Why do the lights go out more often in some Indian states than others? While India has recently seen great gains in generation capacity and rural electrification, many utilities are still trapped in a vicious cycle of underpayment, underinvestment, and dismal performance. The effects are huge: in 2010 the World Bank estimated the cost of electricity shortages at 7 percent of India’s GDP.
Society & Culture
India’s Africa policy over the past few decades has oscillated between passive and reluctantly reactive at best. Strategic apathy toward the continent was obvious on many fronts. Not only did countries in Africa not feature in New Delhi’s larger foreign policy matrix, but until recently there wasn’t any significant attention paid to the continent. Indian leaders seldom travelled to African nations and very rarely did they feature in conversations surrounding New Delhi’s foreign policy ambitions.
Imagine moving countries for a brand-new job, only to discover that you have been sold to your employer for $4,700. It sounds preposterous, but is the real-life story of Salma Begum, a 39-year-old Indian Hyderabadi woman, which made headlines last year. Salma, duped by fraudulent recruitment agents, was sold to her employer, who tortured her after she refused to marry him. While Salma made it to Mumbai after an intervention by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, hordes of blue collar migrants in similar positions are not as fortunate.
Are rural Indian voters sophisticated enough to navigate the complexities of local elections in India? The 1992 passage of the 73rd amendment gave constitutional status to village councils—rural India’s lowest tier of government— and mandated regular elections for village council (gram panchayat or GP) members and the GP president, resulting in millions of elected positions in local government. This empowered village leaders, and particularly the GP president (sarpanch) with substantial discretion over the local implementation of government programs.
Inclusive Growth—also called “pro-poor” growth—has become an important idea in the development discourse in India. It has widespread support because it combines the two most important ideas in development: income growth along with a progressive (or more egalitarian) distribution. The term was first embraced in the early 2000s by the UPA-1 government under PM Manmohan Singh. It has since been taken up by the NDA government under PM Narendra Modi. But is “inclusive growth” anything more than a slogan like “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas?”
Women have made significant contributions to agriculture in India. The current situation of rural transformation has brought to light women’s roles in agriculture. Typically, any discussion on this topic tends to focus on the most obvious trends; the proportion of women working in the agricultural sector as self-employed, unpaid help or wage labor. What is ignored is an important and interesting shift in women’s roles: women are increasingly participating in farms as managers and decision-makers.
The Supreme Court of India’s recent verdict (Justice Puttaswamy v Union of India) affirming the right to privacy has been followed by a frenetic state effort to link multiple identification numbers and welfare programs with the nation’s controversial biometric program, Aadhaar. This attempt to present a fait accompli of sorts when the constitutional challenge to Aadhaar comes up for hearing is not a new development; the linking between Aadhaar and Permanent Account Numbers used for taxation purposes is a case in point.
The Government of India’s Economic Survey of India this year bemoaned that India’s states are more interested in “competitive populism” (handing out goods and services) than “competitive service delivery.” As a result, India continues to suffer from weak state capacity, which means the Indian state is very inefficient at providing health care and education, or at implementing programs which are intended to support the poor.
Indians care about skin color. Doctors will tell you there are two things that parents want to know about a new born: their gender and their skin tone. In 2014, people in India spent Rs. 3,695 Crores ($550 million) on fairness products; cosmetic conglomerate advertisements constantly remind consumers that success in marriage and the job market are only a fairness cream away. But can fair skin enable candidates to win elections?
In summer 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered the inaugural speech for the launch of Digital India, his program to “transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.” In the speech, Modi announced that “IT + IT = IT” or, as he elaborated, “Indian Talent + Information Technology = India Tomorrow.” Modi went on to say that technology is the most important thing India should teach its children.