December 12th, 2012
05:58 PM ET

India in 2013: Another year of paralysis?

This is the third in a series of entries looking at what we can expect in 2013. Each weekday, a guest analyst will look at the key challenges facing a selected country – and what next year might hold in store.

By Madhav Nalapat, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Madhav Nalapat holds the UNESCO Peace Chair at Manipal University in India. The views expressed are the author's own.

Although independent India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a democrat, neither he nor apparently his colleagues in the Congress Party thought it necessary to do away with the colonial laws that had underpinned British rule. Across a wide range of functions that in normal democracies would be the prerogative of the citizen alone, the British-era laws retained by Nehru and his successors have ensured that the people of India have to routinely petition some government office or other in order to get official permission before embarking on any of a range of tasks.

In the past, businesspeople “paid and played.” Now, as some wags put it, they “pay and pray,” because decisions for which cash have been exchanged are seldom coming. The country has seen new projects slow to a crawl, even in sectors vital to growth such as energy and infrastructure. Should this paralysis in decision-taking continue into 2013, the continued deterioration of India’s economic performance could start to look a lot like the chaos of 1992.

Rather than chip away at colonial-style state prerogatives, successive governments in India have only added to the list of state functions and powers. As a result, “free” India’s legal system contains a dense overlay of regulations, many of which carry the punishment of incarceration if ignored. Most of those tossed into India’s fetid jails have been deprived of their freedom for deeds which would have merited at worst a reprimand in a more complete democracy. Whether it be a household, a factory or a service establishment, each has to run a daily gauntlet of dozens of laws to ensure that they stay within the country’s British-era laws.

There is, of course, an easy way of escaping accountability in India, and that is to pay a bribe. The colonial system being tailor-made for such illegitimate exactions, it is no wonder both politicians and officials in “democratic” India swear by it, and refuse to replace it with a system of laws that regards the citizen as being honest unless proved otherwise. Sadly, since Sonia Gandhi became the effective head of the government in 2004, a raft of laws and procedures have been introduced to compound this, meaning that even something as innocuous as a racy exchange on Facebook can land you in jail. Expect the debate over freedom of expression in India to be another feature of 2013. After all, the Information Technology Act passed without opposition in parliament, despite being draconian in its scope. It is being repeatedly misused to jail those who offend powerful interests.

While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is, unusually in India, an honest politician, the government he technically heads is regarded by many as among the most venal of any since 1947. The silver lining is that the scale of graft has finally resulted in a fight back by the Indian public, and so we can expect to see growing demands next year among civil society for a governance structure under which the citizen has greater say over his or her own life.

Indeed, ever since the Commonwealth Games scandal exploded across television screens in 2010, civil society has been hyperactive in protesting government graft. The consequence has been that at least a small proportion of guilty individuals have actually been sent to prison, though not of course for long. The Indian media, itself often the creature of business interests that are less than ethical, has been forced by pressure from the blogosphere into giving prominence to stories about official graft and misfeasance, thereby pressing those at the top to take at least a few token steps towards punishing the guilty.

Yet although very few have been held properly to account so far, even these hesitant steps have been enough to scare several officials (and even a few of their political heads) from taking decisions of any magnitude. The consequence has been a paralysis in decision-making within the central government, a hiatus that has gone on for at least the past two years.

So where does all this leave us? One more year of this kind of paralysis at the central government level, and it will take a miracle to get India’s growth story back from the intensive care unit and to robust health. Sadly, under the current leadership, the prognosis for the next 12 months is not looking good.

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Topics: 2013: What's Next? • India

soundoff (126 Responses)
  1. Bob

    India is a drag on region, a dinosaur that should exploded further

    December 14, 2012 at 7:26 am | Reply
  2. Sammy T

    80% of Indians live in rural areas, are poverty stricken and are starving

    December 14, 2012 at 7:27 am | Reply
    • Sammy T

      Most of these are uneducated and suffer from gastro enteritis problems

      December 14, 2012 at 7:28 am | Reply
  3. Sammy T

    50% of hindu children are born out of wedlock.

    December 14, 2012 at 7:29 am | Reply
  4. Zach S

    EU has started process of taking India to woodshed for militiarizing Myanmar

    December 14, 2012 at 7:32 am | Reply
  5. Zach S

    I will not tolerate India draggin the world down. Take it down without further ado

    December 14, 2012 at 7:33 am | Reply
  6. Zainab-Lucknow-India

    Pakistan is very lucky to have some time to fix the legislative issues at hand as one of the mischievous neighboring country to the east is languishing in economic malaise and short of cash to create problems. I aspire one day to migrate to a muslim country where I can enjoy freedom and equal opportunities in education, employment, social acceptance etc. It was a mistake to stay back in Hindustan after it was imploded in 1947. It has been nothing but torture. We are organizing an approach to US Congress to investigate the deplorable condition of muslims in India. Not to mention the genocide happening in Indian Occupied Kashmir.

    December 14, 2012 at 7:50 am | Reply
  7. lovUSA

    Apparently Ram was banging Kali Maa several times a day before Hanuman joined in and made it into a three some. This is common in Hindu families where they start off their daughters at about 4 years in having s@x and sell them off to old and rich farmers

    December 14, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Reply
  8. saurov

    Does Shiva have a lulli?

    December 15, 2012 at 7:38 am | Reply
    • lovUSA

      Shiva is a girl....has no lulli

      December 15, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Reply
  9. lovUSA

    Lord Krishna got neutered today. Andrew Zimmern chewed up his b-lls !!!

    December 15, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Reply
  10. Raj Kapoor

    Has anybody seen Kali Maa today. i have been looking for her. have 10 young children to sacrifice today.

    December 15, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Reply
  11. Alex

    http://escapefromindia.wordpress.com – enough said

    December 20, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Reply
  12. Dharma

    Dharma

    Where is the CNN blog moderator? Please delete these posts flagged as inappropriate. There are tons of Pakistani trolls as usual making inappropriate comments on religion, minorities, ethnic tribes etc. List of some names is below:
    lovUSA
    ShankarH
    Rosenthal
    Amelio
    Diablo
    RajKapoor
    Zainab-Lucknow-India

    January 9, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Reply
  13. ScernEnrott

    Warehouse of films on

    July 27, 2013 at 7:11 am | Reply
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