Category Archives: Politics

Coverage and analysis of contemporary events on the ground. Are Indians rallying against corruption, is Nepal happy with it’s constituent assembly? Understanding what’s happening and why

Shalom, Namaste

Our story begins with two Americans, one with an Indian background, the other Israeli, living in a pocket of suburban Long Island. With little in common other than a few mutual friends and an extracurricular activity connecting our two high schools, we became fast friends. However, when we realized we’d be attending the same university, we expected to stay friendly but to go our separate ways. Little did we know that this friendship would become a microcosm of the alliance between our two countries.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between India and Israel. To commemorate the occasion, Indian Minister of External Affairs S.M. Krishna visited Jerusalem to lay out future plans for continued collaboration between the two nations. You may be wondering, so what? Why is the 20-year milestone of this relationship so important, and to whom?

When most people think about India and Israel together, they probably wouldn’t picture the ever-strengthening partnership that exists today. Most people probably wouldn’t even think about India and Israel in the same sentence or thought, let alone think of them as partners in a blossoming alliance. On the surface, the two nations could not be more different. Their cultures, religion and traditions are vastly distinct from one another. When the two countries were first established (within months of each other), they lacked any relationship. India did not recognize Israel as a state until 1950 and even then, the ties between the two countries were loose or non-existent. However, following the establishment of official diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1992, the Indo-Israeli relationship has flourished into a strong alliance driven by continued cooperation in the fields of agriculture, trade, science and technology, homeland security, culture and tourism.

The Indo-Israeli relationship is unique in its unlikelihood and unprecedented in its scope. When one takes a closer look, the two countries actually have a good deal in common. Both were born from the British Empire and quickly established themselves as democracies. Both continuously face the external security challenges presented by international terrorism, which are compounded by internal ones regarding natural resource scarcity. But most importantly, both societies work to maintain the delicate balance between seizing the progress they have made in the modern world and preserving the ancient tradition and culture that make up their respective foundations. For the past 20 years, based on these inherent commonalities, a strong relationship has continued to thrive between the two countries and it deserves to be commemorated, its accomplishments highlighted.

Since 1992, trade between India and Israel has grown immensely from $180 million annually to more than $5 billion; both countries hope to establish a free trade agreement this year. In 2010, India and Israel set up a joint research and development (R&D) fund to strengthen cooperation on renewable energy, water management and computer science research. Additionally, because Israel and India both face the challenge of water scarcity, their collaboration in agriculture is vital and largely unprecedented. The exchange of knowledge, including the transfer of Israeli drip irrigation system technology to Indian farmers and the joint Indo-Israeli R&D farm established in the Indian Agriculture Research Institute, allows these two countries to address the challenges of food security together through constant innovation — a true example of the tangible rewards of cooperation.

One of the strongest links that binds India and Israel together is the threat of terrorism. Both countries are surrounded by continuous hostility and are under constant security threats, particularly from state-sponsored terror groups. Even before diplomatic relations were established, Indian and Israeli security personnel maintained secret channels of communication. During the past 20 years, India and Israel have come together to combat terrorism through the exchange of important intelligence on terrorist group activity and weapons technology. As of 2008, Israel has become the largest weapons supplier to India and signed agreements to develop an anti-aircraft system and missiles for the two countries. Israel has also provided training in logistics, intelligence gathering, surveillance and military strategy to Indian security forces. For Israel, the unparalleled control of South Asian waters that India holds would prove indispensable for safe trade in a truculent climate. Recently, India has launched a spy satellite to help give Israeli intelligence eyes in space. This satellite is meant to monitor activity in Pakistan and nuclear developments in Iran, a major concern to Israel, the United States and India.

Israel and India are tied together by many threads, but perhaps the most vital and least recognized is the thread tying together these two peoples and their cultures. Here at Tufts we’ve both found communities that celebrate our own cultures and identities. What we didn’t realize is that those communities on a grander scale have found ways to support one another. There is a small but thriving Jewish population of 70,000 in India that has existed consistently throughout India’s history and that enjoys a peaceful life free from anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, there is also a small population of Indian Jews in Israel that continues to grow, most notably the Bnei Menashe community.

Beyond that, India has become a hot spot for Israeli tourists. About 35,000 Israelis select India as a travel destination each year with many returning several times throughout their lives. India and Israel further demonstrate their desire for understanding of one another through Hindi courses offered at Tel Aviv and Hebrew University, along with other courses related to India and through scholarships granted to Israelis by the Ministry of Indian Overseas Affairs every year. The most significant display of the cultural ties between India and Israel began last May when the Indian Embassy organized and held a month-long festival in Israel titled “Celebrating India in Israel,” which showcased traditional Indian culture and was a major success.

The Indo-Israeli relationship is often overshadowed in the media by the obvious regional and domestic issues of both countries. We believe that this relationship deserves to be recognized and highlighted for all of its contributions. By working together to face their own challenges, India and Israel have shown themselves to be a prime example of the benefits of cooperation among nations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently described the relationship with the sentiment that “India and Israel are two ancient peoples seizing the future.”

For the two of us, the most amazing part of the relationship between India and Israel is the way it has unknowingly impacted our own lives. Coming to college, we’ve both embraced our separate identities, one by becoming heavily involved in the Indian community on campus through Salaam and Pulse, and the other through active involvement in Tufts Friends of Israel and Hillel. However, despite our expectations that these different interests would distance our friendship, they have only brought us closer together through mutual understanding and shared dedication to the development of our countries. For this reason we feel it is important to recognize 20 years of Indo-Israeli friendship and support. By working together to find commonalities while embracing our differences on campus and beyond, sometimes the most unlikely of friendships can form.

Shira Shamir is a sophomore majoring in international relations. Neha Madhusoodanan is a sophomore majoring in international relations and economics.

Originally written for the  Tufts Daily - April 24, 2012.

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South Asia Week: Celebrating a multitude of perspectives

The newly elected president of the Tufts Association of South Asians (TASA), Arvind Krishnamurthy, recently pointed out something interesting about the South Asian community at Tufts in his election speech: that it’s not homogenous. Most of us would be able to relate to his experience at Tufts, of having been “exposed to South Asians from a multitude of backgrounds,” each bringing their own perspective, but more importantly their own interests. Here at Tufts there are students who are interested in different aspects of South Asia, ranging from culture to politics to specific countries in the region. Whether it’s SAPAC, the Association of Pakistani Allies (APA) or the Hindu Students Council (HSC) students have brought their own interests to promote an understanding of South Asia in different ways. It is this myriad of diverse perspectives and backgrounds that makes up our ‘South Asian community’ here at Tufts. But in order to have a holistic understanding of the region, it is important to learn about “different cultures amongst ourselves,” which Arvind also pointed out in his speech.

Here at SAPAC we have decided to embrace this philosophy, and bring our South Asian communities together so we can celebrate this multitude of perspectives. For the first time at Tufts, SAPAC in association with TASA, HSC, APA and BUILD India is hosting South Asia Week, featuring events on South Asian culture, politics, economics and arts. From the fun-filled festivals of Holi and Basant, to a journalist’s experience in the conflict ridden zone of Kashmir, the prospect of a new paradigm of economic growth in India and China and a showcasing of BUILD students’ experience in Thotiapatti, we have a week full of events planned for you, straight from the heart of the subcontinent.

Come and celebrate South Asia Week with us. We hope to see you at our events! Here are more details of the events:

1. Holi & Basant by the Hindu Students Council & Association of Pakistani Allies on 21st April – 12.30PM, ResQuad

Basant is the festival of kite flying in Pakistan and is celebrated at the beginning of spring every year. Every year, thousands of Hindus participate in the festival Holi. The festival has many purposes. First and foremost, it celebrates the beginning of the new season, spring. Originally, it was a festival that commemorated good harvests and the fertile land. Hindus believe it is a time of enjoying spring’s abundant colors and saying farewell to winter. It also has a religious purpose, commemorating the salvage of a Vishnu devotee from a fire that killed the demoness Holika.

2. Embracing the Next “ism”: Exploring the New Possibilities of Human Advancement: A talk by Partha Ghosh organized by SAPAC on 24th April – 8PM, ASEAN Auditorium

The challenge facing most developing countries today is whether it is possible to pursue the same model of growth as the developed nations did. Is resource extraction even feasible, given the current global environment? Come and hear Professor Partha Ghosh talk about the next “ism,” a new model for economic development and human advancement. How can this paradigm can challenge the current status quo and provide us with a more sustainable and viable approach towards development?

3. The Psychology of Conflict: A Talk on Kashmir by Justine Hardy organized by SAPAC & The Oslo Scholars Program on April 25th – 6PM, Location TBD

4. Thottiyapatti in Tufts: Experience Development in Rural India with FREE Indian Food
Photo Exhibition by BUILD India on April 26th – 8PM-10PM, SoGo Multipurpose Room

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Solving the puzzle of growth: making sense of India’s recent political developments

The Complex Puzzle of Growth:

The word “complex” is inevitable a part of the discourse on South Asia. SAPAC’s discussion with Partha Ghosh this week on the “Complex Puzzle of Growth in India and China” perhaps testifies to this. It’s difficult to paint a holistic picture of South Asia without acknowledging its complexity —something that is relevant to my last blog on the changing role on women in South Asia as well.

The discussion that we held on growth in India & China, came at a momentous time in Indian politics – given that the annual budget is being decided in Parliament, as well as the recent elections, especially in the state of Uttar Pradesh. As Mr. Ghosh pointed out in his discussion, U.P. is essentially excluded from India’s story of growth. With a population of nearly 200 million, India’s most populated state has a per capita GDP that is third from the bottom. An interesting study by the Economist reveals that it’s population is equivalent to Brazil’s while it’s GDP is similar to that of Kenya’s.

So, this is why we call it a puzzle. This narrative is one that most are familiar with, that India has great inequality and disparity.  Yet the story isn’t one of complete despair. In a democracy numbers speak volumes, and the largest voting population speaks power during elections, whose results were much awaited in U.P. What implications will these results have for leadership at the center? was one question that has gotten a lot of media coverage. Here at SAPAC, one of the more important questions, in lieu of our chosen topic, was what does this mean for growth and development in the region, or lack thereof? What kind of governance do people want in order to see this growth and progress?

The democracy-development conundrum:

We often turn to the democracy versus development conundrum, especially in comparing India to China, and whether our democratic system has slowed down our growth in comparison to China. But I think what came out of this discussion was that it isn’t enough to look at democracy as an elusive concept, but the actual nature of governance and leadership. In India, this is key to delivery, especially with respect to growth and development.

Lately this has been one of the biggest shortcomings of our political system. The political paralysis, with several pending legislations in parliament has slowed down reforms that are crucial to development, and the rampant corruption that manifested in civilian unrest have all been indicative of the inefficiency in our political structure. Yet, this is not to say that democracy has failed us as a system.

A democracy in the works:

What started off as a centralised power structure that India inherited from the British, has become more representative over time. The reason behind this is again harks back to our complex narrative — the heterogenous composition of our population. Diverse ethnic, religious and linguistic groups make up the meta-narrative of what we call India. While regional diversity has been institutionalised in our multi-party system of governance, its real victory was with the rise of the BJP in the 1980s, a legitimate opposition at the center, which challenged what was in theory a multiparty system, but in practice remained dominated by the a single party: the Congress.

Yet, political affiliations in India, have not been polarised around these two parties. Our system is fundamentally different from the way in which Western democracies function in that they are grounded less in ideology and more around leadership, and group interests. When this came up during our discussion, a student pointed this out as an obstacle to substantive development, because regional parties actively seek to divide our country by pandering to single group interests. However, two observations can show us why this may not be true.

The first is in an article I read earlier, by James Manor on “Ethnicity and Politics in India” who argues that diversity in India cannot be compartmentalised. Group affiliations are overlapping —one can speak a different language & belong to a different caste— and so priorities are constantly shifting, which prevents the emergence of lasting fault lines. Thus even if the intention was to actively divide groups, this would be difficult to achieve given the nature of diversity in India. The second is again related to the recent elections.

The polls in U.P. in Punjab where elections were held, perhaps reflect the beginning of a new political era: “the second decline of the Congress.” People are looking less at charisma, and more at who will actually facilitate change.  As the Wall Street Journal recently wrote, “Indian voters demand growth.” Whether the new leadership will bring this in U.P. is still uncertain, but the outlook remains positive. What this does demonstrate. however, is that our democratic system is flexible enough to incorporate the diverse interests and changing priorities of voters. And the good news is that these interests seem to have risen above single group interests, to looking at the goal of long-term development. If this demand for growth can ultimately be represented at the center, we may finally be able to attribute development to democracy; and ultimately solution to the complex puzzle of growth.


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Celebrating International Women’s Day in South Asia

As the world celebrates International Women’s day today, a story that I put together while interning at GlobalPost comes to mind, on the “First Female Heads of State”. I could not help but notice that South Asia made it to the top with Sri Lanka, India and Paksitan, all of whom have had female prime ministers. If we expand to Asia, then Israel and Thailand also joins the list.

Of course there have been questions raised as to what this really means for women’s rights — it a symbolic victory, a real benchmark of progress? Or is it a result of the dynastic political structures that are embedded in a lot of these countries?

No doubt, Women heads of state whose families have a history in politics do derive their social and political stability from this lineage. This is not to say that they have not fought for social justice, but women’s rights can be a slippery slope.

While the Gandhi and Bhutto legacies live on in India, last year India and Pakistan, However today India has seen three female chief ministers in the past year, one of whom is a former Dalit or lower caste. Perhaps this has been our real break through for democracy and women.

The role of women has and continues to remain contested in South Asia. It’s easy to get caught up in the feminist lens of gender domination and inequality, but as for South Asia the narrative is more complex. I think that the best way for us to celebrate International Women’s day is to acknowledge that while we have a long way to go in terms of social injustices, there remains a long history of pioneering women, which extends beyond the field of politics. To forget them in our discourse on the role of women in South Asian would be an incomplete narrative.

NOTE: SAPAC and the Association of Pakistani Allies (APA) are showing “Saving Face” at Tufts today. Pakistan’s oscar winning documentary, directed by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, an award winning Pakistani journalist on one of the worst injustices that South Asian women face. Perhaps this stands as a testimony to the complex narrative of women in South Asia.

Click here for more on the event.

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The Complex Puzzle of Growth in India and China

The discourse on India and China is often seen analysed through different lenses: the democracy versus development lens – we tend to highlight the differences between these two countries in their political systems, economic structures and the different outcomes that we have seen based on these differences. The flip side is to look at what these countries have in common –over 1 billion people, rapidly developing economies, and even a territorial border.

Whether you look at it as an economic race or a political headlock, there are several directions that this debate can take. One approach that is arguably underrepresented in the media’s portrayal of the two big economic powers or political players is how similar these countries have are in terms of their historical circumstances. Both are ancient civilisations, with rich histories and a millennia of culture, knowledge and tradition and ultimately face a common and unique predicament while pursuing economic growth: The challenge of embracing modernity while preserving tradition.

It’s a complex puzzle of growth that two of the world’s most populous nation-states, two of the world’s most ancient civilisations, today pitched as the next big powers face. At SAPAC it’s the topic of our next roundtable, the first of many more to come this semester.

The discussion will be led by Professor Partha Ghosh, a Professor of Practice at the Gordon Institute and teaches at the Fletcher School. Partha Ghosh is a renowned Management Consultant and Policy Advisor with an extensive record of solving strategic, operational and complex organizational issues in technology-based industries. He is currently in an advisory role with multiple organizations worldwide, and runs his own boutique advisory firm Partha S. Ghosh & Associates focused on policy and strategic issues. Previously, Ghosh was a partner at McKinsey & Company. He holds Master’s Degrees in Chemical Engineering from MIT and a Business Administration from the Harvard Business School. Ghosh was a Rotary Foundation Fellow. He earned his Bachelor of Technology in Chemical Engineering with honors at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kharagpur, India.

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