TIME India

When Tigers and People Live Too Closely Together, Everyone Loses

A crowd of tourists photographing two tiger cubs sitting on a road inside Bandhavgarh National Park, India.
A crowd of tourists photographing two tiger cubs sitting on a road inside Bandhavgarh National Park, India. Steve Winter—National Geographic/Getty Images

Forced into ever decreasing habitats, India's tigers have been attacking and killing humans

Armed hunters in northern India are stalking a female tiger that is thought to have killed at least eight people since late December, according to AFP. The tiger is believed to be one of the 200 or so Royal Bengal tigers that live in Jim Corbett National Park, established in the early 20th century to protect the endangered animals. Just weeks ago, another tiger that authorities say killed three people in the southern state of Tamil Nadu was shot dead, and in December, a tiger in the southern state of Karnataka that reportedly killed three people was captured.

Conservationists blame humans moving into tigers’ natural habitat — not tigers’ growing taste for people — for the rise in tiger attacks. Another factor is the well-intentioned, but perhaps ill-planned, overstocking of small conservation areas, forcing too many tigers to compete for the same limited resources. Though some activists have criticized officials for dispatching hunters to kill the tigers, others point out that an unabated spate of deadly attacks may do more harm than good for the overall effort to protect the species. There are only 1706 tigers left in the wild in India, according to World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Their habitat, and their prey’s, is shrinking across the subcontinent, as forests are cleared for roads and development.

TIME Afghanistan

If All Goes Well, Afghanistan Gets Its First Peaceful, Democratic Transition of Power Ever

Afghan workers install an election campaign poster of Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in Kabul on Feb. 3, 2014.
Afghan workers install an election campaign poster of Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in Kabul on Feb. 3, 2014. Shah Marai—AFP/Getty Images

But that's a big 'if'

What promises to be an interesting campaign season kicked off in Afghanistan over the weekend ahead of national elections scheduled for April 5. Though there is no clear frontrunner in the historic race, a few of the colorful roster of 11 candidates running to become the nation’s next president look better positioned than others to take the lead, including former foreign ministers Abdullah Abdullah and Zalmai Rassoul, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, and President Hamid Karzai’s own brother Qayyam Karzai. Karzai, who is constitutionally bound to step down from office come elections, has not officially backed any of the candidates. (Here’s a useful overview of the candidates from Tolo News and an overview of the coming elections from the Guardian.)

If these polls go off smoothly, it will mark Afghanistan’s first peaceful and democratic transition of power. Unfortunately, they’re not off to the smoothest of starts: the day before the campaign officially began, two campaigners for Abdullah were assassinated in the western city of Herat. And there’s plenty more to worry about: that inevitable vote fraud will be so rampant that the successful candidate will not have a credible mandate to govern, for instance, or whether, as NATO troops continue to pack up for their withdrawal later this year, Afghan security forces will be able to fend off insurgents bent on killing the democratic vibe.

But there is occasion to be optimistic as well. Afghanistan’s media landscape has changed drastically in the last decade, and for the first time many Afghan voters will be able to tune in to live debates between the candidates. That means the pressure is on for serious contenders to show voters that they have a plan for the country, and won’t be relying solely on ethnic block voting to garner a win. So far the candidates’ platforms look a little same-same, with issues like women’s rights, improving rule of law, maintaining security and job creation getting lip service across the board. But it’s still encouraging to see the country’s 12 million or so voters given a choice.

TIME Asia

India and China Spar for Most Polluted Capital City

Traffic make way in haze mainly caused by air pollution in Delhi, on Jan. 20, 2014.
Traffic make way in haze mainly caused by air pollution in Delhi on Jan. 20, 2014 Kuni Takahashi—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Is New Delhi's air pollution worse than Beijing's?

A media kerfuffle broke out in India this week over whether New Delhi has finally surpassed Beijing as having worse air quality than the infamous Chinese capital. A report carried by the Hindustan Times, an Indian daily, claimed that New Delhi had “earned the dubious tag of being the world’s most polluted city,” according to the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), a report put out by Yale and Columbia. The Wall Street Journal subsequently reported that the EPI used national statistics in its indexing, and even if it did compile information city by city, New Delhi does not keep reliable enough data to make a direct comparison to Beijing possible.

(MORE: Beijing Chokes on Record Pollution, and Even the Government Admits There’s a Problem)

I’m just speaking for myself here, but as I look out this morning on a city blanketed by an indistinguishable mix of fog, dust and toxic heavy particles, I find it hard to take great comfort in any win for India in this. Parents may not be sending their kids to school in gas masks … yet, but it’s not exactly a fine day for a jog. (The New York Times’ own findings indicate the Indian capital’s fine particulate matter has, on average, been worse than Beijing in the first weeks of the year.)

Wherever New Delhi lands, the EPI did rank India’s air quality 174th out of 178 countries measured; only Pakistan, China, Nepal and Bangladesh came in lower. So one would hope Indian authorities do not interpret this as a pass. A 2012 study showed that pollution levels have been growing faster in Indian cities than in China. If it’s not a matter of now, it might simply be a matter of when.

MORE: India’s Air Pollution: Is It Worse Than China’s?

TIME India

Rahul on Rahul: Indian Voters Get a Prime-Time Look at Congress’ Main Man

Congress party vice president Rahul Gandhi speaks during the All India Congress Committee (AICC) meeting in New Delhi Jan. 17, 2014 Adnan Abidi / Reuters

A mixed performance from the political scion who will head his party's next election campaign

It was the interview every political junkie in India has been waiting for. After ten years in elected office, political scion and Congress Party vice president Rahul Gandhi sat down for his first formal prime-time grilling, delivered by TimesNow’s editor-in-chief, Arnab Goswami. In the hour and twenty minutes that followed, Gandhi was at turns confident and worryingly vague, expressing some broad political goals like empowering women and opening the political system while coming up short on what, exactly, another term for Congress would look like as India gets ready to vote this spring.

Goswami did not spare his high-profile guest, and rightly so. Congress recently announced Gandhi would lead the party in its campaign ahead of national elections scheduled for May, but stopped short of naming him as a prime ministerial candidate, ending speculation over whether he would go head to head with opposition candidate Narendra Modi in the coming months. The move was interpreted by many as a play on Congress’ part to shield Gandhi, 43, from a potential trouncing by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in May’s polls — or even worse, given the fates of his grandmother and father, both of whom were assassinated.

But the announcement still left India’s ruling party with a frontman who has not exactly been front and center. Though Gandhi’s public appearances have increased since Congress’ drubbing in key state polls last month, Indian voters have not had much of a chance to hear Gandhi riff on his ideas for the country or on the controversies facing the sitting government.

(MORE: Gandhi Scion Declines Chance to Be India’s Next Leader)

Last night, they did. In course of the long interview, certain things were clear. Gandhi’s sincerity on his pet issues like getting India’s youth involved in politics, for instance, came through. So did his conflicted attitude toward his own role in India’s dynastic political system and the expectations swirling around him, most obvious when he started referring to himself in the third person. When asked if he was avoiding a direct face-off with Modi, Gandhi gave this reply: “To understand that question you have to understand who Rahul Gandhi is and what Rahul Gandhi’s circumstances have been and if you delve into that you will get an answer to the question of what Rahul Gandhi is scared of what he is not scared of.” (The answer: “absolutely nothing,” he said.)

What also seems clear now is that anybody still waiting for a Modi-Gandhi showdown is likely to be disappointed. Gandhi skirted the question of whether he would debate Modi, and refused to take Goswami’s bait to directly attack the polarizing and popular candidate. “The BJP has a PM candidate, the BJP believes in concentration of power in the hands of one person,” he said. “I fundamentally disagree with that.” When asked about Modi’s involvement in Gujarat’s 2002 communal riots — which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently characterized as presiding over the “massacre of innocent citizens of the streets”— Gandhi said that Modi’s government was complicit in “abetting and pushing the riots further,” but offered no specifics. He also dodged giving an apology on behalf of Congress for lives lost during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

Goswami’s audience no doubt appreciated that he did not let Gandhi off the hook on these important issues and others, including the allegations of corruption that continue to dog the current government. But drilling down into a few specific topics so deeply did sort of suck the air out conversation, and left little room for voters to hear about what a third Congress led government would look like next year. A few moments contained more focused information, such as Gandhi saying he wanted to increasing manufacturing jobs and was open to further debate on whether political parties should be subject to India’s Right to Information (RTI) law. But as much as it was a window for Goswami to grill, it was a moment for Gandhi to use his generous airtime to directly communicate with voters. Showing up under the glare of the camera lights signals Gandhi may finally be embracing his new role at this crucial moment for his party. But to lead it to victory, he’s going to need more than 80 minutes.

TIME

Japan and India Bolster Trade and Defense Ties

Shinzo Abe, Japans prime minister, left, and Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, attend a news conference at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, on Jan. 25, 2014 Graham Crouch / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Tokyo and New Delhi are cosying up, reflecting a shared desire to keep Beijing's growing might in check

On the surface, the pictures of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe standing next to a stiffly saluting President Pranab Mukherjee during India’s Jan. 26 Republic Day parade look like the pomp of your average high-level diplomatic visit. But making Abe, who was on a three-day visit to New Delhi, a guest of honor at India’s annual display of military might was a carefully aimed move. As the camouflaged tanks, high-stepping soldiers and missile launchers made their coordinated way through the foggy capital, New Delhi and Tokyo sent a clear message to the world — and to Beijing in particular — that the strategic bond between these two Asian allies is strong, and getting stronger.

Abe, whose trip comes close on the heels of a visit last month from Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, was in India over the weekend to try and make headway on a potential civil nuclear energy agreement and what could be Japan’s first military equipment sale in decades, among other things. India has expressed interest in a Japanese-made amphibious aircraft, and the two countries have reportedly been working on the terms of a sale.

Both deals would boost trade relations, but the meeting also underscored an intensifying mutual interest between the two nations — namely keeping China’s military expansionism in check. During Abe’s visit, the nations signed energy and telecommunications agreements, but also agreed on regularizing joint naval exercises. On Jan. 25, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made special mention in a media statement of the nations’ “expanding defence and security cooperation.”

Japan and India have a history of good relations, and this trip seemed to reinforce that goodwill as well as Japan’s ongoing investments in both infrastructure and business in India. Last year, Japan granted India $2.32 billion in aid for infrastructure projects and agreed to loan a further $753 million to help fund a metro system in Mumbai. During this visit, Abe announced Japan would loan India another $2 billion to expand the capital’s metro system, which Japan also helped fund. Japanese businesses have also been at the forefront of trying to tap the huge Indian market, with giants like Hitachi and Suzuki paving the way.

Chinese news outlets were predictably dismissive of the notion that Japan and India are growing politically closer. According to the BBC, several Chinese media outlets carried reports of Abe’s visit, but analysts quoted in the papers were skeptical that India could be persuaded to tighten strategic ties. “India’s main purpose is to obtain practical interests from Japan, and Abe’s wooing of India to resist China is more of his own wishful thinking,” an analyst at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations told the state-backed Global Times.

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