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.
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.
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.
In 1992, in a much cited essay, George Tanham unleashed an enduring, even if incorrect, geopolitical meme – that Indians uniquely lacked a strategic culture. Tanham’s dismissal of all of modern India’s statecraft infuriated some of his Indian counterparts, while others quickly embraced this argument. In a recent cover story, The Economist undid an otherwise good analysis of the myriad challenges in India’s quest to be a great power when it inexplicably settled upon an intellectually lazy explanation of strategic culture.