India’s demographic shift to cities has been accompanied by a number of pressing governance and development challenges. Among the most serious of those challenges is the spread of slum settlements—spaces defined by their haphazard construction, material poverty, tenure insecurity, and lack of basic public services. The 2011 Census of India estimates that 65 million people reside in the country’s urban slums. This is a staggering figure, exceeding the entire population of countries like Argentina, South Africa, and Spain.
Society & Culture
The last decade has witnessed a steady rise in activism by the urban middle class, as demonstrated by the historic India Against Corruption Movement. It gave rise to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP),arguably India’s first major class-based urban political party. Beyond large cities, the 2014 general election saw the middle classes vote more than the poor for the first time in recent history.
The provision of energy has long been central to India’s development planning. In most cases, this has taken the form of generating and making available the supply of energy in the form of increased coal, gas, nuclear, renewables, etc. The salient elements of current energy plans highlight this trend: through a focus on coal (with a domestic production target of 1.5 billion tonnes by 2020) and a growth in renewables (with aspirations to produce 175 gigawatts of renewable power by 2022).
Girls in India face many challenges. From the moment they are conceived, they are less likely to be born as compared to boys. This presence of “missing girls” appears to be linked to access to ultrasound technology. Moreover, girls also get breastfed for a shorter duration and get fewer childcare investments. Growing up, they are less likely to be educated than boys.
Studies of Indian politics have emphasized the importance of ethnicity to political behavior. Yet, India is a country where individuals simultaneously hold multiple ethnic identities of language, religion, and politicized umbrella caste categories (such as upper castes, backward castes, and scheduled castes), as well as highly localized sub-caste/kinship groups of “biradari” or “jati.” If individuals hold multiple identities, then which of these identities matter to voters at election time and why?
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 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?