sharing in governance of extractive industries

Climate Change Politics and the All-India Election 2019

Voters in a queue at apolling booth to cast their vote, in Delhi Assembly Election-2008, on November 29, 2008. Attribution: Election Commission (GODL-India)

This April and May, 2019, will see parliamentary elections in India, a national poll that has international significance – not least with respect to the politics of “global heating.”


Electoral Contestation

These elections will be fought out between two mainstream blocs: the National Democratic Alliance of current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a bloc lead by his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); and the United Progressive Alliance led by Rahul Gandi, scion of that pre-eminent Indian political family, and leader of once-dominant Indian National Congress (INC). Until fairly recently, it seemed that the election would be a walkover for Modi and the BJP, however recent mishaps and (more charitably) able INC campaigning has seen a significant tightening of opinion polls. Nevertheless, the BJP remains firmly in the box seat.


Incumbency - Modi’s BJP

Let’s start with the BJP’s plans, not least in light of the BJP’s opinion poll lead and the fact of their incumbency. All in all, the BJP is the default natural starting point for consideration of All-India political discourse, given the centrality that the party has achieved at the federal level.


Positively, the BJP identifies that "mitigating (the) threat (of climate change) by building a low carbon economy is the biggest economic opportunity of the 21st century." Hence, in its manifesto, the BJP commits, if reelected to All-India government, to "pursue national growth objectives through an ecologically sustainable pathway that leads to mitigation of GHG emissions, recognising that containing global warming is essential to protecting [the] life and security of people and [the] environment."


Congress – the INC – and, naturally, Ganhdi

In the meantime, the INC’s manifesto commits, like that of the BJP, to investing in non-fossil fuel energy generation including renewable energy. A distinguishing feature of INC downstream energy policy is its particular commitment to nuclear energy; the 2019 manifesto reflects a continuation of that policy preference. The manifesto also commits the INC to creating a special purpose vehicle aimed at good governance of India’s natural resource endowments: “We will ensure that an independent regulator monitors the process of natural resource allocation in a manner that best serves the nation’s interest.” 

Personally, I am not convinced by, in particular, the INC’s governance initiative as presented above, since it seems vague and non-specific, and perhaps directed at kicking the difficult issue of a low-carbon energy transition as far down the road as possible, rather than making difficult, painful but necessary decisions on global heating mitigation.

A backward look at the INC’s most recent track record in government (i.e. to 2014) is instructive on climate change issues: the party’s record in that government is neither woeful nor wonderful, but rather suggestive of seminal change away from unhelpful and unresponsive policies on tackling global climate-change, to a more constructive and positive position.

The one person who embodies this seminal shift is that of the INC’s Power Ministry Minister of State, Jairam Ramesh, who represents a bridge from the previous Indian government positions to the ones of the present day. Ramesh was in Ministerial post at the time of 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15) and both his interventions, and the perceptions of such intervention, is illuminating. He was seen as offering ‘some degree of credibility internationally’ on climate change policy, which is itself a loaded observation regarding the status quo ante, which he progressive policy development he pursued ‘even if this meant compromising on some aspects of the traditional position.’ The evidence cited for this political entrepreneurship being a leaked letter to his boss, the Prime Minister of India (Vihma, 2011, p.76).

Nevertheless, the policy movement that he represented could not stop COP 15 ending in widely perceived failure, and with India slated as one of the two main villains of the piece, as evidenced by the newspaper headline “how China and India prevented an agreement on tackling climate change at the crucial meeting”.

Expert Criticism of Both Parties

In this day and age, where post-truth, “alternative facts” behemoths stalk the globe, it may seem anachronistic to some to actually quote the opinions of any expert. But I shall do so, and unashamedly: without taking aim at any one political party specifically, Leena Srivastava, Executive Director of The Energy and Resources Institute (New Delhi), argues that: "the value of the sustainability commitments in the election manifestos put forward by various parties is very low. The energy and environmental challenges facing the country are so critical that merely playing around with words is unlikely to win elections-the Indian electorate is smart. A radically different non-partisan commitment to these issues is required, and irrespective of the government in power."

Hoping for Better

India and the world ardently hopes for far better climate change fare from its politicians than is currently being served up by both the BJP and the INC. At least the BJP has a record of delivery in government on these issues, but perhaps this is more of a factor of it being most recently (currently) in government – policy and practice under the previous (i.e. up to 2014) INC-led government had already been moving in that direction, see above. Indians will of course make their own minds up on their future parliamentary representation in an election wherein climate change politics will be only one factor amongst many helping to determine the outcome of individual electors’ votes.   Either way, it is hoped that a stable, representative, honest and responsive All-India government emerges that is beneficial both for India and globally through the nation’s continued leadership on matters of common and critical concern – not least climate change.

Acknowledgement: Pooja Chatterjee co-author

This article was co-written by Daniel Gilbert (based in Scotland) and Pooja Chatterjee (based in India). In an Indian policy context, Pooja is an expert on energy law relating to all aspects of the country, and Daniel is an expert on (transitioning from) coal use and mining.

Read More on this Subject – 6 page full text document by the authors

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