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  • N. Kapoor asked: What is the concept of Imagined Community and what is its relevance in 21st century?

    Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: Imagined community is a term used by Benedict Anderson to explain the formation of nations in different parts of the world. His main argument is that identities may not be real; they are often constructed by socio-economic and political processes. He provides an example of print capitalism, census exercise and anti-colonial consciousness as shaping national identities in colonised societies. There is a counter perspective on identities too, which holds that identities are real and based on shared culture, language and historical linkages. In India, leading social scientist Dipankar Gupta has used the term “ethnopreneurs” to argue that certain leaders shape political discourses about ethnic identities and make them politically volatile only to use them for their own selfish interests to acquire power.

    In the post-Cold War period, there has been a surge of movements centred around ethnic identities. The world has witnessed bloody conflicts between ethnic groups in different countries. During this period, many hitherto-dormant ethnic groups have become politically assertive and have claimed their rights to autonomy and sovereign nationhood. This process is likely to continue. Many countries in the world today are multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-national. These countries are vulnerable to assertive identity politics. Hence, they will have to demonstrate resilience and wisdom in accommodating growing demands for autonomy by various ethnic and cultural groups and working out a structure of power sharing through various means— federal reconstitution of power, devolution, consociation politics, etc.

    Udhay asked: Is there any scope for India to lead a group of democratic countries, instead of a weak NAM?

    S.D. Muni replies: The US led the so-called democratic camp against the communists and that precipitated the Cold War. Even in the name of leading the democracies, US aligned with all kinds of military and authoritarian regimes. At the later stages in the Cold War, the US even supported China a communist country, in order to isolate the then Soviet Union, another communist country. The point is to underline the fact that international relations are conducted primarily on the basis of perceived national interests, not on the nature of political systems.

    In the NAM also there are many democratic countries. If you think that NAM is a weak group, which it is, how will a group of democratic countries will be strong. Most of the democratic countries are in the West. US still being a superpower claims to lead them. How will India be allowed or be benefited by leading them? Why would these developed countries accept India's leadership? And, leadership for what?

    However a “Community of Democracies” was established in June 2000 by about a 100 founding members of which India was an active member. This group was formed to ‘promote and strengthen democracy’ at the initiative of US and Poland. This group does not aim to coordinate the foreign policy moves or strategies of the member countries. India, in 2005, also joined the UN Democracy Fund and allocated financial resources to help in the global cause of promoting democracies. Traditionally in its foreign policy, however, India has hesitated from taking any strong initiative in supporting or promoting democratic forces in other countries. The exception is only in the case of some of India’s immediate neighbours.

    What India needs to do is to build its capabilities and pursue its vital national interests, without bothering about leading this or that group.

    Democracy in Pakistan a Distant Dream

    Like all its predecessors, the government that just completed its tenure miserably failed to promote what a democratic state is supposed to first and foremost, namely, foster the multi-faceted development of all its citizens.

    April 01, 2013

    Labeeb Abdul Baasit asked: Why is France playing such a proactive role in combating the Mali crisis? What is its interest in having a stable and democratic Mali?

    Ruchita Beri replies: France’s intervention is in response to an urgent plea of the interim government of Mali, a former colony. Moreover, the United Nations (UN) has unanimously backed France’s intervention in the conflict-ridden country. France has been calling for an African-led UN intervention for the last one year. The main concern is over the rise of extremism in the region.

    The current crisis can be traced back to the renewed fight against the Malian Government by the National Movement for Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), an armed insurgent group. The MNLA was formed in 2011 and comprises mainly of Mali’s Tuareg minority and many of its members had earlier served with the Libyan Army during Muammar Gaddafi’s era. The Tauregs have been demanding an independent state of Azawad. The fall of the Gaddafi Government strengthened the cadres of MNLA and it started attacking the government positions in northern Mali. In March 2012, disgruntled by the government’s mishandling of Tuareg attacks, a coup by the army led to the downfall of President Amadou Toumani Torre’s government in Bamako, the capital of Mali. Meanwhile, during this confusion, the MNLA captured the major towns in north and declared the independence of Azawad.

    One of the fall outs of this crisis was that two Islamists groups - Ansar Dine & Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) - joined hands with the MNLA in the fight against the Malian transitional government. MUJAO is an offshoot of the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Ansar Dine and MUJAO aim to impose Sharia law in the north. Subsequently, the MNLA and Ansar Dine reportedly fought for control of northern areas. By November 2012, Ansar Dine had gained complete control of north Mali. Meanwhile, after repeated requests by the Malian transitional government and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), on 20 December 2012, the UNSC passed Resolution 2085 authorising the deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) in September 2013. However, the immediate trigger for intervention was capture of Kanno city in central Mali by the rebels. This city is around 650 kms from Mali’s national capital and alarmed both Bamako and Paris.

    The French Government, led by President Francios Hollande, believes that deterioration of the situation in Mali and take over of northern Mali by the terror groups threatened the security of the region and that of Europe and France in particular. However, there are other factors that seem to have prompted this intervention. France has considerable economic interests in the region. French company, Areva, is involved in Uranium extraction in Niger. Apparently, seven per cent of France’s domestic energy supplies are sourced from uranium in Niger. Mali is also the third largest exporter of gold. While the African Union (AU) has acknowledged the “substantial French assistance in these trying moments in Mali”, the intervention has exposed AU’s inadequacies in mounting a rapid response to such a crisis and reiterated France’s role as a security provider in former colonies within Africa.

    The recent intervention also highlights France’s continuous role in the Francophone Africa, a policy that has been criticised in the past. President Hollande had last year promised to end “Francafrique” that is rooted in continued meddling by France in its former colonies, and had called for a new era of relationship based on equal partnership. However, the French assertiveness in Mali indicates that President Hollande seems to have gone back on his promises.

    Democracy in China: A Debate

    The broad consensus within Chinese society and the political leadership that stability is essential for China to make the transition from a middle income economy to a high income economy will tilt public pressure in the interest of stability for prosperity despite the frequent expressions of dissent across the country.

    January 07, 2013

    Democracy in China: A Debate

    Rule of Law means displacing the CCP from its paramount position. Historical evolution suggests that the new system has to be either liberal democracy or a system with a Chinese nomenclature but with a liberal essence.

    January 07, 2013

    Egypt in Crisis: Learning the Hard Lessons of Democracy

    Egypt is realizing that democracy is not an easily procured fruit, especially in a nation where political movements have been suppressed for decades and peoples’ sentiments can be easily swayed either way.

    December 08, 2012

    Beyond the Maoist Split: The political impasse to continue

    Genuine negotiation efforts, timely discussions, and broader participation of groups asserting rights based on identity are necessary to help break the impasse in Nepali politics on the issue of federalism.

    July 02, 2012

    Nepal: The Constituent Assembly that was…..

    Nepal’s Constituent Assembly did have some positive achievements, the most important among these being the integration of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of the UCPN-M, although it failed to fulfil its other main task of finalising a constitution.

    June 01, 2012

    The Jordanian King’s Challenges

    The only way out for King Abdullah seems to be to commit himself to truly representative democracy and all-inclusive development.

    April 04, 2012

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