INDIAN GENERAL ELECTION 2019: TOWARDS A HUNG PARLIAMENT?

by Siddharth
Senior Editor

As the world’s largest democracy, India establishes the record for the largest number of votes cast every time it holds its general election. Elections in India are always celebrated like festivals, complete with their own rituals in the press, rhetoric by contestants, and excitement amongst the masses. There are many reasons as to why the coming election in India (due in April and May 2019) will be especially interesting and perhaps even peculiar.

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DIGITAL INDIA: GROWTH AND CHALLENGES OF INDIA’S TECHNOLOGICAL BOOM

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by Pankhuri Prasad
Staff Writer

On Oct. 3, 2018, UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) hosted “Digital India: Opportunities and Challenges,” the latest event in a series celebrating the thirty-year anniversary of GPS. From Oct. 2018 through Aug. 2019, there will be events and activities to commemorate the accomplishments of GPS. These are designed to spark informative and meaningful conversations. A critical theme of the series is the fusion of technology and policy in the 21st Century, which was explored extensively at the “Digital India” event.

The event centered around a talk by Aruna Sundararajan, Secretary of the Indian Department of Telecommunications and Pacific Leadership Fellow. Sundararajan is a distinguished public servant with over three decades of experience in the telecom field. She talked about the current government’s ambitious project, “Digital India” which spans three fronts—services, infrastructure and public empowerment.

Sundararajan addressed the many public policy difficulties this project has brought upon India, which still faces the challenge of providing two-thirds of the population with access to the internet. Over the past two years, the telecom industry has transformed completely. With the emergence of new providers and competitive pricing, one can get two gigabytes of high-speed internet per day for as little as $3.50 a month. This means millions of Indians now suddenly have access to the internet and this has had a far-reaching impact. Many new businesses have emerged such as ride-sharing taxis, digital wallets and e-commerce portals. As a result of the project, increased social media use has led to direct, effective political interactions where you can see top government officials responding to complaints by citizens over Twitter. The process of digitization has been fast paced primarily due to “IndiaStack,” a set of standardized digital tools which allow governments, businesses and developers to utilize a unique digital infrastructure to solve one of India’s biggest problems—inefficiency. Something as basic as opening a bank account or renewing a driver’s license used to take months due to a combination of inflexible rules and archaic data collection methods. IndiaStack changed the status quo by utilizing internet access to provide software tools for paperless, cashless and digital service delivery.

According to Sundararajan, the process of digitizing India is unique because of the unprecedented aspirations attached to it. As a result, 1.3 billion people now feel they will be able to use the internet to change their lives for the better. Even a small business in a remote part of the country suddenly has the chance to make it big. However, it is important to remember that digitization, with all the great potential and ideas attached to it, has a dark side as well. Many Indians are resistant to the changes brought up by digitization. Traditional taxi drivers have engaged in violent attacks on drivers from Uber and other ride-share services. The government faces a massive challenge of curbing the spread of false information and its repercussions. Unsubstantiated information circulating over social media, such as allegations of child kidnappings, have led to incidents where mobs of people have lynched those accused to death.

The talk concluded with the speaker reiterating the need to promote innovation and manufacturing in order to sustain India’s growing digital-telecom appetite. Policy makers must account for factors such as cyber security, the spread of false information and the role of social media as they legislate on digital regulations. Access to internet and telecom services may have seemed like a luxury at first but it is now a necessity, if not a right, for people across the world. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from India’s story—a country with over 1.3 billion people and an intricate socio-economic setup. Increased government effort in actively digitizing all government services has been a major catalyst in changing India. Amid growing public concern about data privacy and mass surveillance, the talk was helpful in providing an insider’s knowledge about the evolution of India’s telecom sector.

Picture Reference: Digital India: Opportunities and Challenges. School of Global Policy and Strategy at UCSD, 2018.

AMIDST KERALA FLOODS, INDIAN GOVERNMENT REFUSES FOREIGN AID

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by Tenzin Chomphel
Director of Marketing

August 24th, 2018: The monsoon season of India typically runs from June to September, bringing sporadic rainfall throughout the summer. This year, however, the southern state of Kerala received a 40 percent increase in rainfall, resulting in the worst torrential flooding the state has seen in a century. Entire towns have been engulfed by the waters and people have been evacuated by the thousands. Over 1.2 million individuals are currently homeless, taking refuge in camp shelters spread across affected areas. The death toll has risen to 373, mostly from landslides, and dozens are still missing.

In the long term, many locals will have to deal with the destruction of their homes and those with homes still intact may have to wait up to a year to return. “My house is full of mud and almost everything I own now is damaged,”one citizen said to a BBC reporter.  

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a  visit to Kerala to assess the damages and agreed to a grant of roughly 70 million USD for aid purposes. While this grant will provide some relief, it is only a fraction of the estimated three billion in damages caused by the flooding. The United Arab Emirates offered 100 million USD to aid the recovery, but surprisingly the Indian central government has refused to accept this foreign aid.

The National Disaster Management plan developed by the central government in 2016 states that India, will not “issue any appeal for foreign assistance in the wake of a disaster.” If offered voluntarily, however, the Indian government may accept this offer, but so far all offers of foreign monetary aid have been rejected. The government has also stated that representatives of international foundations that wish to contribute can do so through existing relief funds belonging to the Indian prime minister or the Kerala government.

Many within India are furious at these actions, or lack thereof, citing the fact that the central government has accepted multiple offers in the past for external assistance. Recent examples include the Swachh Bharat, India’s nationwide street clean-up campaign, which has gathered external assistance since its conception in 2014. One reason for the government’s resistance to foreign aid may be the underlying desire to avoid being seen as weak. Government spokespersons have confirmed the agenda of “Changing India’s image for the world” to being an “aid giver, not an aid taker,” suggesting that the government believes accepting foreign aid in the context of a national disaster would tarnish its current reputation as a rising world power. This, coupled with Modi’s existing distaste for international NGOs, will continue to make it difficult for external aid to get through to the people of Kerala.

Kerala’s finance minister Thomas Isaac points towards political discrimination as another possible explanation for the state’s insufficient aid package. “We are a leftist government in Kerala,” he says in opposition to the right-wing governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Some of the most vocal members of the BJP consist of Hindu nationalist groups, which have argued the floods as deserved due to Kerala’s lack of observant Hindus. The Malayali peoples of Kerala have had a long culture of eating beef, which is considered taboo within the Hindu religion. Intolerance towards those who partake in this diet has existed for centuries, but attention is focused on recent acts of cow slaughter in Kerala, commonly done in protest against the central government. Far-right cow protectionist groups have cited the floods as divine punishment for this accused crime. These groups, as well as the politicians that defend their actions, have exacerbated this divide to contentious levels.

Whether the motivations behind these actions pertain to pride, prejudice or a mix of both, the people of Kerala are hoping to see more effort by the central government as soon as possible to fill this relief gap.

 

Photo by Tom Oliver