If we consider recent elections in India, one could say that the seeds for alternative politics have been sown. But why, despite so much support in the media and its spectacular debut in Delhi, did the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) secure only four Lok Sabha seats? An understanding of the sociology of the elections, through the lens of Mewat, attempts to explore one aspect of this. While specific to Mewat, these observations are not necessarily unique to the region.
Society & Culture
The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) were founded almost five decades ago with the objective of providing technological leadership to a new and resurgent India, driven by Nehru’s deep commitment to science-led development. Whether they provided technological leadership to India or not remains debatable given the large numbers of their (under) graduates who have migrated abroad or have shifted to non-technical careers.
Two months ago, India conducted the largest democratic exercise in history. The 2014 General Election, enacted in nine phases over a five-week period, witnessed 553.8 million voters cast ballots to constitute the 16th Lok Sabha. The resurgence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) captured headlines and, in effect, diverted attention from a disconcerting growth in gross electoral spending. With an estimated $5 billion price tag, including a cost of nearly $600 million to the government exchequer, the recent election ranks among the costliest in the history of democracy.
On the campaign trail, Chief Minister Narendra Modi touted muscular rhetoric and a “zero tolerance” policy towards Naxalism, but those expecting Prime Minister Modi’s government to overhaul the existing strategy – his plan to tinker at the margins notwithstanding – should not hold their breath. The Naxal insurgency was described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as India’s “single biggest internal-security challenge” and estimated to affect one-third of India’s districts.
The seasonal migrant labor population of India is estimated by some migration scholars to be as high as 100 million. Labor migrants face barriers in accessing social services and settling permanently in urban areas and often prefer to keep their link with the village, especially during the agricultural season. As a result, they “circulate” between their village and various “destination areas” for labor work, spending significant portions of the year away from home.
In 1988, India became the first country to ban the novel, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, following pressure from the leaders of the Muslim community. Today, India continues its banning spree, reflecting the deep and growing unease with the freedom to express, an unease which goes back to the time when the Constitution was seventeen months old and measures were put in place to check its steps forward.
Since 1991, when the Maharashtra Chief Minister launched a plan to transform Bombay into a “world class city” modeled on Singapore, the face of the city of Bombay (now Mumbai) has witnessed dramatic changes.
In the last fifteen years, India has seen the adoption of an “alphabet soup” of ambitious national anti-poverty programs: a rural connectivity scheme (PMGSY), a universal primary schooling initiative (SSA), a rural health initiative (NRHM), a rural electrification scheme (RGGVY), a rural employment guarantee (NREGA), a food subsidy (Food Security Act), and a new digital infrastructure for transferring benefits directly to the poor (UID). Quietly, these programs are delivering genuine benefits on the ground and revolutionizing India’s anti-poverty policies.
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.
India is facing major challenges in higher education. In 2007, Prime Minister Singh noted that in almost half of India’s districts, higher education enrollments were “abysmally low” and that two-thirds of Indian universities and 90 percent of Indian colleges were rated as below average on quality parameters.