India Insight

Independents speak softly, carry a big placard

It’s 7.30 am, but the small band of supporters of Meera Sanyal, the ABN-Amro banker contesting the election as an independent in south Mumbai, is bright-eyed and raring to go, holding placards and shouting “Vote for Meera Sanyal”.

At the first stop, a housing colony of about 300 middle-class families, they disperse, some knocking on doors, others distributing handbills and chatting with curious residents getting ready for the day.

Sanyal, dressed in a traditional salwar-kameez and sneakers, folds her hands and introduces herself in Hindi, and seeks the blessings of an older woman: “I am trying to understand your problems better,” she says.

A young man to whom she introduces herself tells her independent candidates can’t make a difference.

“What have parties done for south Mumbai. They have not delivered,” Sanyal tells him.

The no-vote option: Will Indians ever exercise it?

Democracy is all about choice and there have been calls to introduce a “none of the above” option in electronic voting machines so that guardians of the election process in the world’s largest democracy can reject candidates who don’t pass muster.

And if this is likely to get sucked into political wrangling – the fate of most pertinent issues in India – some say the Election Commission (EC), political activists and those urging the “sleeping population to wake up and vote” should  advertise the virtues of Rule 49-O of the Conduct of Elections Rules, which allows you to register your disapproval.

A peek into the election rulebook reveals the following about 49-O: “Elector deciding not to vote – If an elector, after his electoral roll number has been duly entered in the register of voters in Form-17A and has put his signature or thumb impression thereon as required under sub-rule (1) of rule 49L, decided not to record his vote, a remark to this effect shall be made against the said entry in Form 17A by the presiding officer and the signature or thumb impression of the elector shall be obtained against such remark.”

Politics and films: An Indian affair

The Congress party has bought the rights to “Jai Ho”, the Oscar-winning song from “Slumdog Millionaire”, to use for its election campaign.

Although popular Bollywood song tunes have always been used after being set to new lyrics for canvassing votes, acquiring the rights to a song for election campaigning is a possible first.

Congress leaders said the song, whose title is Hindi for “Let There be Victory,” will be played during rallies in rural towns, villages and cities. But why did the party go so far as to get the song rights?

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Kashmir’s long road ahead

After India last held state elections in Jammu and Kashmir in 2002, the Kashmir Valley witnessed a period of relative peace only to see it shattered when plans to give land to Hindu pilgrims triggered the biggest protests since the Kashmir separatist revolt erupted in 1989.

The latest elections - which produced a turnout of more than 60 percent despite a boycott call by separatists and ushered in a new state government led by Omar Abdullah - have provided a second chance to change the mood in the volatile Kashmir Valley. But do India and Pakistan, and the Kashmiris themselves, have the ability to turn this second chance into a real opportunity for peace?

Despite the outrage over the Mumbai attacks, blamed by India on Pakistan-based militants, there are some promising signs. The elections were remarkable for the fact that armed separatists based in Pakistani-held Kashmir made no attempt to disrupt the campaign, as they did during the previous polls in 2002. If Indian assertions are correct that the Pakistani security establishment controls the level of armed separatist activity in Kashmir, then the absence of violence would not have been possible without the active cooperation of Pakistan - a factor acknowledged by The Hindu in an editorial

Will an “untouchable” become India’s Obama?

Will a Dalit, or “untouchable” become India’s Obama? That is the question being posed by some commentators in the India press after the United States elected their first black president.

One Dalit woman, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh known as Mayawati, is the first person to come to mind. Her astonishing rise from Dalit teacher to head of India’s most populous state has led to speculation she could be a prime ministerial candidate in 2009.


For an interesting article on the subject, read “Waiting for India‘s Obama” by T.K Arun.

Obama or McCain – who is better for India?

Like much of the world waiting to find out who leads the United States as its president for the next four years, India too looks askance at the mother of all elections.

While some believe India-U.S. relations have evolved to a strategic level where it does not matter who is at the helm of affairs, a debate rages on whether Obama or McCain will be good for the South Asia region, and India in specific.

As in the U.S., in India the balance seems to tilt in favour of Obama. His backers say he will be a welcome change from the stifling neoconservatism of the Bush administration and its heavy-breathing belligerence.

Anger, agreement at Muslim leaders gathering

jama.jpgSecurity was tight at the entrance to Gate No. 7 of the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi, a 17th century mosque built by Mughal kings, and the venue on Tuesday for a gathering of Muslim leaders from across the country to debate the persecution of Muslims.

Police shooed away fruit vendors and cycle rickshaws spilling over from the crowded market nearby, while others stood around the metal detectors at the entrance while their colleagues cased out the giant white shamiana inside with sniffer dogs under the slowly revolving ceiling fans.

 A full half hour after the scheduled time, when only the first few rows of seats were occupied, Maulana Naksh Bandi of the Jama Masjid began the proceedings, inviting various leaders to the dais, and declaring in Urdu: “there is no law, there is no justice for us. It is the rule of the jungle.”

Superstar Chiranjeevi turns politician. Finally.

The Telugu actor launched his Praja Rajyam (People’s Rule) party this week, the latest in a long line of bigwigs from the acting fraternity in south India to nurse political ambitions.

Actor ChiranjeeviChiranjeevi, 53, is in good company. M.G. Ramachandran, N.T. Rama Rao, J. Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi had all successfully made the leap from silver screen to political stage.

And with assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh looming in 2009, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Chiranjeevi seated on the chief minister’s chair.

He’s surely got mass appeal. Local television broadcast footage of tens of thousands of supporters hailing the actor at his party’s launch in the temple town of Tirupati.

Thank Sonia Gandhi’s lucky stars, astrologers say as govt wins trust vote

Much as he tries astrologer Rajan Chopra can’t keep the pride out of his voice as he speaks to me for the second time in 24 hours.

parrot1.jpg It’s victory march at 7 Race Course Road after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wins a closely-fought vote of confidence 275 to 256 in parliament and the temptation for Chopra to say “I told you so” is overwhelming. But Chopra, a political and corporate astrologer who predicted yesterday that the government would win the trust vote, says “it’s a victory for astrologers as well”.

If popular predictions are anything to go by then stargazers say the strong Saturn in Congress President Gandhi’s astrological chart is to be thanked for the government’s victory and the Congress party will be wise to look heaven wards for further guidance before general elections next year.

Jury still out on Indo-U.S. “unclear” deal

US President Bush raises his glass for a toast with Indian Prime Minister Singh at an official dinner …US President Bush raises his glass for a toast with Indian Prime Minister Singh at an official dinner …You could be forgiven for thinking that the civilian nuclear deal with the United States is all about whether India holds early elections or not.

Every newspaper is speculating if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has staked his personal reputation on the deal, will resign to disassociate himself from an administration that failed to save a pact keenly watched by the world.

But are these the arguments India should be debating in the short-term or should we be discussing the real benefits and drawbacks of the deal?

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