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Category archive for: Asia and Pacific

How Attacks on Bangladeshi Bloggers is Erasing a Liberal Tradition

Written by Ibtisam Ahmed.

Bangladesh has seen a series of violent attacks against secular bloggers in 2015, culminating in multiple coordinated attacks on the same day in October. Although these are not the first attacks of their kind, the sheer volume (at least eight separate incidents), the common modus operandi (all attacks carried out using machetes), and the increasing boldness (going from attacks in accessible public spaces to breaking and entering individual homes) of the violence this year has been particularly damaging.

While the attacks have inevitably raised questions of free speech, internet security and local terrorism, one relatively uncommented aspect has arguably affected the national psyche in a much deeper and, worryingly, irreversible way. In a country with an overwhelming Muslim majority (89.5% according to the national bureau of statistics, 89.1% according to the CIA Factbook), the targeting of self-professed secularists has contribute to the steady erosion of the country’s liberal heritage. Continue reading How Attacks on Bangladeshi Bloggers is Erasing a Liberal Tradition

The NLD wins the Myanmar elections

Written by Marie Lall.

On Sunday 8th November 2015 Myanmar went to the polls. More than 90 parties contested seats for the two houses of parliament as well as the 14 state and regional assemblies.  Despite the large number of parties, all eyes were on the opposition NLD and the regime USDP. The official declaration is still outstanding, however the Union Election Commission has to date awarded the NLD 348 seats in the bicameral parliament, giving the party an outright majority. In order to control the government the NLD needed 67% of the seats (or 329 seats), as 25% are held by appointed military MPs. Crossing this threshold means that Myanmar can become a very different country. The losing USDP has been bitterly disappointed with the result. Nevertheless the outgoing MPs have congratulated the NLD and the regime party has shown great dignity. Continue reading The NLD wins the Myanmar elections

Cow Protection, Hindu Revivalism, and Constitutional Politics in India and Nepal

Written by Mara Malagodi.

India and Nepal are the only two countries in the world where the overwhelming majority of the population are followers of Hinduism. In India, according to the 2011 Census, 79.8 per cent of the total population is Hindu, while in Nepal the 2011 Census records 81.3 per cent. Both countries, however, present also a startling level of socio-cultural diversity in terms of religion, caste, ethnicity, language, region, etc. As a result, the position of Hinduism as the majority religion in the constitutional frameworks of India and Nepal and its relation to competing visions of the nation have been the object of intense political and legal struggle for decades in both countries. However, the electoral success of the Hindu Right at the centre in India in the 2014 general elections together with a disquieting rise in communal violence, and the promulgation of Nepal’s long-awaited but extremely embattled new Constitution in September 2015 have reignited debates about the place of Hinduism in their constitutional systems. The recent waves of Hindu revivalism in India and Nepal call for profound reflections on the intimate relationship between the role of religion in constitutional documents and the treatment of minorities in both jurisdictions. In this respect, the thorny issue of cow protection is a useful prism to analyse legal responses to the surge in ethno-cultural majoritarian demands in both jurisdictions and increasingly violent attempts to erase difference. Continue reading Cow Protection, Hindu Revivalism, and Constitutional Politics in India and Nepal

Hindu nationalism is rising under the BJP and Modi

Written by Sajeda Momin.

When I returned to India at the beginning of October after my last visit to London, two very dear friends asked me why I had come back when I had the option to live abroad. “If I could live anywhere but here, like you, I would leave right away,” said one friend who was totally disgusted with the way the Narendra Modi-led, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government was trying to change the India she so clearly loved. The other was just as disappointed and said “we had expected in May 2014 when Modi won that the Hindu-right will try to implement its Hindu Nationalist or Hindutva agenda, but we didn’t expect it to happen so quickly and so nastily”. Neither want me to identify them because of the barrage of abuse from BJP trolls or as writer Salman Rushdie calls them “Modi’s toadies” , that they will receive, describing the sense of fear and oppression they feel. Continue reading Hindu nationalism is rising under the BJP and Modi

The Burden of Majoritarianism

Written by Gurpreet Mahajan.

India has never been a completely neutral state. So what has changed in the last 18 months? The BJP led NDA government insists that nothing has changed. However, neither its supporters nor its detractors accept this. The opposition, and sections of the intelligentsia, maintain that a culture of intolerance is growing; others, supporting the BJP, proclaim that pseudo-secularism and minority appeasement have ended. Both sides miss the wood for the trees. They fail to note the currents that are pushing for a shift – from the politics of ambiguous accommodation to the politics of unambiguous majoritarianism.

Congress governments were not, contrary to what the BJP claims and what they themselves project, anti-majority. Shortly after independence, several Congress governments legislated to ban cow slaughter; others placed restrictions upon conversions. By enacting the Freedom of Religion Act, they subjected conversions to the scrutiny of the District Magistrate. These were all concessions to the majority sentiment. Continue reading The Burden of Majoritarianism

A regional election in India ends in a damning verdict on prime minister Modi

Written by Bhaskar Vira.

An election in the Indian state of Bihar, has delivered a resounding and unambiguous verdict on prime minister Narendra Modi’s leadership. And it’s not a positive one.

The electorate in the eastern state has supported a grand alliance of political parties, which coalesced against the ruling National Democratic Alliance (BJP-NDA) – led by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party.

The alliance is led by chief minister Nitish Kumar, who has already served two terms as head of Bihar’s state government. Made up of three parties – Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, and the Indian Congress Party – it has now delivered a massive mandate for him to remain. Together, the coalition has secured 178 seats in the 243-member local assembly. Modi’s BJP-NDA has just 58. Continue reading A regional election in India ends in a damning verdict on prime minister Modi

Selling India, Imagining Bharat

Written by James Chiriyankandath.

As Narendra Modi completes an year and a half as India’s prime minister with more globetrotting (this time to the UK and then on to Turkey, Malaysia and France for the G20, ASEAN and Global Climate Change summits), one wonders if behind the bravado and public relations glitz, doubts are beginning to creep in. How far can aggressive salesmanship and slick image promotion go in providing effective national and international leadership and changing ground realities both abroad and at home?

It remains to be seen if the unexpectedly crushing defeat suffered by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the crucial state elections in Bihar serves as a chastening reality check for a leader unused to electoral defeat. The defeat in Bihar came at the hands of the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) of the Janata Dal (United) of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (who only ended a decade and a half of alliance with the BJP in 2013 because of his opposition to the rise of Modi), the Rashtriya Janata Dal of ex-chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, Nitish’s long-time rival, and the Indian National Congress (INC), that may have led India’s government for 54 of the 68 years since independence but had been relegated to the margins in Bihar for 20 years. By combining forces, the parties belonging to the notoriously fractious erstwhile Janata socialist tradition in Indian politics consolidated support among the historically underprivileged but numerically strong Backward Class and Dalit (or ‘untouchable’) castes and Muslims to successfully prevent the BJP, allied to three splinter Backward Class and Dalit parties, from winning power in Patna. Continue reading Selling India, Imagining Bharat

The Modi Enigma.

Written by Andrew Whitehead.

In his eighteen months in office, Narendra Modi  has spent a great deal of time travelling. He’s been to the United States twice, to France, Germany, China, Australia, Canada, Japan, Ireland – twenty-eight foreign visits in all. This week he’s making his first visit as prime minister to Britain, at a time when concern is rising in India about religious and political intolerance and what critics regard as a majoritarian style of governance in which minorities are at a disadvantage.

There seems to be a personal imperative behind Mr Modi’s globe-trotting. The United States and Britain both placed Mr Modi in what amounted to quarantine for several years because of concern that as chief minister of the state of Gujarat, he bore some responsibility for the communal violence there in 2002 which left hundreds dead. The US only made clear that it was lifting this diplomatic isolation early last year, weeks before Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, won an emphatic election victory. Continue reading The Modi Enigma.

Why Indonesia can’t stamp out fires that have cast a haze over South-East Asia

Written by Scott Edwards.

The South-East Asian haze crisis has made Indonesia very unpopular with its neighbours. Yet its government can’t do much about it. Local elites, who call the shots in the forested regions, don’t want to tackle the crisis – and they’re able to stand up to national leaders in Jakarta.

The haze is caused by man-made forest fires, mostly on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, often started to clear land for palm oil plantations. It’s an annual event, though this year El Niño has meant drier conditions and thus particularly bad haze – the worst since 1997.

During a major haze year, smoky air can harm the health of an estimated 75m people. It has been estimated that the fires will cost the Indonesian government $47 billion – and Singaporean and Malaysia’s will also be affected, thanks to airport and business closures and increased healthcare costs. Continue reading Why Indonesia can’t stamp out fires that have cast a haze over South-East Asia

Birthday party out of the way, it’s business as usual in North Korea

At its heart was a tightly choreographed military parade (including a torch-lit procession) designed to act as a propaganda vehicle, highlighting the charismatic leadership and achievements of Kim Jong-un.

The rhetoric and pageantry of the anniversary are full of clues about the regime’s foreign policy priorities – as well as its proclivity to promote the leadership’s political agenda via deliberate provocation. Continue reading Birthday party out of the way, it’s business as usual in North Korea