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Indian political tamasha (Part II)

by FarEasterner Sat May 16th, 2009 at 05:27:47 AM EST

This diary is about Indian election.
For the prepoll diary please go to Indian political tamasha (Part I)

The world's biggest electorate in India is notorious for unpredictability of its choice, even exit polls on massive scale cannot predict results of Indian elections with acceptable margin of mistake. The conducted polls of 70000 respondents with the margin of 30% for mistake can be taken only as astrological forecasts. This time pollsters again failed predicting hung Parliament but as a consolation they managed at least to sense the blowing wind - the ruling coalition of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) headed by Congress party is comfortably placed to return to power after 5 years in office.

It's midday standard Indian time right now but TV channels already declared Congress as clear winner. According to early trends Congress party is leading in almost 200 seats (around 195), pre-poll allies added around 50 seats and estranged UPA allies have around 30. It is more than enough for simple majority of 272 in 543-seat House. It means that UPA after short negotiations with former and present allies about allocation of portfolios can submit on Monday enough letters of support to President Pratibha Patil to be invited to form the next government. Economist turned politician Manmohan Singh is expected to head the government again if only to be replaced half term by younger member of Gandhi family. Of course in case if Rahul Gandhi or his sister Priyanka express desire to head for next elections from position of power.    

My prediction also failed (to some extent). I did not forecasted in previous diary but I thought that Congress will return to power after protracted negotiations with old and new allies in the hunged Parliament. But the margin of Congress rebound - from 145 in previous Lok Sabha to 195 seats now took me by surprise.

My express analysis why Congress and UPA did well and the Left and BJP did so badly.

Indian elections is a combination of 28 local state elections which have their own anti or pro-incumbency cycles. There are factors like depressed (or reasonably well off) local economy, level of corruption (it varies from state to state), political scandals, factionalism etc. which need to be looked into. Also very important is the entry of new players.

So, speaking in short Congress benefited from combination of anti-incumbency waves which played against its rivals, pro-incumbency waves in crucial southern states Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nady was complimented to the great extent by entry of new players, actors-turned-politicians Vijayakanth in Tamil Nadu and Cheeranjeevi in Andhra. These spoilers took the lion shareof anti-incumbency votes, depriving opposition of its benefits. That's why UPA did rather well in these crucial two states (which contributed much to 2004 victory) parting in the end with only few seats.

Another factor is surprising results in the India's largest state Uttar Pradesh which elects 80 MPs into 543-seats Lok Sabha. In UP there are four main players - two local casteist parties SP and BSP and two national parties BJP and Congress. If we went with 2007 Assembly election results which gave to Mayawati clear majority she could sweep polls in this state, taking at least 30 plus. However her BSP tally stands at 23, Congress added around 10 seats to 20, socialist party SP took the same (coming down from 35 last time) and BJP retained its 13 seats (last time it was 14). I think Congress will read too much in this results, will try to revive its moribund organization in this important state in the Hindi heartland and play the role of main opposition ot low-caste Mayawati's government. Mayawati, the hope of the so-called third front, fared badly due to her lackadaisical attitude to governance, she did concentrate her efforts on erecting her own statues (or impressive rows of giant stone elephants, her party symbol) everywhere and devoted less time for improving economy and tackling unemployment. Her only success so far was reducing criminalization in UP badlands.  

Other factors of impressive Congress victory of course should include from bad to disastrous performances by its opponents, from right wing Hindu nationalist Indian national party (BJP) to the Indian Stalinist Left front. BJP from the beginning was handicapped by its virtual absence in many important states in the east and and south of the country. As the fever of Ram mandir in 1990s receded BJP could not find enough emotive issues for electorate except tacitly supporting, covering or justifying communal rhetorics or even riots by members of extremist Hindu groups, its numerous sister concerns. Such communal undertones in BJP agenda will continue to hamper its search for new allies in the future or expanding into new states, especially in case of projecting highly efficient and highly controversial chief minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi who is regarded as abetting bloody communal riots in his state in 2002. BJP lost around 20 seats and its NDA alliance stands at 160 which is well short of majority. The one ally which did exceptionally well is Nitish Kumar's JD (U) in the poorest state Bihar where it swept the poll.

Let's turn to the Communists which were defeated by Congress in its traditional strongholds of Kerala and West Bengal. The Left lost half of its seats, coming down from 60 to around 30. Reasons for the Leftist defeat are purely local. In Kerala Communist government was never accused in neglecting development (by most indicators like health care or education Kerala is at the top in India) but it suffered there heavily due to chronic infighting between popular chief minister Achuthanandan and local party boss Pinarayi Vijayan, who is accused in corruption case. In West Bengal (unlike in Kerala) Communists have ruled for the last 30 years. However results of their policies were rather mixed if not disappointing. Of course Communists argue that West Bengal suffered enourmously in the 20th century due to geopolitical upheavals like Partition, creation of Bangladesh, millions of destitute refugees (who were then comforted by Mother Theresa) etc. However there were few tangible results (mainly in rural areas) of Communist rule, maybe only local self-government and prevention of floods. Industrialisation policy of Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Battacharya had run into rough weather with peasant unrest over forcible acquisition of their lands. Opposition led by charismatic and unpredictable Mamata Banerjee of Trinamool Congress was this time in alliance with Congress which helped it to teach comrade a lesson.

Overall perspectives for the ruling Congress party seem to be reasonably good. If Sonia Gandhi will dump the dead wood like Arjun Singh and other gerontocrats from the cabinet generational change will take place. There are good chances of capturing Kerala and West Bengal from the Communists (in the latter it will be for the first time in 30 years). There are green shoots of recovery in the hindi belt especially in Uttar Pradesh.

However there will be many dangers too. The first is corruption, Congress-led government quite naturally (because Congress ruled India for so long) is the most corrupt comparing to others. Corruption is widespread among Congressmen as well as allies and their patronized bureaucrats. RJD, SP or LJP from the hindi belt are very well known for their misgovernance and corruption while they were in power. DMK's (southern party from Tamil Nadu) ministers have been openly filling their pockets, and despite media revelations they will likely return to their posts. In second largest state Maharashtra Congress with local ally NCP is having one of the most inefficient and corrupt state governments in India, hand in glove with rich farmers and Mumbai industrialists and neglecting hordes of destitutes in Mumbai slums and in the countryside.

If Sonia Gandhi will not clean her own government and party machine from corruption India will continue to lag behind other Asian nations and may slip into semi-permanent chaos with increasing acts of terrorism both external (emanating from Pakistan with a little help of disenchanted locals) and internal (Maoist or so-called Naxalite threat), ubiquitous communal violence and increase in territory of criminal badlands. When starving peasants turn to brigandage the state itself may disintegrate.

On international front India will continue its traditional overcautious policy. I do not expect any ground breaking progress in protracted border dispute with China, orientation (or reorientation) of its ties with any big international player like US, EU, Russia or ASEAN. Numerous internal problems will backpedal more active role for India on international arena. Rulers of India need to put their house in order first, bring about long overdue necessary legislative as well as economic reforms, reducing corruption and redtape, increasing efficiency of existing welfare schemes and overall opening to the world (India is like isolationist regime of North Korea, not allowing visa-free travel with any countries except Nepal).  

Full results you can find here.

Is this diary too cryptic? If yes, then read some useful comments to this diary on Daily Kos
by FarEasterner on Sat May 16th, 2009 at 01:51:23 PM EST

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