Thursday, September 27, 2012

A selection of news articles

A selection of newspaper articles covering a number of topics. The first is from “The Diplomat” website & talks about Kashmir (with links to two articles from “The Guardian”: one about tourism in Kashmir & the other about the insurgency).

The second is from “The Telegraph” (UK) website & talks about Raul Ghandi.

The third is also from “The Telegraph” (UK) & talk about Ganges River dolphins (I didn’t know there was anything left living in the Ganges River but there you go !!):

By Sumit Ganguly
September 26, 2012

In a recent BBC interview, the noted British writer of Indian origin, Salman Rushdie, argued that the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir should, in an ideal world, enjoy independence.

His argument is hardly novel and has been made many times, including among some intellectual circles in India and Pakistan.  Most importantly, some Kashmiri political activists in the Indian as well as Pakistani segments of this divided state have also periodically raised this prospect.

Despite the seeming attractiveness of this option, it is expressly not a solution to this long-standing dispute. To understand why the dispute has proven so intractable, exacted such a high price in blood and treasure and continues to fuel the Indo-Pakistan rivalry, it is necessary to briefly review its origins. 

The roots of the dispute hark back to the partition of the British Indian Empire in 1947.

At the time of British colonial disengagement, the state was comprised of 565 such entities, all of which had been nominally independent as long they recognized the British as the paramount power in South Asia. Accordingly, they had control over most of their domestic affairs but defense, foreign relations and communications had been the preserve of the British Crown.  As independence approached and the British, unable to forge unity between the two principal, nationalist political entities, the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League, chose to partition their empire. The princely states were given the option of joining one of the two nascent countries on the basis of geographic propinquity and religious demography. 

The state of Jammu and Kashmir posed a dilemma. It had a Hindu monarch, a predominantly Muslim population and it abutted both India and Pakistan.  The monarch, Maharaja Hari Singh, a Hindu, obviously did not wish to accede to Pakistan, which had been created as a homeland for the Muslims of South Asia. However, he was also loath to throw in his lot with India because he feared that the socialist leanings of India’s dominant nationalist leader (and eventually its first prime minister), Jawaharlal Nehru, would spell the end of his vast monarchical privileges.  As he dithered on the question of accession, a tribal rebellion erupted in the state. Within days thereof Pakistan chose to send in troops, disguised as local tribesmen, to support the revolt. In a panic, Singh appealed to India for military assistance. India agreed to send in troops but only after obtaining the imprimatur of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, the leader of the largest, secular and popular organization in the state, the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference.  After Singh’s accession Indian troops flew in and stopped the Pakistan-assisted tribal advance, but not before they had managed to seize about a third of the state.

As the fighting continued, on the advice of Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy, India referred the case to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). In the UNSC, the issue quickly became embroiled in the politics of the Cold War and therefore deadlocked. Even when a plan emerged to hold a referendum to determine the wishes of the Kashmiris, India and Pakistan could not agree to the terms of its implementation. Subsequently, bilateral negotiations and two wars (in 1965 and 1999) were used to try and resolve it status.

To compound matters, in 1989, an insurgency erupted in the Indian-controlled portion of the state.  The origins of the insurgency were rooted in electoral and other malfeasances on the part of the Indian state. Following its outbreak Pakistan quickly became involved in supporting, organizing and training the insurgents, thereby expanding the insurgency’s scope and deepening its lethality. After an initial poorly implemented counterinsurgency strategy, Indian forces devised more sophisticated methods.

Combined with electoral reform, India used massive transfers of national government assistance and persistent repression of the insurgents to put down the rebellion. Consequently, Indian-controlled Kashmir now enjoys order if not law.  Nonetheless, many Kashmiris, especially its Muslim-majority population, remain alienated and distrustful of the Indian government.

Given the substantial and persistent disaffection of Kashmiris, combined with the costs of a major military presence in the state, might it not be desirable for India to simply grant the state independence and be rid of both the moral opprobrium as well as the material costs of holding onto the territory?

This ostensibly attractive proposition is fundamentally flawed for four major reasons.

 First, even if India and Pakistan both granted independence to their portions of Kashmir, and the two portions merged, what would happen to the religious and sectarian minorities- the Hindus, Buddhists and Shia- within the state? Despite their demands for self-determination, Kashmiri Muslim political activists, let alone their insurgent counterparts, have never agreed to protect the rights of such “nested minorities.”

Second, there’s little reason to believe such an entity would be economically viable. Kashmir is indeed a land of spectacular beauty and a tourist haven. However, tourism alone would not be able to provide for the economic needs of the population. Before long it would prove to be yet another ward of the international community.

Third, it is far from clear that if India chose to walk away from the portion of Kashmir that it controls, Pakistan would readily follow suit. Beset with sectarian, class and regional strife, Islamabad would be loath to dispense with a significant part of its country. Indeed Pakistan-controlled Kashmir’s exit could easily trigger a series of demands for secession elsewhere, thereby threatening to unravel an already fragile social fabric in Pakistan.  Fourth and finally, a behemoth neighbor, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), though hardly sympathetic toward India, would nevertheless fear the demonstration effects an independent Kashmir would have for its own secessionist forces in Tibet and Sinkiang.

In sum, the views of Rushdie and other intellectuals of his ilk, however well meaning, are misguided. In their rush to alleviate human suffering they may be advocating policies that would leave the very people they seek to help worse off. 


India's Congress Party facing leadership crisis over Rahul Gandhi's reluctance

India's ruling Congress Party is facing a leadership crisis over the reluctance of Rahul Gandhi to take on a more important role ahead of elections.

According to sources close to the Gandhi family, their hope was for Rahul Gandhi (pictured) to emerge as the party's future leader and prime minister under Mr Singh's tutelage Photo: EPA

By Dean Nelson, New Delhi
7:00PM BST 25 Sep 2012

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh turns 80-years-old on Wednesday, and senior party figures believe he will not lead the party into the next general election, which could be as early as next year

However, there is a growing frustration by the refusal of Mr Gandhi to join the cabinet, take added responsibilities and eventually succeed Mr Singh to lead the country.

The Congress Party is seen in India as a Gandhi family franchise. The dynasty has provided three prime ministers since independence: Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv – Rahul's late father. His mother, Sonia Gandhi, declined the opportunity to become prime minister in 2004.

According to sources close to the Gandhi family, their hope was for Rahul Gandhi to emerge as the party's future leader and prime minister under Mr Singh's tutelage.

But he has declined several offers from the prime minister to join his cabinet, and is set to decline once again in an expected reshuffle in the next few weeks.

His refusal to raise his profile as a Congress leader is causing growing anxiety within the party as Mr Singh's prime ministership draws towards its end and questions persist over Sonia Gandhi's health.

Mrs Gandhi is said by senior Congress sources to have cancer and regularly visits New York for treatment.

Congress concerns have been heightened by a series of corruption scandals that have weakened the government and the resignation last week of a key coalition partner in protest over decisions to allow Western supermarkets to enter India and cut fuel subsidies.

These anxieties have intensified pressure on Mr Gandhi to "step up" by taking over more of his mother's duties as party leader or accepting a cabinet position to raise his profile in the run-up to the next election.

According to sources in the family circle, Mr Gandhi has said his priority is to revive the Congress Party organisation and its electoral prospects following a series of state election defeats.

But he appears to be "in a funk," "dispirited" and "at a loss" over how to lead the party out of its current woes, sources close to the family said.

"He doesn't want a cabinet position because he doesn't want to be accountable for anything. He feels he should have power without getting involved in decision making.

The problem is he is not a fighter like his grandmother. He keeps telling people Congress is going to lose the next election and asking what he should do," said one family source.

Another, who believes cabinet experience would help him improve his leadership qualities, voiced his frustration. "Rahul has to decide. He can take over the party any time he wants to. He could have taken over in 2009, but he feels the party is more important (than him) and that's his focus.

"He's not coming into the cabinet and who can pressure him? He should have been in the cabinet in 2004. He's the grandson of Nehru, good-looking, English speaking. He would be a good minister, but with him it's 'party, party, party," he said.

The prime minister's communications adviser Pankaj Pachauri confirmed Mr Gandhi had declined an open invitation from Mr Singh to become a senior minister.

"He has invited Rahul Gandhi to join the cabinet and the decision has been left to Mr Gandhi. He has so far declined," he said.

Prabhu Chawla, editorial director of the New Indian Express and one of India's leading political commentators, said Mr Gandhi's younger supporters expect Congress to lose the next election and for him to take over as leader following that defeat.

"Congress without a Gandhi is like a company without shareholders," he said.

But some influential figures in the ruling family's circle believe by then he may no longer be the Congress Party's favourite Gandhi. One said his leadership of the party's campaign in this year's humiliating Uttar Pradesh state election and a poor showing in Bihar in 2010 had stirred support for his sister Priyanka to take over the mantle.

Senior party figures believe she has their grandmother Indira Gandhi's charisma and is expected to stand in her mother's Rae Bareilly constituency at the next election.

"If something happens to Sonia, the party will go for Priyanka," one influential Congress source said.


India's dolphins left 'miserable' by toxic pollution

Officials in India are launching a campaign to cheer the flagging spirits of listless river dolphins amid fears that toxic pollution has left them miserable.

The number of dolphins in India has more than halved from 5000 in 1982 to just 2000 today Photo: REX FEATURES

By Dean Nelson, New Delhi
5:50PM BST 25 Sep 2012

They are planning to use the popularity of the freshwater dolphins to revive the Ganges, the country's holiest river, and reduce chemical pollution in its waters.

The number of dolphins in India has more than halved from 5000 in 1982 to just 2000 today. Up to 160 die every year because of fishing and pollution.

The Ganges is one of India's most polluted rivers and has become an open sewer, burial ground and chemical dump in several stretches.

Conservationists said the health and happiness of its dolphins is a key indicator of the level of pollution in its waters.

"The Ganges dolphin is a solitary animal compared to to marine dolphins but occasionally we see these dolphins engage in fun and joy in their habitat," said Professor R K Sinha, who has studied the Ganges Dolphin for more than 30 years. More recently however, as river pollution has increased, they have not displayed their customary joy.

"We are facing serious challenges in form of reduced river waters and pollution and if the dolphins are to be saved, we have to save the rivers first," he added.

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