A week ago, cyclone Phailin raged through Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. With wind speeds up to 200 km/h ripping through the countryside, it’s no surprise that electricity transmission infrastructure in coastal areas took a significant hit. Certain districts, particularly in Odisha, are still suffering from major electricity shortages after thousands of distribution poles and hundreds of kilometres of wiring were knocked out of service.
India in Transition
The Ministry of Water Resources recently prepared a cabinet note about creating a permanent tribunal for interstate river water disputes (IWD) resolution in pursuance of a proposal to the effect in the national draft water policy of 2012. As reports go, the government is concerned about long delays in dispute resolution and the tendency of States to approach the Supreme Court for redressal of recurring disputes. Setting up a permanent space for adjudication may be helpful, but certainly not adequate.
Last week, approval of the critical Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Bill (Pension Bill) sailed through the Rajya Sabha without much drumbeating in the press. Overshadowed by news of the weakening rupee, the bill, nearly ten years in the making, will allow 26 percent foreign direct investment in the insurance sector, seeking to create some sort of regulation for the country’s almost nonexistent formal pension system.
Three months ago, India’s former foreign secretary and current coordinator of the National Security Council Advisory Board, Shyam Saran took the unusual step of publicly taking on critics of India’s operational nuclear capabilities. These critics have long cited the inability of successive governments to address the many technical and organizational lacunae in India’s operational capabilities as a reason why they believe that India’s nuclear foray is a prestige-driven enterprise. Contra such claims, Saran maintained that Delhi’s operational nuclear capabilities are robust.
Despite its best attempts and some very creative thinking, the Indian government’s efforts to chart an independent course in cyberspace have met with consistent failures and frustrations. Its Cybersecurity Policy, published last month, is a case in point. Released amidst the growing controversy over revelations regarding the American electronic eavesdropping program, this policy document is the culmination of deliberations that the Indian security establishment has been carrying out with various stakeholders for the past three years.
Seeing oneself through others’ eyes is an important act of introspection. There is much a nation can learn about the content and impact of its external policies by studying how it is perceived by the world. Public opinion can be a reliable indicator of trends in bilateral relations, and analysts frequently measure a country’s attractiveness (soft power) by the opinions of other societies. The perceptions of others, therefore, can act as a heuristic device for a nation's foreign policy if not a metric of its success.
Deciding how to put the abstract democratic ideal into practice isn’t easy. Some decisions are large institutional ones, such as whether a country should opt for parliamentarianism; others are more microscopic – how electoral districts should be mapped, how electoral speech should be regulated, and so forth. The specific institutionalization of the democratic ideal can radically impact its functioning and even threaten the ideal itself. While India has managed non-partisan election administration reasonably well, other features of the system are poorly regulated and understood.
We are just weeks beyond the fifteenth anniversary of the 1998 nuclear tests, and less than a year from the fortieth anniversary of India’s 1974 “peaceful nuclear experiment.” India is justly proud of what its nuclear scientists have accomplished. In the face of an international regime to slow their progress, Indian scientists, engineers, and even bureaucrats and politicians collaborated to find a way to build an increasingly diverse nuclear energy infrastructure and the ability to produce nuclear weapons. To overcome these obstacles, India built a closed, close-knit nuclear enclave.
The Indian state faces a serious need to overhaul its mechanisms of accountability. According to a Pew Research Poll conducted in 2010, 98 percent of Indian citizens classify government corruption as a “very big” or a “moderately big” problem facing the country. There is good reason for citizens to be concerned. Every year, the government loses countless crores of rupees to bribery and embezzlement. Related to the lost money are the lost man-hours. Worker absenteeism, defined as the practice of staying away from work without good reason, is another huge problem.
Identity politics is the workhorse of most analysis of human interaction in India. For decades, the cleavages of caste and community have been viewed as the most important forces shaping social, political, and economic dynamics. The extent to which individuals participate in violence, act collectively, succeed in delivering public goods, or make decisions on Election Day – all of these are perceived to hinge on issues of ethnic identity.