India Insight

Does India want its ‘Metro man’ to resign?

If the early comments on the Great Debate are anything to go by, it seems there is still a lot of goodwill towards Elattuvalapil Sreedharan.

The man behind the Delhi metro, seen as one of India’s most successful infrastructure projects, resigned on Sunday after part of a rail bridge in the capital collapsed and killed six people.

Sreedharan had enjoyed a towering profile as a civil engineer who got things done — and quickly. In the words of his spokesman, Sreedharan “can walk into the prime minister’s office. He has a reputation that he carries.”

Business students from as far away as Harvard have studied the metro’s success.

In contrast to the delays, cost-overruns and red tape that have plagued projects for decades, the subway’s first phase finished on budget and nearly three years ahead of schedule, with 99.5 percent of trains running on time.

The Unique Identity number — putting all eggs in one basket?

There was a television ad some time back where a village leader played by Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan cutely decrees that feuding villagers would be known by their mobile numbers rather than names denoting caste or community.

It’s an idea that no longer seems far-fetched.

This week, the finance minister allocated 1200 million rupees to  the Unique Identification Authority of India, headed by former Infosys chief Nandan Nilekani.

The project provides a unique identity number, something like the U.S. social security number, to India’s billion-plus citizens.

Caste and Race: Two sides of the same coin?

The attack in a  Sikh temple in Vienna and the subsequent clashes in Punjab have brought renewed focus on the internationalisation of what many Indians see as a domestic problem.

In August 2001, I heard Martin Macwan, a human rights activist, talk about raising the issue of caste at international forums, specifically in the context of the U.N. race summit in Durban that year. The move was however opposed by the government.

Macwan spoke movingly about how fellow activists had been killed while agitating for their rights.

Indian voters – spoilt for choice?

With 8071 candidates contesting 543 seats – that’s an average of 15 candidates for each seat — the 400 million Indian voters who chose to vote sure looked spoilt for choice.

But were they?

Though democracy means choosing who our rulers are going to be, many say there is a crucial missing link in Indian democracy — the lack of inner-party democracy.

This results in the lack of people’s participation especially in choosing candidates, unlike the U.S. where primaries are held by political parties to elect candidates.

Quake-prone Kathmandu awaits the next big one

Walking through the maze of narrow, crowded lanes of Kathmandu’s old city is, at the best of times, a harrowing experience.

Motorcycles, rickshaws and cars squeeze their way through the tiny, winding streets lined with dilapidated medieval buildings, Hindu temples and Buddhist stupas.

Mangled lines of power cables dangle dangerously above as you dodge the cows that mingle with traders, shoppers and tourists in the densely packed, bustling streets.

Is India failing to win hearts and minds in Kashmir?

Is India pushing the ordinary Kashmiri people further away by enforcing regular curfews, putting most of their separatist leaders under house arrest and denying them religious freedom by banning Friday prayers in Kashmir’s Jamia Masjid (grand mosque) on a regular basis to avoid violence?

I travelled to Srinagar, the summer capital of India’s troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir this week, and saw how people were tired of violence and wanted peace and dignity in the region.

Many told me how they felt unhappy each time an incident of violence in a remote corner of the city would scare authorities into shutting down the city and forced them to stay indoors, many without any provisions.

Varun Gandhi – politics of “hate” from politician of tomorrow?

The black sheep of India’s most powerful political dynasty or a young politician making his own way in that family’s most potent political rival?

Call him what you will, Varun Gandhi is grabbing headlines for all the wrong reasons in an episode that could embarrass his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party at the start of a general election campaign.

The great-grandson of India’s founding father, Jawaharlal Nehru, was allegedly caught out making inflammatory comments against Muslims at a recent rally.

Army vs police: who should maintain law-and-order?

The peacetime activities of an armed force have a bearing on its wartime capabilities and its relations with the civil society.

Although it has been the stated government policy for at least a decade to use the defence forces as sparingly as possible the Indian army has been continually engaged in counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast.

“Excessive and continuous involvement of the Army for internal security is not good, neither for the Army nor for the nation,” former army chief Ved Prakash Malik said four years ago.

India in 2008: The year that was

Yet another year is coming to an end and independent India’s idea of being a republic is a year older. But is it any wiser?

On many counts, 2008 was both tumultuous and memorable for India, testing its men and the manner in which they confronted the challenges.

It was a year which saw the Manmohan Singh government face some of the toughest questions in its 4-year rule.

from Global News Journal:

Giving in to Ali Baba

I once paid a cop 30 ringgit (about $10 then) for making an apparently illegal left-hand turn in Kuala Lumpur. Scores of drivers in front of me were also handing over their "instant fines", discreetly enclosed within the policeman's ticketing folder. It was days ahead of a major holiday and the cops were collecting their holiday bonus from the public.

Malaysia opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim holds a disc he says contains evidence of judge-fixing in Malaysia 

I felt bad about this, of course. What I was doing was illegal, immoral and perpetuating an insidious culture that goes by many names in the East -- "baksheesh" in India, "Ali Baba" (and his 40 thieves) in Malaysia, "swap" in Indonesia (means "to feed").  But the policeman pointed out I would have to take off the good part of a day to go to court and pay 10 times as much to the judge. So I rationalised: "When in Rome..."

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