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Asia Unbound

CFR experts give their take on the cutting-edge issues emerging in Asia today.

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by Alyssa Ayres
October 29, 2013

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) speaks with Gujarat's chief minister and Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate for India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during the inauguration ceremony of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel national museum in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad October 29, 2013 (Amit Dave/Courtesy Reuters). Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh (L) speaks with Gujarat's chief minister and Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate for India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) October 29, 2013 (Amit Dave/Courtesy Reuters).

Hello Asia Unbound readers! As CFR’s newest senior fellow, and the newest contributor to the blog, I look forward to adding a little more content on South Asia to the group effort. At CFR, I am covering the broader South Asian region, with a strong focus on India. I’ve spent my entire professional life working on South Asia, and there is never any shortage of new and interesting issues to explore.

This year and next will bring sweeping political change to the region: there have been, or will be, elections in every single country, so there will be a lot to track. Coming up in November, for example, India kicks off a series of five state-level elections over several weeks that are widely seen as a barometer of whether the Indian National Congress, currently at the center of the ruling coalition, or the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will form the government once national elections take place next year. This contest between the only two parties with the reach and ability to form a national government among India’s thousand-plus registered parties is preoccupying pollsters and the Indian press, with a complex and fractious contest being portrayed as a fight between Congress’s Rahul Gandhi and the BJP’s Narendra Modi. But important elections are taking place elsewhere too: Maldivians should return to the polls for the second time on November 2, re-voting for president after the Supreme Court annulled the results of the September 7 election. And in Nepal, at long last citizens will vote for a new Constituent Assembly on November 19 after a long hiatus, since the previous Assembly expired on May 27, 2012. We’ll also be watching closely to see how Bangladesh resolves the impasse between the Awami League government, and the opposition Bangladesh National Party over the procedures to carry out national elections.

And that’s just the political news cycle. There’s also much to pay attention to in the Indian economy, where policymakers are working to revive growth after a pronounced slump, dropping from what the Economist called a “sizzling” 9 percent in 2006, to the latest World Bank forecast of 4.7 percent (and the IMF’s latest projection was an even slower 3.8 percent). What happens in India’s economy, far and away the largest and most important in South Asia, matters for its ability to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty and into the middle class, in and of itself a task of historic impact. But the Indian economy, already the world’s third largest in PPP terms and featured in prominent future scenarios as likely to become the third largest in absolute terms by 2030 (OECD projection and Goldman Sachs, among many) also matters for U.S. business, for global economic growth, and for the future of regional economic integration. So I’ll be looking at the economic and business news closely here.

Finally, I hope to post links to especially thoughtful longer essays, or relevant academic writing, or news of the surprising and unusual that catches my eye. There’s always something interesting, such as this review of a new edited collection of graphic stories about Partition. Among the extensive writings on the 1947 partition of India, graphic novels or graphic fiction a la Persepolis have not been a prominent genre, unlike the renowned fiction from the region, and of course superb scholarly writing. But this collection changes that, and with contributions from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Worth a look.

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