Issue 28: Elections - Winds of Change or Hot Air? (2/25/2008)

Electoral seasons are in full swing across the subcontinent and in the United States. These campaigns have made or have the potential to make history. In the United States, Bobby Jindal was elected the country's first South Asian-American governor in October 2007. Barack Obama could become the first non-white president or Hillary Clinton could become the first female president in American history. This April, the Maoists could finally become part of Nepal's political fabric and put an end to a decade-long civil war. Just this month, the people of Pakistan voted to dethrone General Pervez Musharraf and catapulted the party of his slain rival, Benazir Bhutto, back into power. And just five years after the state-sponsored, Hindu nationalist pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat, Indian voters reinstated its pernicious architect, Narendra Modi, to a second term as Chief Minister in December 2007.

This issue of SAMAR is all about elections and the electorate. In South Asia, Luna Ranjit warns us that the upcoming Nepali elections, even if they are dubbed "free and fair," will not necessarily lead to a progressive outcome and instead calls to Nepal's marginalized communities to continue demanding their rights well after elections take place. Balmurli Natrajan moves beyond the disappointing reinstatement of Narendra Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat to find ways in which Hindus and Hindu-Americans can mobilize to form a progressive movement that counters the rising intolerance embedded in Hindu nationalism. And the Muntasir Sattar's editorial on Pakistan illustrates that supporting military dictators in the short-run in the interests of stability may have devastating long-term consequences for regional and global security.

Here, in the United States, SAMAR authors have explored issues ranging from identity politics to increasing South Asian civic engagement. With Bobby Jindal, Amardeep Singh explores the paradox of a South Asian political candidate who runs a campaign that downplays his ethnicity and embraces a conservative agenda to win votes in a racially-divided, post-Hurricane Katrina Louisiana. Zachariah Mampilly traces the South Asians for Obama movement and presents an example of how South Asian-Americans are mobilizing politically within mainstream America. Ali Najmi discusses the importance of launching a concerted registration desi-drive in New York City to bring in the South Asian vote to extend representation to the disenfranchised members of the community.

Over the past year, electoral candidates have embraced rhetorical slogans of change; yet, it is up to the South Asian community to make sure that this change will be progressive. Presidential hopeful Barack Obama, for example, openly supports the Israeli bombing of Lebanon in 2006 and remains hawkish on Pakistan and Iran. As the first South Asian face in the gubernatorial office, Bobby Jindal may seem to embody change in this country's racial politics, but his neoconservative views on abortion and race relations are a dangerous reminder that we need to demand more than a brown face in power. Modi's victory in Gujarat, the perpetuation of dynastic, family-driven politics in Pakistan, and the stalled elections in Nepal further illustrate that not all elections will result in substantive change even when it is needed the most.

This issue of SAMAR is a reminder that political change is a slow process that starts from the ground up. It does not always reach great heights or live up to its promises. That's why it bears remembering that elections are an important tool for promoting social change, but a means rather than the end itself. This is still only the beginning.

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Electoral seasons are in full swing across the subcontinent and in the United States. These campaigns have made or have the potential to make history. In the United States, Bobby Jindal was elected the country's first South Asian-American governor in October 2007. Barack Obama could become the first non-white president or Hillary Clinton could become the first female president in American history. This April, the Maoists could finally become part of Nepal's political fabric and put an end to a decade-long civil war. Just this month, the people of Pakistan voted to dethrone General Pervez Musharraf and catapulted the party of his slain rival, Benazir Bhutto, back into power. And just five years after the state-sponsored, Hindu nationalist pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat, Indian voters reinstated its pernicious architect, Narendra Modi, to a second term as Chief Minister in December 2007.

This issue of SAMAR is all about elections and the electorate. In South Asia, Luna Ranjit warns us that the upcoming Nepali elections, even if they are dubbed "free and fair," will not necessarily lead to a progressive outcome and instead calls to Nepal's marginalized communities to continue demanding their rights well after elections take place. Balmurli Natrajan moves beyond the disappointing reinstatement of Narendra Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat to find ways in which Hindus and Hindu-Americans can mobilize to form a progressive movement that counters the rising intolerance embedded in Hindu nationalism. And the Muntasir Sattar's editorial on Pakistan illustrates that supporting military dictators in the short-run in the interests of stability may have devastating long-term consequences for regional and global security.

Here, in the United States, SAMAR authors have explored issues ranging from identity politics to increasing South Asian civic engagement. With Bobby Jindal, Amardeep Singh explores the paradox of a South Asian political candidate who runs a campaign that downplays his ethnicity and embraces a conservative agenda to win votes in a racially-divided, post-Hurricane Katrina Louisiana. Zachariah Mampilly traces the South Asians for Obama movement and presents an example of how South Asian-Americans are mobilizing politically within mainstream America. Ali Najmi discusses the importance of launching a concerted registration desi-drive in New York City to bring in the South Asian vote to extend representation to the disenfranchised members of the community.

Over the past year, electoral candidates have embraced rhetorical slogans of change; yet, it is up to the South Asian community to make sure that this change will be progressive. Presidential hopeful Barack Obama, for example, openly supports the Israeli bombing of Lebanon in 2006 and remains hawkish on Pakistan and Iran. As the first South Asian face in the gubernatorial office, Bobby Jindal may seem to embody change in this country's racial politics, but his neoconservative views on abortion and race relations are a dangerous reminder that we need to demand more than a brown face in power. Modi's victory in Gujarat, the perpetuation of dynastic, family-driven politics in Pakistan, and the stalled elections in Nepal further illustrate that not all elections will result in substantive change even when it is needed the most.

This issue of SAMAR is a reminder that political change is a slow process that starts from the ground up. It does not always reach great heights or live up to its promises. That's why it bears remembering that elections are an important tool for promoting social change, but a means rather than the end itself. This is still only the beginning.

Articles in this Issue

A South Asians for Obama organizer explores what an Obama presidency would look like, explains what's in it for progressives, and asks what is the future role of this country.

Zachariah Mampilly

The recent election of Bobby Jindal to governor of Louisiana and Barack Obama's presidential candidacy explores the relevance of race, ethnicity, and South Asian-American issues in the American Race/Ethnicity nexus.

Amardeep Singh

The re-election of Narendra Modi five years after the Gujarat pogrom signals that it is time for a progressive Hindu movement to reclaim the religion as one that is progressive, tolerant and secular humanistic.

Balmurli Natrajan

A Nepali human rights advocate realistically examines the potential and limitations of the upcoming election in bringing about sustainable peace, stability, and social justice to Nepal.

Luna Ranjit

The South Asian community of New York City provides a compelling case for what a widespread and organized effort to register and mobilize voters could look like.

Ali Najmi

As Americans vote for a new presidential candidate, there is hope that Biden's proposal may have some impact in influencing a new foreign policy pact and partnership with Pakistan.

Muntasir Sattar