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Soutik Biswas, Delhi correspondent

Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

This is where to come for my take on life and times in the world’s largest democracy

Why India loves to ban films

21 August 2014
Kaum De Heere (Diamonds of the Community) tells the story of Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, Indira Gandhi's assassins
Kaum De Heere (Diamonds of the Community) tells the story of Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, Indira Gandhi's assassins

The move to ban a controversial film on the October 1984 assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi has a sense of deja vu about it.

This time, the Congress party is up in arms against the Punjabi film Kaum De Heere (Diamonds of the Community), complaining that it glorifies the assassins of Mrs Gandhi, who was shot dead by her Sikh bodyguards for sending the military into the Golden Temple, the community's holiest shrine.

Apparently, intelligence agencies have warned of violence if the film is released - after all, Mrs Gandhi's murder in October 1984 sparked anti-Sikh violence, which killed more than 3,000 members of the community across India.

Congress party leaders in Punjab insist that the film "presents murderers as heroes", a charge that its producer denies, saying that it is just a film about political assassinations.

Many say the Congress party has a record of touchiness when it comes to films involving its leaders and rule.

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Sachin Tendulkar - India's missing MP

8 August 2014
Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar smiles as he arrives at Parliament House in New Delhi, July 2012
Tendulkar had talked about raising issues related to sports in parliament

When cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar was nominated as an MP in India's upper house of parliament (the Rajya Sabha) two years ago, the first sportsperson to be so honoured, one newspaper fawned that "God has a new House".

But the newspaper sounded a prescient note of caution, saying that the "populist move made little sense" as he was an active sportsman spending more than 200 days on the road. I had been similarly sceptical in a blog post, but hoped he would speak out on sporting matters.

Two years later, the fears appear to be coming true.

A study of the parliament by watchdog PRS Legislative Research reveals that Tendulkar has not attended a single session of the parliament this year. He attended just three sessions last year and has not participated in any debates. He has a paltry 3% attendance rate among the MPs, compared to an average of 77% . Clearly, he is not finding time or is not inclined to come to the parliament even after bowing out of a spectacular 24-year-old career last November.

To be true, most of India's nominated MPs - a dozen of them are nominated in every parliament for "special knowledge or practical experience in respect of such matters as literature, science, art and social service" - do not have a stellar record in the House. There have been more than 200 of them since 1952, and they have included some of the country's top academics, doctors, writers, journalists, poets, film actors and social workers.

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Is Indian PM Narendra Modi's 'foster son' a public relations triumph?

7 August 2014
Narendra Modi in Nepal

It all began with a series of tweets by Narendra Modi on the eve of his recent official trip to Nepal, the first by an Indian premier in 17 years.

Narendra Modi tweet
Narendra Modi tweet
Narendra Modi tweet

Next day Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin tweeted a picture of a beaming young man with his family and Mr Modi, saying: "Thanks to @narendramodi, a happy reunion for Jeet Bahadur and family."

Jeet Bahadur Magar and his family with Narendra Modi

Then the headlines began pouring in.

Modi reveals his Nepalese foster son, said one. Another report called him his godson. Still others called him Mr Modi's "secret foster son".

Jeet Bahadur says he arrived in India with his elder brother in search of work, aged 11 in 1998. Apparently, they got separated and he mistakenly boarded a train for Ahmedabad, Gujarat's main city, where Mr Modi was a politician.

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Is India's politics becoming less dynastic?

27 July 2014
Narendra Modi addressing BJP MPs
The ruling BJP is considered to be less dynastic than the former ruling Congress party

Is India's politics becoming less dynastic?

Serving up some revealing data on the stranglehold of family and lineage on Indian politics, historian Patrick French wrote in his 2011 book India: A Portrait that if the trend continued, India could slide back to the days when it was ruled by a "hereditary monarch and assorted Indian princelings". He also expressed concern that the next Lok Sabha - the lower house of parliament to which 543 MPs are directly elected - would be a "house of dynasts".

New research by political scientist Kanchan Chandra of New York University actually points to a fall in the number of dynastic MPs in the new parliament, formed after May's general election.

Professor Chandra found that 21% of the MPs in the new parliament have a dynastic background, down from 29% in the last parliament. (A survey by The Hindu newspaper, however, found a quarter of MPs - 130 - in the current parliament have a dynastic background.)

Also, 24% of India's new cabinet, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is dynastic in nature, down from 36% in the previous Congress-led government.

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Why India's sanitation crisis kills women

30 May 2014
This May 12, 2006 file photograph shows a slum resident (L) as he uses a toilet that opens into the water below as children swim in the water near a protest rally against the government for demolishing make-shift huts at Mandala in Mankhurd in north central Mumbai.
Nearly half-a-billion Indians lack access to basic sanitation

The gruesome rape and hanging of two teenage girls in the populous Uttar Pradesh state again proves how women have become the biggest victims of India's sanitation crisis.

The two girls were going to the fields to defecate when they went missing on Tuesday night.

Nearly half-a-billion Indians - or 48% of the population - lack access to basic sanitation and defecate in the open.

The situation is worse in villages where, according to the WHO and Unicef, some 65% defecate in the open. And women appear to bear the brunt as they are mostly attacked and assaulted when they step out early in the morning or late in the evening.

Several studies have shown that women without toilets at home are vulnerable to sexual violence when travelling to and from public facilities or open fields.

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Will India's Narendra Modi be a reformer?

26 May 2014

India's prime minister-elect Narendra Modi has been compared to Deng Xiaoping, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Shinzo Abe, Tayyip Erdogan and Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Commentators have variously described him as assertive, dynamic, authoritarian and nationalist.

Many believe he's a genuine economic reformer. Others worry about his - and his BJP's - hard-line Hindu credentials and wonder whether it poses a threat to the idea of a pluralist India.

Mr Modi campaigned in the recent election on his record of making Gujarat one of India's fastest growing and business friendly states, and his on own reputation as a tough administrator and staunch Hindu nationalist. In return, voters rewarded him and his BJP with an unprecedented landslide win.

'Change agent'

Mr Modi's supporters believe he is the right man to pull India out of the quagmire of low growth, high inflation, joblessness and slack governance. One commentator believes that Mr Modi may well have "inaugurated India's second republic" as his record in governance makes him an "economic change-agent, not an economic waster".

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Why did India's Grand Old Party suffer a poll rout?

17 May 2014
Congress supporter

Why did India's Grand Old Party suffer a historic drubbing in the general elections?

After all, India enjoyed social stability and 8.5% growth for most of the decade the Congress government was in power. It rolled out a number of welfare schemes which many believed improved public facilities in the poorest regions of India.

To be sure, growth halved, inflation spiralled and a number of embarrassing corruption scandals hit the government in its second term. Even so, how does that explain the party's worst-ever tally of under 50 seats?

Make no mistake, the scourge of unrelenting inflation turned the poor and the middle class against Congress: for the last three-and-a-half years India has been suffering its highest rate of inflation for 20 years, one that has also been higher than the world average.

This, many say, was the immediate trigger for people's anger and disenchantment with the Congress.

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Has India election shattered old orthodoxies?

16 May 2014
Supporters of Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, prime ministerial candidate for India"s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), wear masks depicting Modi outside their party office in Mumbai

Does the resounding success of the BJP mean India's election has shattered old orthodoxies of caste and identity, as some would like to believe?

After all, some argue, Narendra Modi was able to able to attract votes cutting across caste, class and gender lines, leading to what is turning out to be a sensational win for his BJP. The party has also succeeded in picking up both urban and rural votes at a time when parties like the outgoing Congress maintained that the key to power in Delhi mainly depended on the rural vote.

BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman says she would like to believe that the results had "destroyed established paradigms of Indian politics" and changed the way we look at Indian politics.

As evidence, they rightly point to big battleground states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where powerful caste and identity-based leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, and Lalu Prasad Yadav hold sway, and were expected to give Mr Modi's BJP a run for its money.

Well, the BJP is leading in 70 of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh - a sensational performance by any measure - and in 22 of the 38 seats in Bihar, where Mr Yadav's RJD party was expected to put up a stiff fight. (The RJD is ahead in only four seats.)

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  • Gavin Hewitt, Europe editor Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

    The arguments over Europe, its politics and personalities


About Soutik

Before joining the BBC, Soutik worked with Indian newspapers and magazines and an international newspaper as a correspondent and an editor.

He was a Reuters Fellow at the University of Oxford.

Soutik has covered elections in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, the tsunami in India and Sri Lanka in 2005, and militancy in Kashmir, working mostly on a series of stories on the state of youth and women in the disputed region.

In 2005, he used a laptop link to connect BBC News readers from around the world to a people living in a Pashtun village in Afghanistan. He revisited the village two years later to do a similar project and to see how life had changed.

He loves blues and jazz, and believes Derek Trucks is the best and most innovative slide guitarist alive.

He is a big movie buff, with Michael Haneke, Martin Scorsese, the Coen Brothers, Woody Allen and Satyajit Ray among his favourite directors.

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