A funny thing happened in late 2015 in the north Indian state of Bihar. In the state legislative election, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won far more votes than any other party. Nevertheless, the BJP emerged as only the third-largest party in the legislature. In a country like India, whose first-past-the-post electoral system usually advantages the largest party, how does a party lose an election even as it wins the most votes?
India in Transition
Only 5 percent of Indians report they are in intercaste marriages. This often results in the casual observation that caste drives matrimonial choices. Traditionally, marriage outside caste has not found social approval, as honor killings continue to be reported across the country. However, in urban, middle-class India, young people are no longer limiting their search for marriage partners within their own caste.
Earlier this year in mid-April, the Prime Minister officially launched the National Agricultural Market (NAM), designed to serve as a “pan-India electronic trading portal which networks the existing APMC mandis to create a unified national market for agricultural commodities” (e-nam.gov.in). First proposed in the Union Budget for 2014-15, the NAM, currently in its pilot phase, includes 21 markets across 8 states and 11 commodities.
Did Pakistan facilitate the May 21, 2016 killing of Mullah Muhammad Mansour because the Taliban chief refused to join peace talks with Kabul? Mansour’s obstinacy was, after all, preventing Islamabad from delivering on its promise to the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) to bring the Taliban to the dialog table. Was the drone strike that killed Mansour a wasted effort, given that his successor, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, is equally disinclined to barter away battlefield gains in a political settlement that would leave most power with the “puppet regime” in Kabul?
Almost a quarter century has passed since India embarked on the world’s largest experiment in decentralization. The 73rd Amendment to the Constitution established more than 200,000 rural local councils (Gram Panchayats), devolved responsibility for an array of services, and reserved seats for women and Scheduled Castes and Tribes – historically disadvantaged communities. Many, though, see the panchayats as paper tigers plagued by democratic and bureaucratic deficits, and thus expect citizens to eschew these local bodies.
In December 2015, the Indian government made public its new model bilateral investment treaty (BIT), a template for individually negotiated agreements that govern private investments from a firm in one country into another. Countries use BITs to market themselves as stable and transparent investment destinations, providing a certain level of protection for foreign investments such as promising fair and equitable treatment, non-discrimination, and protection from expropriation.
In mid-April, when the historian Ramachandra Guha delivered the annual HY Sharada Prasad Memorial Lecture in New Delhi, his talk was titled “The Art and Craft of Historical Biography.” Guha dwelled at length upon the value of such writing, and upon the characteristics of a good biography. But he also raised a question that has appeared in his own writing frequently, notably in a chapter of The Last Liberal and Other Essays. Why has India, with all its fascinating complexity and its plethora of personalities, always been under-served by historical biographers?
India is jostling for space in the global marketplace with other rising powers and needs a robust energy supply to compete effectively. Implementing new power projects to harness its domestic natural resources is one of the ways this can be achieved. However, in India, large-scale infrastructure projects have been hard to undertake due to their perceived adverse social and environmental effects— controversial dam projects on the Narmada and Teesta Rivers being key examples.
The use of electoral quotas, such as reserved seats in parliaments or candidate quotas, has become increasingly common, and is usually defended on the basis of various assumed positive long-term effects. However, in most countries, it has been hard to identify such effects, partly because the policies have not been in place long enough.
State legislators face a significant incumbency disadvantage in India. Being elected once makes it harder to be re-elected. This is puzzling to the extent that holding political office should provide these incumbents with a significant advantage over challengers during subsequent elections. For instance, one might expect them to be rewarded for having rendered personalized services to their constituents.