Posted by: John Elliott | March 3, 2009

India’s election juggernaut gets moving – destination unknown

India’s general election juggernaut is on the move with polling, announced yesterday, on five days from April 16 to May 13, and vote counting on Saturday May 16. So India should have a new government by the middle-end of May. It’s a massive task with 714m potential voters (far more than three times America’s 210m), 170m of them aged under 35, and nearly 830,000 polling centres.

No-one can sensibly forecast who will win. The result will probably be dictated more by regional parties, which join national coalitions, than by the two main national Parties – Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In 2004, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance was expected to win but lost, mainly because its regional allies were defeated, notably in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

The final shapes of the coalitions are not yet known because national and regional parties are negotiating how many seats each should allocated to contest in an alliance. For example, in Uttar Pradesh (UP), Congress is arguing with the local Samajwadi Party about how many seats each should have. In some cases, notably Tamil Nadu, who links with who could depend on how those seat negotiations turn out.

Women Politicians

They are often best avoided because they are wilful, unreliable and temperamental. That of course is a hugely inaccurate and horribly chauvinistic allegation, but it is entirely true about the three women regional politicians who matter most in this election:

MAYAWATI, the low caste Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief minister of UP, who wants to be prime minister one day. She continually proves herself an unstable and unreliable partner, and seems more interested in her extravagant personality cult than sustaining coalitions.

JAYALALITHA JAYARAM, a former flamboyant AIADMK chief minister of Tamil Nadu, who also has prime ministerial ambitions. She is most important because she could deliver a sizeable block of seats to whichever national coalition she joins.

MAMATA BANERJEE, whose tantrums as leader of the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal drove Tata Motors’ Nano plant out of the state last year and killed a chemicals’ industry special economic zone. While fighting those projects, she exposed the rough Stalinist tactics of the ruling Left Front, led by the CPI(M). The question now is whether her Tata and SEZ “victories” will lead people to desert her because she drove away jobs, or support her because they are tired of the Left Front.

Dynasties

They are also best avoided but it’s not possible to do so in modern India. There are far too many of them, with seemingly endless lists of sons and daughters being brought into politics, as successors, by their parents and other relatives.

Dynasties generally have a negative impact on politics because they block a party’s development. They did however produce some impressive young MPs in the 2004 election, such as Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Manvendra Singh, Omar Abdullah (now chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir), Milind Deora and, of course, Rahul Gandhi – so they are not all bad.

States to Watch

It is fashionable in Delhi, and in India’s national media, to say that the huge northern state of UP is the most important state to watch in a general election. That used to be true when Congress ruled alone, and its ups and downs against the BJP could be gauged in UP. Now the voting in this state is so splintered, with Mayawati’s and other regionally-based parties gaining strength, that it is not so significant as a litmus test of the final result.

Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, in southern India, have been much more decisive in the past two elections – especially Tamil Nadu where there are basically only two voting blocks led by the DMK (now ruling the state) and Jayalalitha’s AIADMK.

Prime Ministers – there are several candidates, led by:

Manmohan Singh, the current of Congress prime minister, assuming he recovers sufficiently from his recent heart surgery – he is 76. If Congress wins and he is not fit enough, Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president, would have to decide whether to become prime minister herself (which she declined to do in 2004), or put her heir-apparent son, 38-year old Rahul Gandhi, into the job, or (less likely) select a non-family politician whom she trusts not to stand in Rahul’s way later.

Lal Krishna Advani, 81, who leads the BJP now that former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has retired.

If neither party wins enough seats to lead a coalition, or if it has to give way to a coalition partner in order to win its support, the candidates include: Mayawati; Nitish Kumar, chief minister of Bihar and leader of the Janata Dal (U), he is a former railways minister; Lalu Prasad Yadav, a former Bihar chief minister and now railways minister; and Sharad Pawar, a powerful veteran politician and now the agriculture minister, he is a former defence minister and chief minister of Maharashtra, and leads  the regional-based Nationalist Congress Party.

Policies

It may seem odd to write this 900-word column without mentioning policies, but that is how it is with modern Indian politics.

There is of course the sharp divide between Congress and the BJP over the BJP’s arch Hindu-nationalism, which will dictate how tens of millions of people vote even though its nationalism would be restrained in a coalition.

The current poor state of the economy, and recent terrorist attacks, may count against Congress, but there seems little to choose between the parties on these subjects.

The main thing India needs is stability to open up the economy further and resist terrorism, so it needs a stable coalition government. The risk is that it might not get it.

This post is also on the FT website – http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/eeb43778-07de-11de-8a33-0000779fd2ac,dwp_uuid=a6dfcf08-9c79-11da-8762-0000779e2340.html

FOR MORE POSTS ON INDIA’S GENERAL ELECTION TYPE General Election IN THE SEARCH BOX – OR CLICK General Election BELOW


Responses

  1. Your analysis is perfect but there is a missing piece on the BJP – if Advani. had not announced himself to be the prime minister if they win, the BJP would have had a chance. He should realise that with 35% youngsters, he has no chance.

    The BJP should also cash in on the development plank – for example highways and the NHAI, which were their baby has been completely ruined by the DMK minister in charge, Baalu. They should focus on public sector divestment through IPOs and they should rubbish the record of this government on infrastructure development front. It is not too late for mid term (stream) course correction. they have to give up Ram Mandir and their anti-muslim stance.

    Second, corruptions is an issue. This government has been most corrupt. To me, Mr Clean is no use when all around him are corrupt. Is there anyone who is honest except him? We have to get the corruption ruckus raised during elections.

    Third, the dynasty rule has to end. We do not want another khilji or slave or lodhi or moghul dynasty. You guys were not dynasty, but Civil servants of sorts.

    Fourth, Left has lost out. unless they become New Labour or something, they are written off by me.

    Fifth, this share pledging must be made public. There should be a system in place where dividends are not paid to promoters for the shares they have pledged. Let those dividends be in an escrow account. It solves two issues, an incentive for promoter to pay and, in case of a liquidation, at least some amount is available.

    Finally, the election would be decided by the regional parties and more so the final government.

    My take is congress will be back whether for the good or the bad, I do not know. It will only add to more corruption by the big houses, blessed by the government.

  2. Wow! You really understand India. I am glad to see a piece from a foreign journalist which is this accurate about the Indian political scenario. I came to this blog following the FT link. John, you have earned yourself a regular reader!

  3. Jambudvipa, that is, the Great Prabuddha Bharath’s election juggernaut gets moving

    Jambudvipa, that is, the Great Prabuddha Bharath general election juggernaut is on the move with polling, announced yesterday, on five days from April 16 to May 13, and vote counting on Saturday May 16. So Jambudvipa, that is, the Great Prabuddha Bharath should have a new government by the middle-end of May. It’s a massive task with 714m potential voters (far more than three times America’s 210m), 170m of them aged under 35, and nearly 830,000 polling centres.
    Now-one can sensibly forecast who will win. The result will be dictated by BSP, than by the two main national Parties – Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
    Woman Politician

    MAYAWATI, the Aboriginal Inhabitant of Jambudvipa, that is, the Great Prabuddha Bharath Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief minister of UP, wants to be next Prime Minister. She continually proves herself an stable and reliable and seems more interested in acquiring the Master Key for the welfare and happiness of entire people.

    States to Watch

    It is fashionable in Delhi, and in Jambudvipa, that is, the Great Prabuddha Bharath ’s national media, to say that the huge northern state of UP is the most important state to watch in a general election. That used to be true when Congress ruled alone, and its ups and downs against the BJP could be gauged in UP. Now the voting in this state is, with Mayawati’s party gaining strength.

    Prime Ministers – there are several candidates, led by:

    Manmohan Singh, the current of Congress prime minister, assuming he recovers sufficiently from his recent heart surgery – he is 76 is not fit enough, Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president, cannot decide whether to become Prime Minister herself (which she was forced to decline to do in 2004 because of her Foriegn Origin), or put her heir-apparent son, 38-year old Rahul Gandhi, into the job, or (less likely) select a non-family politician whom she trusts not to stand in Rahul’s way later, since the Congress will miserably lose this election for so many reasons, including the anti-incumbancy and price rise.

    Lal Krishna Advani, 81, who leads the BJP can never even dream of becoming the Prime Minister,since he does not wear a mask like that of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who has retired.

    Neither party will win enough seats to lead a coalition. Mayawati will cross the magic number 273 on her own and become the Prime Minister, since the people have become fed up the both UPA nad NDA rule for the last 61 years.

    Policies

    Maywati’s BSP has adopted the Constitution of the nation as its manifesto and hence will distribute the wealth of the country among all sections of the society. It does not fight elections with the funds coming from Industrialists and the rich, but funds collected from the masses.

    There is the sharp divide between Congress and the BJP over the BJP’s arch Hindu-nationalism, which will dictate how tens of millions of people vote even though it would be restrained in a coalition.

    The current poor state of the economy, will definitely count against Congress.

    The main thing Jambudvipa, that is, the Great Prabuddha Bharath needs is stability to open up the economy so it needs BSP government that will be stable.

  4. Great piece

  5. Although one knew it was coming, the announcement of the general election (always the biggest democratic exercise ever) never fails to send shivers down one’s spine here in India. It is a glorious – and increasingly well-organised – business. The strong sense in the Capital is that the Congress-led UPA have done enough to win through again, not least because of the leadership issues and lack of a visible younger generation in the BJP. Ironically, the economic downturn generally seems to have worked in favour of the Congress leadership. Inflation was the voter’s main concern last year and that has subsided. And one cannot dismiss the impact of some of their policies, notably the NREGA and the FTIA, when voters think about what they have achieved. Anyway, there will be lots to say through the campaign – let’s sit back and enjoy!
    WM

  6. As you have already mentioned, it’s all about alliances and exigencies and alliances and nix on policies. Pl see also a longer comment at http://www.telegraphindia.com/1090302/jsp/opinion/story_10600174.jsp


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