Saturday, May 16, 2009

India's Election

The BBC analyzes the Indian election outcome:

The latter predicted a neck-and-neck race between the Congress- and BJP-led coalitions. They said that the Third Front of regional and caste-based parties would play a pivotal role in forming the government.

The Communists even spoke about Congress being forced to support such a government.

Then there were the traditional woes of the ruling party - the three previous prime ministers had lost elections after one term.

But Congress bucked every trend and has emerged triumphant in a victory analyst Mahesh Rangarajan calls a "historic moment" in India's democracy.

The victory is emphatic and with the caste-based regional parties suffering setbacks in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, India's political landscape suddenly does not look so deeply fractured.

Some years ago I published an article in which I predicted that sectarian (or in Indian language, "communal") concerns would more and more dominated Indian politics. Since I made it, it seemed to be becoming progressively more true with every election. But in a result that is fortunate for India's future, and for geopolitical stability generally, that trend appears to have stopped.

There are two things to applaud. The first is the decimation of India's vigorous communist movement. While it is generally confined only to a few parts of the country, in those parts it was routed. This means that the economic reforms that began in the early 1990s have borne enough fruit for Indians to justify continuing to support them. Given the stake the world has in mainstreaming 1.1 billion Indians into the global economy and the miracles it generates, this is something to applaud. That India is choosing to go this route while America and Europe turned more collectivist gives those of us in the latter nations some reason for hope. Only people who have really lived under socialism know its true cost.

In addition, India appears to be turning away, somewhat to my surprise, from fractious sectarianism. Both the Bharatiya Janata Party, which pitches itself to the high ends of the Indian jajmani ladder, and the Bahujan Samaj Party, which aims toward the socially weaker but democratically powerful castes, did worse than expected, perhaps due to the comical megalomania and corruption of and the serious charges of serious crimes against, their leader, Mayawati. The BJP has been a friend of economic reform, perhaps out of recognition that it is necessary to make India strong, but so too is the Congress party-led winning coalition. They insist on a lot that a purist would reject, such as extensive farm subsidies, but half a loaf is better than none.

That Indians have endorsed reform and individualism during these turbulent times is undoubtedly partly due to the fact that the Indian economy has not been racked as badly as others. But it is also a sign that delivering and adhering to true reform pays off, and generates political support and additional reform. Heading down the opposite road, on the other hand...



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