Congress: Is India's Grand Old Party in terminal decline?

  • 20 May 2016
  • From the section India
A supporter of India"s main opposition Congress party listens a speech by the party"s president Sonia Gandhi (unseen) before what the party calls as "Save Democracy" march to parliament in New Delhi, India, May 6, 2016 Image copyright Reuters

Two years after a historic drubbing in general elections, the 130-year-old Congress party is showing few signs of revival. On Thursday, the nightmare continued, with the party losing Assam and Kerala in crucial state elections.

Now the Congress rules in just six of India's 29 states - half of them tiny ones in the north-east - and supports a regional coalition in Bihar. Going by its performance in Tamil Nadu, it is taking a beating even as an alliance partner.

It's a vertiginous decline for a party which was on the upswing after winning two consecutive general elections in 2004 and 2009 - for the first time since 1989 - and then frittered away the gains in a haze of corruption scandals and indecision. "There has been a serious shrinkage of the Congress," says political analyst Yogendra Yadav. "It is shrinking to less than a national party."

Biggest handicap

On the stump, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the ruling BJP has often spoken about making India "Congress free". The party is doing very little to prove him wrong.

The Congress's biggest handicap is its oversize dependence on the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty which many believe is past its sell-by-date. The dominance of the family, critics say, hobbles nimble decision-making, perpetuates a feudal political culture, encourages sycophancy, stifles inner party democracy and smothers talent.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Rahul Gandhi (right) is expected to take over the leadership of the party from his mother, Sonia Gandhi.

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Why are many Indian Muslims seen as untouchable?

  • 10 May 2016
  • From the section India
Indian Dalit (Oppressed) Christian and Muslim women listen to leaders during a rally against the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for its recent rejection of the demand for reservation for Dalit Christians and Muslims, in New Delhi, 03 March 2007. Thousands of protestors, church leaders, nuns and activists of the National United Christian Forum demanded the United Progressive Alliance Government equal rights and reservation for the Dalit Christians and Muslims Image copyright AFP
Image caption Untouchability among Muslims is rarely discussed

Untouchability is worse than slavery, said Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, one of India's greatest statesmen and the undisputed leader of the country's Dalits.

Dalits (formerly known as untouchables) are some of the republic's most wretched citizens because of an unforgiving Hindu caste hierarchy that condemns them to the bottom of the heap.

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Do India's stray dogs kill more people than terror attacks?

  • 6 May 2016
  • From the section India
Kashmir dogs Image copyright Abid Bhat
Image caption India has more than 30 million stray dogs

In March, the civic authorities in one of India's richest cities made a startling disclosure in the country's top court: dog bites in Mumbai had killed more people in 20 years than the two deadly terror attacks in the city - the 1993 serial blasts and the 26/11 attack in 2008.

According to the municipality's petition in the Supreme Court, 434 people had died from rabies - a fatal viral infection which is almost 100% preventable - transmitted by dogs between 1994 and 2015. (In comparison, the two attacks killed 422 people.) More than 1.3 million people had been bitten by dogs in the city during the same period.

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India's water refugees who live in cattle camps

  • 29 April 2016
  • From the section India
A government-run cattle camp is seen outside a village in Osmanabad, India, April 15, 2016. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption There are more than 350 cattle camps sheltering 380,000 animals in Maharashtra

Five months ago, the Gholap family - three brothers and their wives - moved from their drought-hit village home in Beed in the western state of Maharashtra to a squalid shantytown of straw-and-tarpaulin cattle shelters.

They brought along their 21 head of cattle, some clothes and utensils, a rope bed, and a wall calendar to keep track of time. Back in the village, it hasn't rained for the past three years, and their three-acre farm lies barren. There's no fodder for the animals, and wells are dry. Most of the young men in the village have migrated to the cities in search of work.

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Searching for water in drought-hit Latur

  • 26 April 2016
  • From the section India
Anjali Patole Image copyright Mansi Thapliyal
Image caption Anjali Patole is spending her summer holidays queuing up for water

It is 42C in the shade, but that doesn't deter 10-year-old Anjali Patole from queuing up every day near a water tank on a baking pavement in the city of Latur in the western state of Maharashtra.

Here, Anjali and her uncle - her father has migrated to Pune to look for work, and her mother is a vegetable vendor - will stand under the blazing sun for up to three hours to fill 150 litres of drinking water in 15 containers, a smorgasbord of shiny kitchen utensils and brightly coloured plastic tanks.

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Why are India's housewives killing themselves?

  • 12 April 2016
  • From the section India
Indian women wait to vote at a polling station on April 17, 2014 in the Jodhpur District in the desert state of Rajasthan, India. India is in the midst of a nine-phase election that began on April 7 and ends on May 12. Image copyright AFP
Image caption There are very few studies on why Indian homemakers have been killing themselves

More than 20,000 housewives took their lives in India in 2014.

This was the year when 5,650 farmers killed themselves in the country.

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Is India facing its worst-ever water crisis?

  • 27 March 2016
  • From the section India
Power plant dry water canal
Image caption The canal connecting the Ganges to the power station dried up because of a lack of water

On 11 March, panic struck engineers at a giant power station on the banks of the Ganges river in West Bengal state.

Readings showed that the water level in the canal connecting the river to the plant was going down rapidly. Water is used to produce steam to run the turbines and for cooling vital equipment of coal-fired power stations.

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Why women are worst hit by India's farm crisis

  • 21 March 2016
  • From the section India
Farm widow Image copyright Mansi Thapliyal \Action Aid
Image caption Mandha Alone suffered from depression after her debt-stricken husband took his life

He tried to take his life for the first time in 2009.

Mukunda Wagh, a farmer, consumed pesticide in the cow shed at his village home in Maharashtra's Washim district.

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Why India has a 'sliver of time' to seize its chances

  • 15 March 2016
  • From the section India
Sunil Khilnani
Image caption Sunil Khilnani's new book tells the story of India through 50 remarkable lives

Is time running out for India?

It's a rather dire question to ask a historian, but Sunil Khilnani believes that a young, aspirational country like India in a fast-changing world "will have only a sliver of time, a matter of years, in which to seize its chances".

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Kanhaiya Kumar: India's most loved and loathed student

  • 11 March 2016
  • From the section India
Media captionKanhaiya Kumar talks about his politics

Revolution still remains some distance away at Delhi's prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University, but the Indian spring has already arrived in the wooded campus with a vengeance.

A bank of bougainvillea is in full bloom, the air is crisp and pleasant, and parrots squawk noisily in a clear, blue sky.

Read full article Kanhaiya Kumar: India's most loved and loathed student