Bihar is seen as a bellwether state to gauge political trends in north India.
Three decades ago - emergence of politics shaped around identities - Caste
Campaigning and voting for Bihar’s assembly election - politics here is once again in midst of a far-reaching transition
Employment opportunities, or their absence, was the hot button topic.
According to CMIE data, Bihar’s unemployment rate in October was 9.8%, about three percentage points higher than the national average.
The state was amongst the worst hit by the lockdown as a large number of young people migrate out in search of jobs.
Manufacturing in Bihar’s economy is less than half the size of its agricultural sector.
Therefore, the state’s per capita income is the lowest and there’s pressure to migrate in search of opportunity.
Bihar has to instill confidence in industry that it presents a good opportunity for investment.
This transition in Bihar’s politics is the single biggest gain of the election.
India And Biden
New Delhi is now preparing to work with a new U.S. administration
On the one hand, Mr. Narendra Modi invested considerably in the Trump administration
“2+2” talks just before the U.S. elections
On the other hand, Mr. Biden, a long-time supporter of the U.S.-India relationship, brings to his presidency both the comfort of his understanding of foreign policy and the promise of future strategic ties.
Foreign policy itself may not be his immediate priority, given the U.S.’s battle with the coronavirus pandemic, and the President-elect’s goal, which he articulated on Sunday, to “heal” rifts in its polity and “restore the soul of America”.
However, it is clear that he will make moves to reverse some of the Trump-era policies.
He is unlikely to reverse the Afghan pullout and instead might make it a more measured exit.
On China, he is likely to adopt a less confrontational attitude while maintaining a pushback.
Jammu and Kashmir, and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act
Mr. Biden’s presidency promises a change in leadership style, with broader powers to advisers and process-driven decisions.
Policy consistency is likely to be preferred to a more personalised summit style.
Mr. Biden’s stated intention to re-energise the multilateral global order, and to restore the U.S.’s position in “leading not by the example of [its] power, but by the power of example”.
COVID-19, climate and carbon neutrality
History is divided into two periods: Before the Common Era or BCE and Common Era or CE.
But given our experience this year, BCE could well stand for Before the COVID-19 Epidemic and CE for the COVID-19 Epidemic.
Our lives have been turned upside down.
The COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath can be seen either as a longish pause on the button of economic growth or as an opportunity for reset, recalibration and rethink.
Certainly calls for enhanced investments in research and development that impinges directly on public health
Evidence has accumulated that loss of biodiversity and ever-increasing human incursions into the natural world have contributed heavily to the outbreak and spread of epidemic diseases.
Understanding the three Es — evolution, ecology and the environment — will be key to identifying potential pandemics.
COVID-19 also reinforces the need to pay far greater attention to the biosciences that underpin agriculture, health and the environment that are going to be profoundly impacted by the current pandemic.
There is also now robust scientific evidence to show, for instance, how air pollution exacerbates the impacts of COVID-19.
Our environmental problems — such as air pollution, water pollution, chemical contamination, deforestation, waste generation and accumulation, land degradation and excessive use of pesticides — all have profound public health consequences both in terms of morbidity and mortality and hence demand urgent actions.
We live in a world where climate change is a reality.
No longer can we argue about uncertainties in the monsoon, the frequency of extreme events, the retreat of the Himalayan glaciers and the increase in mean sea levels.
A recent report of the Ministry of Earth Sciences called ‘Assessment of climate change over the Indian region’ is an excellent and up-to-date analysis that deserves wider debate and discussion.
It also points to the need for making our future science and technology strategy in different areas anchored in an understanding of the impacts of climate change caused by continued emissions of greenhouse gases.
This scientific understanding is essential for what may be a solution at one point of time but becomes a problem at another point and may even become a threat in a different context.
In September 2018, the American State of California — the world’s fifth largest economy in itself — was the first to commit itself to carbon neutrality. The aim was to achieve this by 2045.
In December 2019, a few weeks before the world became aware of the COVID-19 catastrophe, the European Union followed California’s example but with the year 2050 in mind.
In September 2020, China stunned the world by declaring its goal of carbon neutrality by 2060.
Japan and South Korea joined the club by announcing their intention to do so by 2050.
At the Paris climate change conference in December 2015, we committed to having 40% of our electricity-generating capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by the year 2030.
However, carbon neutrality is something different - it should mean that for a country, carbon emissions are equal to absorptions in carbon sinks, of which forests are one.
It will involve massive scientific invention and technological innovation especially when it comes to removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
The post-COVID-19 world is an opportunity for us to switch gears and make a radical departure from the past to make economic growth ecologically sustainable.
One estimate widely quoted that something like 70% of the infrastructure required in India by the year 2050 is waiting to be established.
However, in this post-COVID-19 world, we should make efforts to ensure that the ‘G’ in GDP is not ‘Gross’ but ‘Green’.
India can and should show to the world how the measurement of economic growth can take place while taking into account both ecological pluses and minuses.
Turning the spotlight on America’s election custodian
US election - Missing - Election Commission
Having been the Chief Election Commissioner (when I presided over the 2009 general election) this has struck me as a strange vacuum.
In India, our constitutional fathers had debated in the Constituent Assembly itself the necessity of imbuing the ECI with enormous power, of course to be exercised during the course of elections, and strictly on other election-related matters.
By virtue of being the custodian of the electoral roll, all matters related to keeping the roll updated, fall under the ECI’s domain.
Indeed, so vast are the powers accorded to the ECI during the election process that even the higher judiciary does not interfere during the course of the election process.
For a start, the Federal Election Commission has a much narrower mandate than its Indian equivalent.
Moreover, the Federal Election Commission (https://www.fec.gov/) was established comparatively recently — it ‘opened its doors’ in 1975, with the special mandate to regulate campaign finance issues.
As a watchdog, it is meant to disclose campaign finance information, to enforce the law regarding campaign contributions, and oversee public funding of the presidential election.
The Federal Election Commission is led by six Commissioners.
The six posts of Commissioner are supposed to be equally shared by Democrats and Republicans, and too have to be confirmed by the Senate.
But at the time of this most critical presidential election, there are vacancies.
In fact the Commission has hardly been able to function in the last year because of resignations, with the result that barring a brief two months, from May to July this year, the Commission has effectively passed no orders at all since August 2019, because it has lacked a quorum — for which at least four members are needed.
As a result, several hundred matters lie pending before the Federal Election Commission for want of members.
In sharp contrast, our Constitution’s fathers decided to limit the role of the judiciary in India to the post-election period, when election petitions may be filed.
The founding fathers were clear that if election-related petitions were entertained during the course of the election process, it would impede the process and delay election results interminably.
These delays and the acrimony, so adroitly avoided in India during the election process, is precisely what we are seeing now in the U.S..
However, India would do well to take a leaf out of the U.S. system’s book when it comes to postal balloting.
In the 2016 U.S. election,almost a quarter of the votes counted arose from postal and early balloting.
In India we have confined postal ballots to only a few categories, of largely government staff (for example those on election duty) as well as the police or armed forces.
In these difficult times of the novel coronavirus pandemic, we need to widen this base to include all senior citizens and anyone else who may find it convenient to cast their vote early.
In sharp contrast, and ever since our first election in 1951-2 and every single election since, our political parties, losers and winners alike, have invariably accepted the results declared by the Election Commission of India, with the result that the baton has passed on in a graceful and smooth manner.