South Asia’s Political Deficit

A contemporary characteristic of South Asia remains gaping political deficit. In the modern world as much as it has been in different ways in the past, the base of good governance is balanced politics. Political deficit signifying personalized, narcissistic leadership surviving on support of vote banks and groups divided on narrow parochial, caste and ethnic lines is endemic to South Asia.

The largest democracy in the World, India is also passing through a phase of political uncertainty to such an extent that civil society has taken centre stage. The impression is that political space is thus free for grabs.

Even what is seen by many as a model electoral democracy in the emerging World, India reflects lack of political sagacity. The immense human and natural resources talent of South Asia is being wasted away by political muddling. This is evident when expats of the region are excelling across the globe in all fields. A survey of the region will provide a better perspective of this hypothesis.

Starting with the North West a fractious dispute between the parliament and the president in Afghanistan on election fraud has led to disqualification of 62 parliamentarians by a Special Elections Court nominated by Mr. Karzai. While simultaneously he had sworn in these elected representatives in January, the credibility of the entire parliamentary democracy is being questioned. To appease his political constituency Karzai introduced the Special Elections Court which carried out a recount without any supervision from local or international agency, thus the results were a foregone conclusion. Today Afghanistan is staring at a conflict between the political elites at the national level divided on ethnic levels.

In neighbouring Pakistan squabbling over violation of sovereignty in the killing of Osama Bin Laden, though ironically not over his presence in the country and elections in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) in Pakistan has led to the Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM) leaving the coalition led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Though the government had taken an insurance policy so to say which included an alliance with the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid) a party propped up by former Chief of Army Staff and President Pervez Musharraf it may not fall but to use a favourite term of political pundits, “muddle through”. Thus the core issues of economy and security are unlikely to engage the political elite in the country leading to further pain for the people. 

Nepal continues the travails of the last half a decade plus where political parties and leaders are enjoying the comfort of power without constitutional accountability for a protracted period. The Constituent Assembly has already been extended twice for a period of one year and three months so far without as much as having produced a draft Constitution or achieving integration of the Maoist guerrilla army with the regular forces. 

Bangladesh has fallen into the mire of feuding with controversy over the 15th Amendment passed by the Jatiya Sansad which includes scrapping of a Caretaker Government during elections and reference for and against secularism which has pleased neither the secularists nor the conservatives. Lacking numbers in the parliament, the opposition is taking the battle to the streets of Dhaka which may see much turmoil in the days ahead.

In Myanmar trouble is brewing between the newly elected government and the National League for Democracy (NLD) as the government has opposed NLD leader Aung Suu Kyi’s move to travel to the north and warned her and the Party against any political activity. The periphery of the country is wracked by ethnic conflict extending from the Chinese to the Thai border.  

Sri Lanka has yet to come to grips with post conflict challenges be it on allegations of war crimes with a new Chanel 4 documentary surfacing this month or the need for finding a speedy solution to the vexatious Tamil ethnic issue which has led to over three decades of violence in the country. Despite a majority in the parliament, the Rajapaksa government is hesitating to take some firm steps fearing backlash by the majority community. 

Bhutan and Maldives are two countries which are possibly progressing well politically though the atoll nation is facing challenges from the attempts at instability of the opposition party led by former President Gayoom who has recently returned to the country. Bhutan has held local body elections thereby completing the process of electoral democracy to the grass roots. The country with Gross National Happiness as the core national concept rather than the GDP is moving towards greater internal peace but some qualms remain.

The largest democracy in the World, India is also passing through a phase of political uncertainty to such an extent that civil society has taken centre stage led by Anna Hazare, a former army soldier with exceptional integrity and grass roots leadership and a yoga entrepreneur. The impression is that political space is thus free for grabs. India’s Prime Minister Dr Man Mohan Singh attempted to dispel notions of drift in his government by holding a dialogue with selected news editors in Delhi. This came after much criticism of his lack of communication and poor performance of the government on various fronts including corruption, inflation and employment creation. How far this media exercise will facilitate redemption of the image if not the performance of the government remains to be seen, for its detractors is indicating weakness in controlling political and economic slide causing challenges in the sphere of security as well.

Change in the region will come only through enlightened political leadership evident in two countries which are possibly the most peaceful and stable today, Bhutan and Maldives. In one the King initiated transfer of power to an elected government  in another a young President is making waves by going on the global stage on issues as climate change affecting his people the most. These are important lessons for the more experienced Gandhis, Zardaris and Rajapaksa of the region sharing power is more important than sleazy bargaining for it.  


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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