The South Asia Channel

India Marks Biggest Election Day; Pakistani Taliban End Cease-fire; Taliban Claim to Have Killed Afghan Policemen


More than 195m eligible to vote in 12 states

India's fifth and largest day of voting was held on Thursday, with voters turning out across 121 constituencies in a dozen states and union territories (GuardianNYTBBC). More than 195 million voters - about a quarter of the total electorate - were eligible to cast ballots, including in key battleground states such as Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.

The BJP was expected to do well in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh, where it won state polls last December, but was seeking to prove itself in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and retrieve ground lost to Congress in Karnataka (Times of India).

The incumbent Congress party sharpened its attack on the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party this week, after a survey projected for the first time that the BJP and its allies would reach a majority in the parliament (Reuters). On Wednesday, the Election Commission asked media organizations not to publish public opinion polls that were, for all practical purposes, exit polls, in order to maintain a level playing field (Indian Express).

Report: 17% of candidates face criminal charges

Roughly 17 percent of contestants for a seat in the Lok Sabha, or lower parliament, are facing criminal convictions, a report by advocacy group Association for Democratic Alliance showed (Hindustan Times). The BJP topped the list, with 34 percent of its 202 candidates facing a criminal case; 23 percent of the 193 Congress candidates, 16 percent of the Aam Aadmi Party's 200 candidates, and 18 percent of the Bahujan Samaj Party's 207 candidates faced similar charges.

Findings from the Association for Democratic Alliance show that a candidate with a criminal case is twice as likely to win an election (23 percent) compared to a candidate without any charges (12 percent). The report echoed research by scholars at the University of Cambridge, University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of California, San Diageo that showed that political parties are more likely to select alleged criminal candidates when confronting greater electoral uncertainty and highly competitive seats. 

Delhi appoints first female chief justice

Delhi's High Court is set to get its first female chief justice after President Pranab Mukherjee formally appointed Judge G. Rohini on Friday (Mint). Previously a judge in the high court of the state of Andhra Pradesh, Justice Rohini takes on the position even as the representation for women in higher judiciary is disproportionately low; only 52 out of 650 judges in India's high courts are women. Rohini is the third woman to be appointed high court chief justice, after Banumathi from Jharkhand and Anjali Prabhudessai from Bombay.

While having presided over matters ranging from constitutional to company to criminal investigations, Mint looks to Justice Rohini to tackle matters related to women's safety in Delhi; National Crime Records Bureau indicate 14.5 percent of all crimes against women take place in Delhi. India's courts have made some efforts to advance the rights of female victims. On April 7, India's Supreme Court Chief Justice P. Sathasivam declared he would direct courts to translate legal advice for rape survivors into vernacular languages (WomensENews).

India's central banks completes biggest bond auction

The value of Indian government bonds rose on Thursday after the central bank fully sold $3.31 billion worth of public debt on offer, the country's biggest public auction to date (Economic Times). Concerns about how India would accomplish the debt sale had weighed on government bonds earlier this week. Dealers cited widespread market speculation that India's Life Insurance Corp had bought a significant chunk of the auction. Traders added that bonds are likely to remain under pressure, given a continued debt supply.

--Ana Swanson and Shruti Jagirdar


Taliban ends cease-fire

The Pakistani Taliban said Wednesday that they were ending their six week old cease-fire with the Pakistani government but would continue to engage in peace talks (NYT, Dawn). In statement sent to reporters, the militant organization accused the Pakistani military of torturing prisoners and killing 50 militants during the cease-fire. The cease-fire was announced on March 1, then extended, but militant attacks continued in April: the Taliban claimed the attacks were conducted by breakaway groups. Shahidullah Shahid, a Taliban spokesmen, said that there had not been any progress on the Taliban's demands and that the Pakistani government had not suspended military operations during the cease-fire (ET). The Pakistani government has released a number of low-level prisoners in response to some Taliban demands but they have refused others, such as the Taliban's request to designate a demilitarized "peace zone" where the militants could move freely in South Waziristan.

In response to the Taliban's announcement, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chaired a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) on Thursday during which the committee decided that peace talks with the Taliban would continue (Dawn). Formed last August, the CCNS is the highest civil-military forum on national security and defense. The meeting also marked first time army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif (no relation) will be meeting the prime minister and defense minister, Khawaja Asif, following the recent tensions over the trial of former president Pervez Musharraf (ET).

Malala's portrait up for auction

A portrait of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who survived an attack by the Taliban in 2012, is set to be auctioned next month in New York (Dawn). The painting by Jonathan Yeo, one of Britain's leading portrait painters, is oil on canvas and has been on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London since September. The funds raised from selling the portrait will support the Malala Fund, which helps young Syrian refugees in Jordan and girls freed from child labor who are attending school in Pakistan. The painting is valued at between $60,000 and $80,000.


Taliban claim to have killed 7 police officers

A group of Afghan policemen were kidnapped by the Taliban on Wednesday while traveling in civilian clothes to Kabul, and the Taliban later claimed they had killed seven of them (NYT, Pajhwok). In a statement emailed to journalists, the militants said they had ambushed the policemen in the Said Abad district of Wardak province and found documents on the officers that showed they were part of the Afghan Civil Order Police, an elite unit. Ataullah Lodin, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said the authorities had reports that a dozen officers had been kidnapped by insurgents along Highway 1, the main road to the capital. However, Gen. Zmaray Paikan, the commander of the unit, disputed the claims, saying that six officers had abandoned a vehicle they were traveling in after it broke down and scattered. While two of them have been rescued, the rest are still missing. 

Probe into suspect ballots

Afghanistan's Independent Electoral Complaints Commission said ballot boxes that had been quarantined due to fraud would be investigated next week in the presence of local and foreign observers (Pajhwok). The ballot boxes had been set aside because it was suspected that they contained fraudulent ballots. But a delegation has been appointed to open and investigate all the ballot boxes in front of representatives from the media, political parties, representatives of the candidates, and local and foreign observers for the sake of transparency. Commission spokesman Nader Muhseni warned that the quarantined ballot boxes had the potential to change the election results.

-- Emily Schneider


-- Edited by Peter Bergen