Indian Elections: Can You Help Make Sense Of Them?

I realized five years ago, when the Congress Party came back into power after everyone had seemingly given them up for dead, that Indian politics is way too complicated to try and predict, especially from the outside.

Still, I wonder if readers have been coming across insightful articles or websites that explain what is happening in individual states or regions of the country, or analyze trends in a useful way. If so, could you put your recommendations in the comments below?

Here are two things I’ve read in the past day that I thought were interesting: the New York Times, on Narendra Modi, and Soutik Biswas, at the BBC, on why the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai is not likely to be a national election issue.

This time around, it seems impossible to read too much into what is happening on any given day. Nor does it seems necessary to pay all that much attention to the to and fro between the Congress Leaders, the BJP leaders, and third front leaders. It doesn’t seem particularly consequential in terms of how people vote. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing remotely similar to the glut of daily tracking polls we had in the U.S. with the elections last year, nor are there websites like, which synthesized all the polling data coming in. (Are there such polls and websites? Have I simply been missing them?)

It does seem clear that the steady, incremental shift from national to regional politics is continuing in the current election. On the one hand, that is bad, because it means that whatever government comes to power at the center will be inherently weak and coalition-based. On the other hand, that weakness at the center can also be a good thing in terms of maintaining overall stability — not always easy in a country with 1 billion people. Even if a far-right or far-left party comes into power next month, they will not be able to do anything too drastic for fear of losing coalition support.

Second, it seems like “Hindutva” has seemingly lost some of its force as a national issue. The BJP and its allies might still prevail, but they’re playing the “nationalism” card more than the communal card.

Third, caste politics seems to be more prevalent than ever. I find that to be one of the most depressing and deadening things about Indian politics.

Fourth, Varun Gandhi is Ram, Shashi Tharoor is on bail, and Sanjay Dutt’s daughter in New York is pissed at him. Continue reading

Obama on Pakistan: Focus on Civil Society and Military

Here are some excerpts related to Pakistan, from President Obama’s 100 day press conference last night:

QUESTION: Can you reassure the American people that, if necessary, America could secure Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and keep it from getting into the Taliban’s hands, or worst-case scenario, even al Qaeda’s hands?

MR. OBAMA: I’m confident that we can make sure that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is secure, primarily, initially, because the Pakistani army, I think, recognizes the hazards of those weapons falling into the wrong hands.

We’ve got strong military-to-military consultation and cooperation.

I am gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan, not because I think that they’re immediately going to be overrun and the Taliban would take over in Pakistan; more concerned that the civilian government there right now is very fragile and don’t seem to have the capacity to deliver basic services, schools, health care, you know, rule of law, a judicial system that works for the majority of people.

And so as a consequence, it is very difficult for them to gain the support and the — the loyalty of their people. So we need to help Pakistan help Pakistanis. And I think that there’s a recognition, increasingly, on the part of both the civilian government there and the army, that that is their biggest weakness.

On the military side, you’re starting to see some recognition just in the last few days that the obsession with India as the mortal threat to Pakistan has been misguided, and that their biggest threat right now comes internally. And you’re starting to see the Pakistani military take much more seriously the armed threat from militant extremists. (link)

What do people think of this statement? I have a couple of thoughts below. Continue reading

The Desi Equivalent of Baby Einstein …

My two-year old nephew can’t get enough of Lingo the Lion and ever since I watched the DVD “Animals”, I can see why.

One of the offerings from the bilingual publisher Little GuruSkool, “Animals” is what I’d call a Desi equivalent of the immensely popular Baby Einstein series. Combining video footage of the natural world with animated characters, adorable little puppets and Desi babies, and catchy music, it promises to help the diasporic subcontinental parent “introduce their children to the Indian culture in a fun and interactive way.”


Little GuruSkool is a relatively new company, based in Chicago and founded by Pooja Pittie Goel, the mother of a preschooler who “wanted to expose her son to Indian languages, music, art and nature at an early age, but could not find any books or DVDs in the market (either in the US or in India) that were appropriate for pre-schoolers – educational and entertaining at the same time.” When she couldn’t find what she needed in the market place, she decided to create the products (DVDs, audio CDs, and illustrated, high quality board books) herself. The production quality is impressive, and after I finished watching the “Animals” DVD, I couldn’t get the song about “choti choti machliya” (little, tiny fish) out of my head.

If you’re in the market for a gift for that little desi toddler in your life, Little GuruSkool’s line is sure to be a happy discovery for you. It’s a welcome addition to the current offerings of bilingual, multimedia educational lines such as Sonali Herrera’s Meera Masi, Monika Jain’s Kahani, Rashmi Turner’s Global Wonders, and Kavita (Shah) Bafana’s Little Ustaads (Indian classical music classes), all created by moms to fill existing gaps in the Desi educational marketplace. (I certainly did not have any of these options when I was a toddler, and am glad to know my little one will!)

Below the fold: a brief interview with Pooja Pittie Goel for those interested in her story and process. Continue reading

A few reflections on the South Asian Summit

The South Asian Summit, held this past weekend in D.C., was an amazing experience for which SAALT deserves a great many thanks. The passion present in the room was undoubtedly invigorating to all in attendance. Most importantly, I learned something about the fundamental hurdles many of these South Asian American activists face in the pursuit of their varied causes. I believe that some of these hurdles have solutions that readers of this website (with their varied skills) can help with if only made aware of the challenges. Over the course of the next several months I plan to profile many of the organizations that attended SAALT and solicit from them what their needs are so that some of us can pitch in.

As a blogger residing behind the computer I rarely get to meet first-hand the dedicated activists we often write about. It is the difference between seeing ice cream and tasting it. The folks at this conference breathed their causes and it makes you re-evaluate whether or not you are doing enough in your own life. This really is the time to think and act beyond your immediate sphere.

At the beginning of the conference we were each handed a post-card which we were to self address and hand back to the organizers. The post card asked a single question: “What did the Summit inspire you to do?” The message we wrote was for our own benefit and the post card was to arrive in the mail to remind us of our commitment.

The challenge at the Summit has inspired me to attempt something big and I have started researching and working on a plan. The next time I attend a South Asian summit I would like to be able to say that I did something to move the ball forward, if only by a few yards. Continue reading

Don’t call her ‘aunty’

Picture this: You’re a single woman in your early forties whoAunties has taken a liking to a handsome twenty-something guy who lives in your apartment building. Hey, if it works for Demi, why not you? So you gather the courage and leave a box of samosas at his door, with a note that says, “Just made a batch and thought you might like a few.”

An hour later, there’s a knock at your door. He’s standing there in shorts and a tank top, looking as studly as ever. “The samosas were great,” he says. “Thank you for thinking of me, Aunty.”

Well, that scenario probably never happened to Shobha Tharoor Srinivasan, but she’s nevertheless peeved about being called “aunty” by people she barely knows, as she states in this month’s Khabar (her piece originally appeared in India Currents, linked below).

Today, the title “aunty” is so overused and misused that it has lost its position and meaning. Indian-American children are taught that every adult female is a potential aunty; many carry this presumption to the conclusion that any adult female older than them can be an aunty. I’m not referring to school children here, but to those I see as adults, the lipsticked and bearded variety, who ought to know better. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with terms like ammayi, or cheriamma, or edathi, all specific Malayalam words that acknowledge individuals who are close family members and deserve rightful respect in the family’s pecking order. There are equivalent terms in every Indian language: terms like maami, mausi, and didi that all validate close family connections. But amongst English-speaking Indian Americans, the frequent use of “aunty” or “uncle” is more often an example of lazy speech, or a desire to bump the individual in question into the category of doddering older-other, than it is a thoughtful moniker of respect. Therein lies the problem. [Link]

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Taz’s First DC SM Meetup — This Sunday!

Chaat.jpgThis week Desis will be congregating in the nation’s capitol for SAALT‘s South Asian Summit (registration is closed, but tickets still available for the Change Maker Award). Both Abhi and I will be sitting on panels for the summit and we were thinking, why not incorporate a classic Sepia Mutiny meetup into the mix?

So how about it? A ‘Chaat and Chai’ 4-7 pm Sepia Mutiny Meetup on Sunday April 26th? Though D.C. was home way back in the days, I’ve never been to a D.C. meetup, and would be really excited to meet Chocolate City’s mutineers.

What I need from you:

  1. RSVP in the comments with your e-mail address if you can make it.

  2. Recommendations for the perfect chaat and chai joint for our meetup.

If you’ve never been to a meetup, it’s basically a space where fun is had, friends are made, faces are finally put to handles. It’ll be fun, promise and totally worth the trip to kick it with Mutineers, new and old. Open to bloggers, commenters, lurkers, and the de-lurked. Yes, that means you. Come. Join us. Continue reading

A Coachella Mashup

I went to Coachella on the wrong day it seems. Had I known this trio would be a trio, I would’ve trekked desert-ward one day sooner…(Hat tip to Aziz’s twitter).

Coachella with Kanye.jpg
I’m thinking a) M.I.A. lookin’ that skinny so soon after baby?; b) What is Aziz Ansari thinking with that expression on his face?; c) Can you imagine a M.I.A./Kanye/Aziz remixed mashup? It’d be funny, for sure.

I was at Coachella on Sunday and played ‘Spot the Alterna-Desi’ the entire day — critical mass of Browns for the K’Naan set, if that. Did anyone else go to Coachella this weekend and get to see M.I.A. perform on Saturday night? Any other Desis (famous or otherwise) spotted? Continue reading

Moving Kahani

Launching today in Los Angeles at the opening night of the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles: The Kahani Movement. A brain child of Dr. Sanjay Gupta (CNN) and Suneel Gupta (Mozilla), the new site “is a social network that aims to capture untold stories from first-generation Indians in the U.S. and provide those stories with a platform to be heard.” But what does that exactly mean? (Hat tip, Chick Pea)

the kahani trailer from Suneel Gupta on Vimeo.

I’m borderline obsessed with the ideas of documenting the history of South Asian Americans, and am completely fascinated with how this project is merging documentary with social networking with user generated content. There is so much potential.

The Kahani Movement…ties the concept of StoryCorps to the technology of Web 2.0 by inspiring Indian Americans to tell stories of their early days in the U.S. from the comfort of their own kitchen tables and then share this content on a newly developed social network.

The project takes a Hollywood 2.0 approach to sharing these stories by motivating young Indian Americans to pick up a camera, interview their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and then post that footage to Kahani’s web platform. The eventual audience for this content is a generation of people who may never have the benefit of a real conversation with their immigrant ancestors. [sajaforum]

I’ve been working on documenting my maternal grandparents’ story, and this is a space where I knew I would have been able to share it…that is if it weren’t an “Indian” space, but a South Asian one. My only critique of the site, which I think is substantial considering how integrated the South Asian American migration and historical experience is. Continue reading

Defend the wicket-Caption contest

From we see some pictures from “behind the scenes” at the Summit of the Americas that just ended (thanks for the tip Siddhartha). It looks like Obama is giving some guy named Brian Lara advice on how to swing a cricket bat. I am not sure if his form is right. It might be why Tiger Woods was invited to the White House yesterday. It also looks like Obama’s wicket is wide open. You know what time it is. It is caption contest time. Go at it.

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The Wicked Within

The last few days I have been tweeting about a set of unfortunate circumstances surrounding young Rubina Ali, the young girl that played the child Latika in the movie Slumdog Millionaire. First, a British paper engaged in some investigative reporting and alleged that Ali’s parents were attempting to sell her off for a high bid (in order to buy their way out of the slums or just out of plain greed). Then it appears that Indian police began investigating this serious allegation. Finally today, a vicious cat fight occurred between Ali’s mom and step mom as the poor girl watched on in tears. This is of course a really sad story born from a seemingly happy one. There aren’t a lot of details I can add to this that you can’t simply read in the three articles I linked above. Instead, the focus of this post is in about a single sentence from the third article which caught my eye:

After seeing Munni [the step mother] talking to reporters, Khushi [the biological mother] launched a verbal attack, accusing Munni of using black magic to control Rubina. [Link]

Allegations of witches and witchcraft are not new to India and at least a few times a year the western media highlights them. They also occur quite regularly in the U.S. and all around the world for that matter. It is a phenomenon that spans borders, cultures, and time. A must-read piece at Slate today highlighted two new books (The Enemy Within and The Last Witch of Langenburg: Murder in a German Village) on the subject of witch hunts and why vulnerable women or young girls are most frequently the victims of these sort of hunts which seek to expunge “evils” from within a group.

The allure of witch hunting can grip any of us if we abandon our adherence to reason and evidence. As a tribal, poorly evolved species, we are very vulnerable to believing that we are surrounded by secretive, wicked people who might seem like us at first glance but who are, in fact, conspiring against us–and must be rooted out and destroyed. John Demos explains how this differs from other forms of persecution: “Witch-hunting alone finds the other within its own ranks. The Jew, the black, and the ethnic opposite exist, in some fundamental sense, ‘on the outside.’ … The witch, by contrast, is discovered (and ‘discovery’ is key to the process) inside the host community.”

We know that witch hunts break out most ferociously at times of trauma and stress. There was no concept of child witchcraft in Congo until the war began and 6 million people were killed. Now a broken and terrorized population has turned on its own children in a desperate, futile attempt to find some way to regain control. The first great witch hunt in Europe came after the Black Death killed one-third of the population. The second came between 1580 and 1650, when the climate cooled and crops failed. Similarly, witch hunting erupted in America–on the dirt-tracks of Salem, Mass.–at a time when 10 percent of the colonists were being killed and all lived in constant fear of the American Indians who were trying to defend their civilization from extinction. [Link]

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