Ten laws that India should scrap

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Soutik Biswas

Old sign “Bangalore Telegraph Office” India still has a law regulating possession of telegraph wires – but telegram services ended last year

India’s archaic and obsolete laws are seen by many as its most burdensome legacy.

Among those which remain on the books are more than 300 dating from the colonial era, as well as rules to manage issues arising out of the Partition of India. There are more than a dozen laws imposing redundant taxes that yield little and cost a lot to collect, as well as outdated laws relating to former princely states and the nationalisation of industries and banks.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi says one of his missions is to rid India of a “maze of useless laws”.

During the election campaign he promised that for every law passed, his government would repeal 10 obsolete ones. More recently, in a speech at New York’s Madison Square Garden, he said he planned to get rid of one such law every day. His government has already placed a bill in parliament, recommending 36 obsolete laws be revised. A Delhi-based citizens’ group has gone a step further and compiled a list of 100 laws to delete from the statue books.

Here are 10 laws, picked at random, that India could easily get rid of:

India Treasure Trove Act, 1878

The law defines treasure specifically as “anything of any value hidden in the soil” and worth as little as 10 rupees (16 cents; 10 pence).

The finder of such treasure, according to the law, will need to inform the most senior local official of the “nature and amount or approximate value of such treasure and the place where it was found”.

Also, if the finder fails to hand over the booty to the government, the “share of such treasure … shall vest in Her Majesty”. It’s worth remembering that the British left India in 1947.

The Bangalore Marriages Validating Act, 1934

Walter James McDonald Redwood, a priest in the southern city of Bangalore, solemnised many local marriages during his time, mistakenly believing that he was authorised to do so.

The law was introduced to validate those marriages.

It’s less clear what relevance it has these days.

Salt Cess Act, 1953

The law levies a cess – a tax imposed for special administrative expenses – on salt manufacturers at the rate of 14 paise (2 cents) per 40kg on all salt made in a private or state-owned salt factory.
Salt worker in India A law imposes a marginal tax on salt, but the cost of collection is high

The proceeds – after deducting the cost of collection – are used to meet expenses of salt-making, labour welfare and research.

In 2013-14 collections from the tax amounted to $538,000 (£343,400), which was nearly half the cost of collecting it. Given that collections are so low, says the Delhi-based Centre for Civil Society, removing this act – and tax – would have little effect on the government’s finances.

A High Level Salt Enquiry Committee set up in 1978 recommended that the tax should be scrapped since the “annual collection was very small” while the total cost of collecting it was more than half of the total collection. The recommendation is still pending.

Although 92% of salt in India is produced by private companies, its salt industry is controlled by what is called the Indian Salt Service, employing some 800 officers.

Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950

The law regulates possession of telegraph wires by Indians.

A person who possesses telegraph wires – with precisely defined diameters – is expected to inform authorities about the quantity in his possession. Anybody possessing more than 10lb (4kg) of such wire has to convert the excess into ingots.

The problem with this law is India sent out its last telegram in July 2013, after which telegraph services were shut.

The Indian Post Office Act, 1898

The law says only the federal government has the “exclusive privilege of conveying by post, from one place to another”, most letters.
India post office The law says only the government is responsible for sending most letters

There are a few exceptions, including one particularly bizarre one: “Letters sent by a private friend in his way, journey or travel, to be delivered by him to the person to whom they are directed, without hire, reward or other profit or advantages for receiving, carrying or delivering them”.

India’s thriving courier industry circumvents this law by sending “documents” rather than letters.

The Sarais Act, 1867

The 145-year-old law deals with regulating public sarais (rest houses), including duties of the manager and “removal of noxious vegetation” on the site.

The law says sarais should also provide free drinking water to passers by – reports say it is often misused instead to harass hotel owners.

Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act, 1956

The law was enforced to “prevent the dissemination of certain publications harmful to young persons”.

A harmful publication is one that “tends to corrupt a young person” with pictures and stories which depict “violence or cruelty” or “incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature”.

Many believe that words such as repulsive and horrible are “vague and subject to arbitrary interpretation, and consequently lead to widespread discretion and serve as an excuse for harassment”.

For example, earlier this year, police in southern Kerala state raided shops selling Bob Marley T-shirts on the grounds that these encouraged youngsters to consume drugs – and shopkeepers were charged under the law.

The Aircraft Act, 1934

The law defines an aircraft as “any machine which can derive support in the atmosphere from reactions of the air”. So it includes “balloons, whether fixed or free, airships, kites, gliders and flying machines”.
Balloon sellers in India A law regulating airplanes includes balloons and kites

It also says only the government can make rules regarding “possession, use, operation, sale, import or export of any aircraft or class of aircraft”.

By this logic, it would be illegal to fly kites and balloons without government clearance in India.

The Registration of Foreigners’ Act, 1939

This law requires every foreigner staying in India for more than 180 days to report his/her entry, movement from one place to another and departure, to the authorities.

Introduced by the British to regulate the entry and movement of foreigners in India – particularly of Indian revolutionaries from abroad – the law also requires owners and managers of hotels and boarding houses, and aircraft or ships to report the presence of any foreigners.

Many say the law has become a tool to harass foreigners and is an impediment to India’s efforts to boost tourism.

The Sonthal Parganas Act, 1855

This discriminatory colonial law exempted areas populated by India’s Sonthal tribespeople from general laws and regulations because they were an “uncivilised race”.

The law, introduced to curb uprisings by isolating tribal populations, “violate the principles of equality under law adopted by our Constitution and give legitimacy to discrimination and ill-treatment of tribal populations in India”, according to a citizens’ group.(BBC)

I give you Narendra Modi

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“YEAH, go that way,” yells a frazzled cop guarding a security cordon outside Penn Station. Which pain-in-the-ass sports star or musician is snarling traffic around Madison Square Garden, an arena normally graced by WrestleMania, the Knicks and the Rolling Stones? Actually, today’s performer is a politician: Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister. Inside are over 18,000 Indo-Americans, as prosperous and upstanding a diaspora as you will find from the Redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters. They are willing themselves into the kind of obedient hysteria they were meant to have left behind generations ago in the badlands of Asia, along with hunger and snakes. “Modi, Modi, Modi,” shout the massed oncologists, engineers and entrepreneurs, wearing T-Shirts bearing his face and the slogan “Unity, Action, Progress”. An Americanised Bollywood dance troupe wearing fluorescent military uniforms gyrates to Bruce Springsteen’s anthem “Born in the USA”. The cries reach a lustier pitch. “Modi, Modi, Modi!”

In the India of the past six decades, events like this were a reliable shambles of short-circuiting loudspeakers, security guards with lathi sticks and feudal leaders with appalling punctuality. But since elections in May, India has been run by Mr Modi. He is, this adoring crowd believes, India’s Margaret Thatcher or Lee Kuan Yew. In time he will make India a success, not a continent-sized embarrassment; and the augury of that triumph is this show, slickly choreographed and punctuated by adoring Twitter messages shown on giant screens. Mr Modi hopes to achieve two things today: to begin to build an American support base strong enough to influence American policy towards India; and to provide TV images that can be beamed back home, confirming his status as a giant of the global stage, not just of India’s political scene.

At 11.45am precisely, a film shows a fantasy India of robots, billionaires’ houses and vast green fields. It meshes these images with shots of those who did not support, or probably would not have supported, Mr Modi: praying Muslims, and the two deceased heroes of India’s independence movement, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. Modi claims ownership of all of India now, even his foes. After decades of political struggle, he has transcended politics. Next, in response to a meticulous cue, a handful of blinking American Congressmen, who have been flattered or press-ganged into appearing, go on stage. They get a cheer: this may be the only place in the disunited states of America where that happens. The national anthems are sung: the Star Spangled Banner, first and with care, then India’s, with abandon.

And suddenly, just after mid-day, Mr Modi is standing on the same floodlit spot where Mick Jagger probably sang “Sympathy for the Devil”. Mr Modi ignores the dignitaries completely: idiots. He looks around the crowd smiling, savouring it all. After riots in the state of Gujarat in 2002 in which at least a thousand people, mainly Muslims, were killed, Mr Modi, then the state’s chief minister, was banned from travelling to America. American officials called him a monster, a demagogue, a fanatic. Now they close down Manhattan’s streets for him, and America’s politicians stand here as his stage props. Sweeter still, Mr Modi’s acceptability is not a product of his remorse or decisive acquittal, but of his power: winning an election in a country of 1.25 billion people. He doesn’t let his anger or sense of triumph show, though. To get here, to the Garden, Mr Modi has spent decades roaring himself hoarse thousands of times before crowds of peasants in parched fields. Now it is time for some magnanimity, at least at first.

He starts by explaining what is at stake for most Indians, which means reminding the crowd of the misery they left behind, a result of decades of failed economic policy. In India, he says, “the poorest of the poor are asking ‘How much longer can we live like this?’” Mr Modi calls himself a small man; a former tea-seller. He says he reveres democracy. Indians have lived like slaves for a thousand years, he notes, ruled by outsiders, most recently the British. Gandhi led the country to freedom, he says. Now India’s economic development “has to become a public movement,” too. “I have to create that kind of movement.” To anyone who has heard Mr Modi’s remarkable oratory at work in India, he seems subdued.

At least the crowd is not. “Modi, Modi, Modi!” Slowly, the bombast builds and with it the volume of Mr Modi’s trademark riffs on development, good governance and national glory. India has sent a rocket to Mars that cost less per kilometre than a rickshaw ride. India’s politicians have been obsessed by passing “this law and that law”—Mr Modi will “destroy” all redundant legislation and rules. The holy but toxic river Ganges will be purified by Mr Modi. “Will you help me?” he asks, and the audience screams back. “I have a dream,” he confides. By 2022 he promises every Indian will have a house. The pledge is significant for the implication that he will still be in power then.

“You have given me a lot of love,” Mr Modi cries. “This kind of love has never been given to an Indian leader before! And I will repay you by forming an India of your dreams!” Huge swarms of balloons tumble from the rafters. Mr Modi walks off the stage. “Man, that was something,” says a spectator in a suit as the crowd exits. Outside, in a strange salute to the mother country, there is a mini-riot over free handouts of Bhelpuri, a rice snack. And then the bearers of Mr Modi’s T-shirts spill out into Manhattan’s streets, suddenly swallowed by groups of orthodox Jews, Chinese tourists and billboards advertising Irish beer and Swedish bikini waxes. America’s Indian diaspora, entertained and enchanted, is heading back to the suburbs. And Mr Modi? His next stop will be the White House. (The Economist, London)

Bank accounts to 1.25 billion people?

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By Jungkiu Choi

When it comes to ambition, one cannot find fault with India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

His recent pledge to provide bank accounts to all of his country’s 1.2 billion people – and in particular its poorest citizens – is one of the most audacious ever announced by an Indian government.

It is ambitious because nearly 40% of Indians, or some 480 million people, have little or no access to financial services.

To put that in context, that is nearly one-and-a-half times the US population and nearly 17% of world’s entire “unbanked” population.

Even if the task at hand is difficult, it does not mean it is not a worthy goal.

As more people – especially the poor – gain access to financial services, they will be able to save better and get access to funding in a more structured manner.

This will reduce income inequality, help the poor up the ladder, and contribute to economic development.

But there are many hurdles India will need to overcome before its plan can make a significant impact.
The infrastructure barrier

The first is changing the mindset of what a bank “looks” like. And this will have to happen at all levels, from government to consumers to the banks themselves.

A nationwide network of typical brick-and-mortar branches is simply not a feasible option, from a timeline or profit standpoint. The government needs to realise this fast. At present, it is issuing licenses for new banks with a condition that 25% of the branches will be opened in rural areas.
PM Narendra Modi unveils the logo of a campaign aimed at opening millions of accounts for poor Indians in Delhi on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 On 15 August, PM Narendra Modi pledged to provide bank accounts to all of India’s 1.2 billion people

This may not a workable idea on many fronts, not least because of the lack of trained staff to work at these branches.

At the same time, the amount of profit and revenue that the branches in rural areas would generate may not justify the expenses.

As a result, banks must adapt their business models.

One way to do this is to tap into mobile banking, using the more than 900 million mobile phones in use in India.

Another is by using the ubiquitous mom-and-pop stores as channels for collecting and distributing funds, especially in rural areas, with simple cards to track money flows.

These shops provide great local access, as their customers tend to be regulars who have built a relationship of mutual trust with the owners.

Mann Deshi Mahila Bank in India, a co-operative bank, has used e-card technology to take its services to rural women. These e-cards instantly allow the bank’s field agents and clients to view savings account balance, loan account status, and repayment history.
Red carpet or red tape

On his recent visit to Japan, Mr Modi declared that India was replacing its infamous “red tape” culture with a “red carpet” mindset. The comment was aimed at attracting more foreign investors to India. His ambitious domestic banking plan could do with a similar change in attitude.

A key aspect to expanding the reach of the financial services to more people will be simplifying the regulatory environment around it.
Indians gather inside a state-owned bank to open accounts as part of a countrywide campaign to open millions of accounts for the poor in Delhi on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. The government aims to provide bank accounts to 75 million households by 2018

To begin with, customer documentation – currently a byzantine process requiring many forms of proof – must be simple enough so that people, especially those who have never been to a bank, won’t be scared off.

State-owned banks currently dominate India’s banking sector and they will be key to making Mr Modi’s plan a success.

However, they have long been averse to offering accounts to people with little money because of costs and low profits. The government has to make it easier and more lucrative for these lenders to operate in these areas.
Financial literacy

The unbanked in rural areas must adapt to the idea of banking and believe it is worth their time. The key to this is increasing financial literacy. Most of the target people are unlikely to have much knowledge about how they can use banking services to their benefit.

The government and banks have to take the lead in educating people about how they can use these services – savings or loans – to create wealth.
In this photograph taken on August 22, 2014, a customer deposits cash into his account at an Oriental Bank of Commerce branch in Mumbai. Cash is costly to print, move, secure, and store

One aim of the plan is to help the government pay rural poor their welfare benefits directly into accounts, cutting layers of corruption. This is an area where banks can tap into and create tailor-made products and services for customers to help them utilise these benefits better.

The banks can also reach out to these customers with more personalised help. For example, if farmers from a certain village are supplying milk to a dairy plant, the bank can use the plant’s accounting team to inform and educate farmers about how they can save money or get loans for buying new cattle.

The success of such an ambitious plan hinges on a holistic approach and multiple stakeholders playing a part, not just government policy.
Cashless future?

While we are talking about big ambitions, one major step could help this plan succeed: cutting India’s dependence on cash.

Cash is costly to print, move, secure, and store, yet it is basically free to users. Mobile and technology-enabled payments, on the other hand, can prove cheaper and more beneficial for the economic system including for the government, retailers, telecom operators and the banks.
An Indian bank official takes the thumb impression of a woman before opening her account as part of a countrywide campaign to open millions of accounts for the poor in Delhi, India, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 It is crucial to increase financial literacy, especially in rural areas

It won’t be easy to change this, but a combined effort by the various stakeholders can help build an electronic payment system. Not only would that reduce the costs of making banking more accessible in rural areas, it will also help India address the country’s many unaccounted cash transactions and the parallel underground economy.

Reaching 1.2 billion people may prove impossible in the long run – no developed country has achieved 100% banking so far. But if India can work towards addressing these challenges, financial inclusion in the country could increase significantly.

That can only be good news for Asia’s third-largest economy.

Jungkiu Choi, a former banker, is Partner, Financial Institutions Practice, with global management consulting firm AT Kearney.

Time is right

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By Robert M. Hathaway

The two countries have yet to embrace a common agenda that would lay the groundwork for what President Barack Obama has called “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.”

Responsibility for this failure lies with both sides. Until Modi’s sweeping electoral triumph a few months ago, New Delhi had been paralyzed with indecisiveness for several years. In Washington, the Obama administration has never convincingly explained where and how India fits into America’s broader geopolitical vision. Doing so should therefore be Hagel’s top priority during his upcoming trip to India.

One of the hallmarks of Obama’s foreign policy has been the rebalance or “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific.  To create the basis for a long-term Indo-American partnership, but also for reasons having nothing to do with bilateral U.S.-India ties, the administration needs to flesh out how the world’s second most populous country fits into the rebalance. After all, it is difficult to imagine a coherent U.S. approach to Asia that does not give Asia’s largest democracy a central role.

Is India even on Washington’s Asia-Pacific map?

Here the administration has been quite explicit. While secretary of state, Hillary Clinton defined Asia-Pacific as reaching “from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the Americas,” a geographical construct other senior officials have since repeated.  On the eve of their trip to India last week, Secretaries Kerry and Pritzker published a newspaper op-ed noting that India’s rise would help the “Indo-Pacific” – not “Asia-Pacific” – region become more stable, prosperous, and free.

The Pentagon’s press spokesman has told reporters that Hagel’s meetings in India will focus on the “converging interests” of India and the United States in the Asia-Pacific.  The list of topics where the two countries share interests, and where they might work together, features many of the issues each most worries about.

Energy-dependent India has as great a stake in keeping open the global sea lanes as the United States. Both, meanwhile, face a threat from terrorism, from the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and especially from the leakage of dangerous WMD technologies to terrorist groups. Both want a passably stable Afghanistan following the end of U.S. combat operations later this year.

Defense cooperation offers another promising venue for drawing India more deeply into the rebalance.  Pentagon officials have said they are ready to move forward on co-production and co-development proposals. Joint research into new defense technologies and platforms, perhaps including drones and missile defense, would combine India’s IT savvy with America’s high-end manufacturing strengths. Defense sales also hold promise;  Delhi wants greater access to sophisticated U.S. weapons, and American arms producers are keen to further penetrate the Indian market. A renewal of the current framework agreement governing U.S.-India defense relations, which expires next year, would constitute a substantive as well as symbolic step forward.

Many analysts have described the U.S. rebalance as a response to the extraordinary strides China has made in recent decades. And the reality is that India has yet to get over the humiliating defeat it suffered at the hands of the Chinese in the early 1960s, and fears that Beijing has designs on Indian territory. So a partnership designed to check Chinese ambitions would be attractive to many Indians.

True, New Delhi, uncertain of U.S. staying power, will be cautious about being drawn into a policy that seems to target Beijing. But this doesn’t mean that India needs to be persuaded of the utility of playing a more prominent role in Asian affairs – Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Abe enjoy close personal ties, and Modi is to visit Japan later this month. Indian warships recently joined the U.S. and Japanese navies in exercises off the Japanese coast.

The Obama administration has been at great pains to insist that the rebalance is not simply, or even primarily, a military policy.  Involving India more comprehensively in the discussion of regional and global political challenges would reinforce this point. And while this will not be part of Hagel’s agenda, progress in addressing some of the many bilateral economic and trade disagreements that mar the relationship would help clear the way for ultimately getting India into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the economic centerpiece of the rebalance.

“The United States and India can and should be indispensable partners,” Kerry said, before cautioning: “The words are easy; it’s the actions we need to take that will really define the relationship.”

Consciously or otherwise, the U.S. secretary of state has set forth the task awaiting his cabinet colleague. If the rebalance is to be more than a passing fad, Washington must incorporate India into its central structure.  And if India is to achieve its ambitions to be something more than merely a subcontinental power, it must be prepared to act as a great power in East as well as South Asia. ??

(Robert M. Hathaway is director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Asia Program, in Washington, DC.)

Independence Day speech: Seven key takeaways

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Narendra Modi

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his maiden Independence Day speech spoke on a wide range of issues, from financial inclusion schemes to stressing on need to enhance manufacturing.

Modi said that for India to make its presence felt on the global stage, there was immediate need to channelise the talent of the youth. He spoke of promoting Brand India and ensuring a better developed rural India. We take a look at the key takeaways from his speech:

1) Promote Made in India: Giving an open invitation to the world to make India a manufacturing hub, Modi said, “Come make in India. Be it plastics or cars or satellites or agricultural products, come make in India.”

We must dream of ‘Made in India’ products across the world. “We need to encourage the manufacturing sector. We need to channelise the strength of the youth through manufacturing,” Modi stressed. “Manufactured goods should have zero defect as also zero effect on environment,” Modi added.

“We should strive to be a nation that doesn’t import, but exports,” Modi said. “I urge the youth to reduce dependence on imported products,” Modi added.

2) Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana: Modi launched the ‘Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana’ to help poor open bank accounts which will come with the facility of a debit card and an insurance cover of Rs 1 lakh.

“We want to integrate the poorest of the poor with bank accounts with Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana,” Modi said. Observing that people have mobile phones but not bank accounts, Modi said, the scheme will help in bringing the benefits of formal banking system to them.

Under the Jan Dhan Yojana, he said, “the person who will open bank account will get a debit card and the family will get Rs 1 lakh insurance cover. This will help the family to tide over the unforeseen eventuality.”

3) Digital India: “We should dream of a Digital India. Digital India is a dream for the poor, with broadband connectivity, we can ensure long-distance education,” Modi said.

“Digital India is plan not for the benefit of the rich, but the poor,” Modi stressed. “e-governance is easy governance, efficient governance, and that is important,” he added.

4) Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana: Modi asked all MPs to developed a model village in their constituencies by 2016. “One village for a constituency should be developed on the model grounds. Two more can be developed by 2019.” “If we have to build the nation we have to start from the villages”

“If each MP decides to develop three villages over five years, so many villages in the country would have seen progress,” Modi added.

5) Moratorium on violence: Modi declared that he would like to run the country on the basis of consensus and not on majority in Parliament and called for a 10-year moratorium on caste and communal violence.

Modi also asked the misguided youth who have taken to terrorism and naxalism to shed their guns and adopt the path of peace and development.

6) Planning Commission to be replaced: Modi said that he would replace the Planning Commission that for decades guided the country’s economy with a more modern institution.

“The times have changed since the Planning Commission was created. In a short span of time we will initiative a new institution that will work in place of the Planning Commission,” Modi said. “We need creative thinking on the Planning Commission’s role.”

Soon after Modi’s speech it was announced that the Planning Commission would be replaced by National Development Reforms Commission.

7) Clean India: The government plans to launch the Swacch Bharat plan in October. “Let us pledge that we will not make surroundings dirty. Pledge to develop a clean India,” Modi said. “Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th anniversary is coming in a few years. How should we celebrate it? He respected cleanliness. We should pledge for clean India,” he added.

“We have to stress on cleanliness, sanitation. By 2019 we must ensure a Swacch Bharat. Modi went on to say, “Dignity of women is our responsibility. We have to ensure that we provide toilets for all.”

Modi appealed to all corporates, “Under CSR, please give importance to making toilets in schools within a year. Next year when we celebrate Independence Day, we should have made sure that there are toilets in every school.”

Is India’s politics becoming less dynastic?

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Soutik Biswas

Serving up some revealing data on the stranglehold of family and lineage on Indian politics, historian Patrick French wrote in his 2011 book India: A Portrait that if the trend continued, India could slide back to the days when it was ruled by a “hereditary monarch and assorted Indian princelings”. He also expressed concern that the next Lok Sabha – the lower house of parliament to which 543 MPs are directly elected – would be a “house of dynasts”.

New research by political scientist Kanchan Chandra of New York University actually points to a fall in the number of dynastic MPs in the new parliament, formed after May’s general election.

Professor Chandra found that 21% of the MPs in the new parliament have a dynastic background, down from 29% in the last parliament. (A survey by The Hindu newspaper, however, found a quarter of MPs – 130 – in the current parliament have a dynastic background.)

Also, 24% of India’s new cabinet, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is dynastic in nature, down from 36% in the previous Congress-led government.

The fall in numbers of dynastic MPs in the parliament may have something to do with the massive victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is considered to be less dynastic than the Congress party it replaced in government. (The BJP alone has 282 of the 336 MPs in the ruling coalition.)

“For me the decline in numbers of dynastic MPs is significant,” Baijayant Jay Panda, a prominent MP from the regional Biju Janata Dal (BJD) party, told me. “I think we will see a further fall in numbers in future parliaments.”

Professor Chandra is not so sure.
Favourable to dynasty

She says most parties, including the ruling BJP, are favourable to dynastic politicians: 15% of the BJP’s MPs and 26% of its cabinet are dynastic, and a number of its chief ministers have had their family members follow them in political positions.

Of the 36 political parties that have now at least one seat in the parliament, the leaders of at least 13 (36%) were preceded by family members who were MPs. Also, as Professor Chandra says, the rise of “young, aspirational voters does not quite represent a deterrent to dynastic politics”.
Minister and MP Ram Bilas Paswan (right) with his son and newly elected MP Chirag Paswan Minister and MP Ramvilas Paswan (right) and his son and newly elected MP Chirag Paswan run a regional party

This appears to be borne out somewhat by a survey of young voters by the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in 2011 that found that although the majority of young voters – 18-30 years of age – opposed dynastic politics in general, they preferred voting for a dynastic candidate when a dynasty was associated with youth.

More interestingly, another study by Milan Vaishnav, Devesh Kapur and Neelanjan Sircar earlier this year found that 46% of Indians had no problems supporting dynastic politicians. “What we found was kind of shocking,” said Mr Vaishnav. “Nearly one in two Indians say, if I had a choice, I would prefer to vote for a candidate who has a family background.”
Regional dynasts

Also, India’s Nehru-Gandhi family which leads the Congress is no longer the only dynastic party. The fragmentation of Indian politics has led to a sharp rise in parties led by regional dynasts – at least 15 of them remain politically significant despite many having fared badly in the recent elections. No wonder, as Professor Chandra points out, dynastic politics is alive and well in the states: 28% of the state governments are led by a dynastic chief minister.

To be sure, politics is not the only sphere where India tolerates dynasties – they dominate businesses, Bollywood and many other spheres of life.

In politics, dynasties offer readymade kinship networks that substitute for party organisations. Dynastic politics, Professor Chandra argues, is also linked to “increasing returns from state power” – public officials continue to yield enormous discretion in the exercise of power and patronage from what remains a large and powerful state.

But things, Mr Panda insists, are changing.

He believes that more first-generation politicians with no dynastic links are coming up than ever before and predicts that regional dynasties will splinter further and wither away. Most importantly, he says, social media is making it easier for politicians to organise networks without depending on families.

“When you are a dynastic politician you easily inherit the network that helps you win election. But the advent of the social media shows that this advantage is breaking down and politics is becoming a more level playing field,” Mr Panda says. For evidence, he points out the way the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) used social media successfully in Delhi’s state elections last year to mobilise supporters.

“I am not saying,” Mr Panda cautions, “that dynasties will vanish overnight. “But as more and more young Indians get connected to the world, there will be a breaking down of established modes of feudalism. That includes dynastic politics.”
Soutik Biswas, Delhi correspondent Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

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