Tuesday, November 30, 2004

India: Playing Its Last Card?

(This article appeared in Newsweek International in December 2004).

Having been sidelined by its election loss in May, India's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party jumped at the chance to get back in the headlines last week after the arrest of the country's foremost religious leader, Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati, a.k.a. the Kanchi seer. BJP leaders denounced the jailing of the 70-year-old holy man—who was charged with arranging the killing of an employee who had worked at the seer's Hindu temple in southern India—and went on a three-day fast to demand the seer's release. BJP-associated far-right Hindu groups alleged the arrest was a "Christian conspiracy against Hinduism" perpetrated by the Congress party, led by Italian-born Sonia Gandhi.

The issue was not just religious, but political too. Observers say the BJP is scrambling for an issue to help them recover from the election, and playing the Hindu card has become their best option. BJP hard-liners claimed the party lost because the party strayed from its traditional Hindutva message—an ideology that seeks to transform India into a Hindu state. "They're trying to use the arrest to reintroduce the Hindutva agenda," says Kamal Mitra Chenoy, professor of comparative and Indian politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University. "They have no other agenda. Both [the Congress and the BJP] are doing economic reforms [and] trying to improve ties with Pakistan. Hindutva is the only differentiating factor they have." Last Wednesday BJP president L. K. Advani admitted as much, saying the seer's arrest could help mobilize support for his ailing party. It's worked before. In the early 1990s, the BJP galvanized Hindu support by casting itself as the protector of Hinduism in the midst of nationwide Hindu-Muslim riots. Just a few years later, in 1998, it gained control of the government for the first time.
—Jason Overdorf

on the demise of magazines and other matters of great socio-political import

By now everyone knows that Dow Jones--following in the footsteps of Time Warner, but, as usual, at a slightly slower pace demonstrating not superior integrity but inferior business acumen--succeeded after many years of effort in running the Far Eastern Economic Review into the ground. I do myself no credit by saying so -- since I was a frequent contributor when the magazine was at its lowest ebb -- but although it was once a respected journal of academic-quality analysis, excellent writing and daring investigative journalism, the magazine became, under Dow Jones, a poor imitation of first the Economist and then Business Week, until it was no longer a regional magazine at all but a China magazine with a random selection of articles from around Asia. What happened? The same thing that happened to AsiaWeek. It became a corporation instead of a magazine. It was marketed instead of edited. And it died.

the return of delhibelly.com

Admit it. You missed us. Well, we're back. We don't know why we were away. Perhaps it was the usual ennui of life in Delhi. Perhaps it was the booze. Perhaps it was the rabid punjabi bitches picking fights with us in Shalom (and the subsequent soul-searching about what we possibly could have done wrong). Perhaps it was the dozens of hardware crashes, subsequent calls to Technician Sanjay, subsequent realizations that the one crucial article proposal we had finished the day before was completed AFTER we made our backup of our documents folder, and subsequent bouts of black, foul-breathed depression. Then again, perhaps it was the weather, suddenly bearable for a brief 15 minutes before winter sets in and we have to break out our fingerless gloves for computer work in our frigid basarti. The main thing is we're back, isn't it?