Last week, approval of the critical Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Bill (Pension Bill) sailed through the Rajya Sabha without much drumbeating in the press. Overshadowed by news of the weakening rupee, the bill, nearly ten years in the making, will allow 26 percent foreign direct investment in the insurance sector, seeking to create some sort of regulation for the country’s almost nonexistent formal pension system.
Society & Culture
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 India today, matters of public interest seem to get their due only when the Supreme Court has added its two cents. Interest groups, representing both general and special interests, petition the judiciary actively. Debate on any topic often leads to the importance and activism of the Indian Judiciary. In an era where virtually all institutions in India have been vulnerable to political capture, the judiciary seems like the last hope for citizens to receive a fair hearing.
Last month when the song, “Bolo Na” from the 2012 film, Chittagong, received the national award for best lyrics, many music lovers not having heard it before immediately logged onto the Internet to hear the number. Written by Prasoon Joshi, the song talks about hesitant love; it has the flavor of early spring, of flowers yet to bloom.
If globalization is a game, India would seem to be one of its winners. The past decade has seen India record impressive economic growth and move into fast-moving high tech sectors. Nowhere is this transition more apparent than in information and communication technology (ICT). While China has made a name for itself making ICT hardware, India is known for its prowess in software. Multinational corporations from Microsoft to Adobe have set up R&D centers in India, while home-grown firms like Infosys and Wipro have taken advantage of the outsourcing boom to become global players.
On December 31, 2012, India completed its seventh two-year term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC), the world’s foremost multilateral institution for the maintenance of international peace and security. At the beginning, many analysts had described this period as an “audition” for a potential permanent seat, much desired by Delhi. By the end, many of the same analysts concluded that India had failed to impress.
Despite profoundly negative health consequences of indoor air pollution, about half of the households in the world cook using solid biomass fuels. The situation is much worse in India where 83 percent of rural households and nearly 20 percent of urban households still use firewood or animal dung as the primary source of energy for cooking. Burning these unprocessed biomass fuels in traditional open fire burners, or “chulhas,” results in an estimated half a million premature deaths and nearly half a billion illnesses each year.
With the emergence of India on the global scene as a player parlayed by the information technology revolution, its aspirations have received a new boost. Aside from being an economic power, it now aspires to be a knowledge power; a center of innovation and creative ideas. However, it is not on track to do so. While India has the resources to make this happen, the absence of fundamental institutional change makes reaching this goal very unlikely.