The outbreak of conflict in South Sudan last December led to the shut down of India’s multi-billion dollar oil project in the young country. The instability sent Indian diplomats scrambling to play damage control as ONGC Videsh Ltd. (OVL), the international arm of India’s national oil company, was forced to evacuate its personnel from the region. Competition from China is often regarded as the biggest challenge for India in acquiring global oil resources.
With the Manmohan Singh Cabinet giving up on its planned ordinance binge, a constitutional heist has been avoided. Six ordinances, reports indicate, were under consideration. Some of these were anti-graft measures intended to shore up Mr. Rahul Gandhi’s electoral prospects. Others, including the Disabilities Bill and the ST/SC (Prevention of Atrocities) Bill, were perhaps intended to shore up the social-democratic sheen of a moribund cabinet.
Barring a last minute political turnaround, Telangana will become India’s 29th state in early 2014, which may bring to an end a story whose beginnings had kick-started the first phase of state reorganization in independent India. Telangana will be carved out of the state of Andhra Pradesh, which had been created in 1953 by combining the Telegu-speaking areas of the erstwhile states of Hyderabad and Madras; Telangana corresponds to the area formerly in Hyderabad State.
As the Lok Sabha elections draw near, the focus is back on the Indian voter. Media, scholars, and policymakers often perpetuate the erroneous view that the Indian voter is relatively unsophisticated, responding only to short-term benefits and thus can be easily manipulated. Consider, for instance, the recent calls by the Election Commission of India (ECI) to ban opinion polls in the run up to the election for fear of undue influence, or the constant media stories of vote bank politics and government sops.
Though dynasty remains vitally influential in electoral politics – and a focus of growing resentment among those who believe Indian society is generally becoming more meritocratic – it may not be as significant a force as it looks at first sight. The most important politicians found another route to the top: in the upper echelons of many parties, the paramount leaders are not beneficiaries of nepotism, and this does not seem likely to change any time soon.
Do parties and their local agents condition access to government services and benefits from government welfare schemes on how voters vote or are expected to vote? This political strategy, which social scientists refer to as clientelism, depends on a massive investment in local leaders who collect information on voters’ party preferences, vote choices and intentions, as well as which inducements will convince voters to support their party at the polls. This strategy also importantly depends upon the credible threat of punishment when a voter is found to vote the wrong way.
In recent years, whenever India and China have met at the highest level, the issue of water has been prominently put on the negotiating table. Much of the unease has been over a truculent temperamental trans-border river, the Yaluzangbu-Brahmaputra-Jamuna (YBJ) system, which exhausts its full watery course only after having traversed three sovereign nations: China, India, and Bangladesh.
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.
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.
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.