Indian; it was in South Africa that Gandhi became critical of the Indian patriarchal approach to women, and where he started to practice civil disobedience and non-violence, or satyagraha. Without his time in South Africa, Guha suggested, Gandhi may not have emerged as a person of rare moral courage. Continue reading