The South Asia Channel

Fifth Phase of Voting in Indian Election; Strange Powder Injures Nine in Afghanistan; Pakistani Library Named After Bin Laden

Bonus Read: "India: Censorship by the Batra Brigade," Wendy Doniger (NYBooks).

 India

Fifth phase sees moderate to high voting

The fifth phase of the Indian election saw a moderate to high turnout in the twelve states that turned out to vote (Indian Express, BBC). The highest turnout was seen in the four constituencies that voted in West Bengal, recording a turnout of 79 percent. Polling percentages in Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh were 66 percent and 62 percent, respectively, while the lowest turnout was in Madhya Pradesh, with 54 percent casting their votes. While elections in Jharkhand were marred by incidents of Maoist violence, most states saw an increase in voting numbers from previous elections, which analysts have attributed to the anti-incumbency movement, a rise in the number of first time voters, and a greater level of public engagement with the electoral process (Economic Times). The high-stakes voting day will decide the fate of 358 candidates including Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and former head of software giant Infosys, Nandan Nilekani.

Election Commission lifts ban on Amit Shah, investigates Ajit Pawar

On Friday, the Election Commission lifted its ban on electoral activity by Narendra Modi's campaign manager Amit Shah, permitting him to hold rallies, road shows and processions in Uttar Pradesh (Mint, Reuters). Shah had previously been hauled up for anti-Muslim remarks made on the campaign trail, telling voters to reject parties with Muslim candidates and ‘reminding' voters of Muslim atrocities on Hindus. The ban on Shah was lifted when he vowed not to use "abusive or derogatory language" and agreed to have his campaign tracked via video surveillance. However, the EC has yet to lift its ban on Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan for stoking religious sentiment in his campaign speeches, who has since refused to apologize for his comments in Masuri, Uttar Pradesh where he credited India's win in the Kargil war to Muslim soldiers over their Hindu counterparts (NDTV).

Meanwhile, the Election Commission has demanded an investigation into a video recording that allegedly captures Nationalist Congress Party MP Ajit Pawar threatening to cut off the water supply of an entire village in Baramati, Maharashtra. While the footage was recorded in the dark and is thus largely unclear, it allegedly features the voice of Pawar telling voters he would cut off water supply if they ‘betrayed' his party and did not turn out to vote for cousin and sitting MP, Supriya Sule (Indian Express).

Investments via participatory notes hit a three-year high

At $34 billion, purchases of Indian shares via participatory notes (or P-notes) have reached a three-year high as investors expect a stable government to come into power after India's elections. While the stability of the rupee against the dollar is seen as a contributing factor, investments through P-notes have been rising over the last few months, increasing by 13 percent in March and by 11 percent in February, largely due to expectations of an up-tick in India's economy after the elections. Known to be the preferred investment route of high net worth individuals and hedge funds, P-notes once accounted for nearly 50 percent of Foreign Institutional Investment in the country until the Security and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) decided to regulate investments to cool speculative interest in the market. 

Mystery man buys land for Gandhi family

The Wall Street Journal reported on the elusive Mahesh Nagar, the alleged front man for land purchases for the Gandhi family (WSJ India Realtime). Mr. Nagar's name allegedly appears on land deals for over 2,000 acres in Rajasthan and 6.4 acres in Haryana among deals made between 2009 and 2012, specifically for investments by Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi. When interviewed at his office in Faridabad, Uttar Pradesh, Nagar said his deals for Mr. Vadra were as a private citizen and that he "obtained no favor or benefit from anyone" for them. Nagar denied any political affiliation, but the WSJ's reporters noted a few Gandhi family pictures on the walls of his office. 

Asifa Khan's journey from Congress to BJP

The Indian Express published a profile on Asifa Khan, a national spokesperson for the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian Express). Khan's story makes for an interesting read as she joined the BJP after a four-year stint in the Congress party and after being groomed in politics by Sonia Gandhi's aide Ahmed Patel. A schoolteacher from Bharuch with a graduate degree in English Literature, Khan's skills in English, Hindi and Urdu saw her quickly catapulted to the national media limelight, where she is now the first Muslim woman to be appointed to the BJP's executive committee. She says it was the Congress's "insensitivity" to Muslim voters, with "no vision and leadership for Muslims," that saw her join the BJP. Seeing herself as a bridge between the community and the government, Khan believes Muslims will vote based on "development, education, business and peace," something she feels is represented by the BJP.

-- Shruti Jagirdar

Afghanistan

Mysterious Powder

Nine people, including Noor Ahmad, the Gulfan district chief, became ill in Northern Takhar province after opening a package containing a mysterious powder (Pajhwok). Local officials said an unidentified man delivered a package with a return address in Africa to the district chief's office, where three hours after it was opened, nine men fell unconscious and were rushed to Taluqan Hospital. It is unclear what the powder was or who sent the package.

Maimana prison break

Five armed Taliban militants attacked the Maimana prison in Faryab province on Friday (Pajhwok, Xinhua). Four inmates were able to escape after the militants used four rockets to assault the prison. Two guards and one militant were killed during the clash and the militants were able to flee the scene after the inmates were freed.

Shadow marathon

The Fort Drum-based 10th Mountain Division is hosting the last official Boston Marathon Shadow Run at Bagram Air Force Base on Friday (WSJ). With U.S. troops pulling out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, this is the last 26.2-mile shadow runs to be held by deployed U.S. military personnel. Some 600 military members and civilians from the United States and other countries are registered to run. The Boston Marathon is on Monday, but the Boston Athletic Association has shown support of the shadow run by providing banners, tee shirts, and medals for the soldiers.  

Pakistan

Bin Laden library

The Jamia Hafsa Madrassam, an Islamic seminary for women in Islamabad, has renamed its library after Osama bin Laden, the former head of al Qaeda (Dawn, AFP). The library, which houses about 2,000 books that are all related to Islam, is in a huge complex in the heart of Islamabad. A spokesman for the Madrassa, which is linked to the Red Mosque, known for its links with militants, said the new name was a tribute to "a hero." The chief cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz, warned that "if the government makes madrassas and mosques its target then Sharia (Islamic law) allows us to retaliate - if anyone will be harsh with us, they should not expect flowers in return" (BBC). His comments follow a large rally on Thursday in Sindh province that was staged by seminary students to protest what they called a move to ban madrassas in Sindh (Dawn). The proposed government regulation would require all madrassas to be registered, but protestors believed the regulation would be going against Islam and against the Pakistani constitution.

Road accident

A bus ran over 24 people standing by the Indus Highway at Notak Adda in Dera Ghazi Khan on Thursday, killing 14 people and seriously injuring the others (Dawn). Eyewitnesses and bystanders then chased the bus and forced the driver to stop; they then proceeded to set the bus on fire. Police arrived at the scene in time to rescue the driver, Meer Jan of Bannu, from the mob. The bus was going headed to Karachi. 

-- Emily Schneider

-- Edited by Peter Bergen 

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images