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  • State, Secularism and Democracy

    Democracy has spread spontaneously and swiftly in an area of the world generally thought to be immune to political changes: West Asia and North Africa (WANA). An incident of common occurrence in Third World countries—a policeman extorting money from a fruit vendor—sparked this surge for democracy, which spread rapidly from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea in some two months. On December 17, 2010, a fruit vendor, Mohammed Razzack, set himself on fire to protest against a policeman extorting money from him.

    May 2014

    Southeast Asian democracy: New time and take

    Southeast Asian countries are facing challenging times. Push for further democratisation within the countries and the established regimes resistance to it has the possibility of jeopardising the region’s political stability and which may impede the movement towards a ASEAN Economic Community by 2015.

    April 07, 2014

    International Reactions to the Parliamentary Elections in Bangladesh

    Unlike the major global powers which termed the polls “non-representative”, India – the closest regional ally of Bangladesh, recognised Sheikh Hasina’s victory despite a “record low voter turnout” and supported her in staking claim to form the next government.

    January 28, 2014

    Bangladesh: Should Anti-incumbency Outweigh Growth and Stability?

    The Awami League government may not have done everything right in the last five years, but it has done commendable work by South Asian standards. The Bangladesh economy has grown consistently at about six per cent and the government has done well to contain the extremist forces.

    November 22, 2013

    Stability and Growth in South Asia

    Stability and Growth in South Asia
    • Publisher: Pentagon Press

    This book examines the forces and processes which have led to relative political stability or unleashed trends in that direction in some countries of South Asia. It also delves into the factors that have stimulated economic growth in some countries, and impeded economic growth in others. Eminent authors from the region examine how far the positive political and economic trends in the region are irreversible or lend themselves to internal convulsions or external influences. There is also a focus on how far inter-state relations within the region have led to stronger intra-regional co-operation, particularly in the economic field.

    • ISBN 978-81-8274-748-7,
    • Price: ₹. 995/-
    • E-copy available

    Maldives: Hiccups in Democratic Transition

    The Maldives presidential runoff election has been postponed indefinitely further widening the political dispute. The uncertainty highlights the challenges the young democracy faces, having held its first-ever multiparty election in 2008.

    September 25, 2013

    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.