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India after the elections
Article added in December 1999
 
At the beginning of October, the voters of the world's "greatest democracy", India, went to the polls. They decided that the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) could stay in power. The 24 motley parties of the NDA are under the leadership of the BJP, the nationalistic Hindu party that alone won about 60% of the coalition's votes. The BJP is not a unified party but consists of a series of more or less nationalist, Hindu, racist, protofascist and fascist, but also moderate and reformist forces. The BJP's charismatic leader, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee grew up in the extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) tradition. Vajpayee has been in politics since the 1950s and at least since the end of the 1980s, he is considered a critic of that current within the BJP that is closely tied to the sad, destructive events that took place in Ayodhya. Vajpayee is part of the moderate and reformist forces in the BJP.
 
How strong is the voters' mandate for the NDA and the BJP? The coalition has won a save majority. The BJP is stronger than two years ago, but without the border conflict with Pakistan, the election result might have turned out to be less convincing. Furthermore, the results have to be analyzed region by region. There were victories and great losses for the BJP. In addition, the voter turnout of under 60% is a low level that cannot be interpreted as a support for the BJP and the NDA. On the contrary, the electors manifested in part their distrust of Indian politics and politicians. Confidence in the stability of the 24-party coalition is not strengthened by the fact that the NDA still has to buy its own cohesion through the distribution of seventy (!) ministerial posts, which is about the equivalent of an entire parliament trying to govern India up to the next elections. Needless to say, in those conditions, it will be impossible to govern efficiently. These are not appropriate signals to send out to the people if the government is serious about tightening-up the administration.
 
In spite of these facts, the Indian government may be able to improve the economic situation of the subcontinent. Ministers like former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party, stand for reforms. Naidu helped Hyderabad become a center of software and information technology. The old and new Minister for Industry, Murasoli Maran, has favoured foreign direct investments in the past. Among the encouraging signs is a new, more liberal insurance law, passed after the elections. The stock exchange reacted positively to the election outcome, hoping for stability (like most voters). On the other hand, the market had of course already put up with the fact that 24 parties with different agendas would continue to share power. Now, the market is waiting for the announcement of privatizations that go beyond a 49% disinvestment by the (still reluctant) government. In India, inflation is at an all-time low and farmers could bring in a record harvest, although the natural catastrophes and their subsequent costs may have destroyed part of that success. On the negative side stands India's very high indebtedness. Exorbitant interest payments deprive the country of room for fiscal maneuver.

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In 1991, India experienced a first wave of economic reforms. But it was born from a period of crisis and predicament. With the end of the USSR, India's second-largest trade partner simply disappeared. Furthermore, the Gulf War cost India three billion dollars since it lost the foreign currency payments by its foreign workers in the Gulf region and due to the rise of oil prices. In early 1991, India lived its worst foreign currency crisis in history. The reserves were down to two weeks (Max-Jean Zins). These liberal reforms were born in dire need. Although a second wave of reforms may lay in front of India today, we should not forget that two-thirds of Indians still work in the agriculture sector. Therefore, the poverty of the masses will not disappear soon. For the majority of Indians, years of blood, sweat and tears still lay ahead of them.
 
The success of the NDA and the BJP is largely due to the weaknesses of the opposition. During the election campaign, the Congress Party leaders did not clearly specify what type of coalition they were looking for. They did not constitute a clear alternative to the ruling alliance. Moreover, the Congress Party is a victim of its past success, used-up in years in power. One could even ask if Sonia Gandhi's decision to enter politics was tied to the hope to get immunity for her clan and herself in the Bofors scandal. From 1985 to 1987, people in the entourage of her late husband, Rahjiv Gandhi, appear to have profited from bribes in relation with the purchase of 400 Swedish howitzers by India. The Nehru-Gandhi family dominated postwar India until lately. It is an open secret that they did not always act altruistically and in the sole interest of their nation. In a country where about 50% of the population are illiterate and around 600 million people live in dire poverty, it is not surprising to see a corrupt political  and economic class govern over 50 years with empty promises and, at least in the past, unsuccessful socialist recipes. Today, the Congress Party is without a charismatic leader and its past socialist "achievements" do not impress many voters. Since the party lost power, it did not renew itself substantially and, since 1988, it has continuously lost voters. From 40%, the Congress Party has sunk to a historic low of under 25%. But without an efficient opposition, power can get out of control - even in democracy.

New on the history of India:
- Selig S. Harrison, Paul H. Kreisberg, Dennis Kux, ed.: India & Pakistan. The First Fifty Years. Cambridge University Press, Woodrow Wilson Center series, 1999, 216 pp., £ 10.95. An introductory comparison of political, economic and social developments as well as the foreign and security policies of India and Pakistan.
 
- [in French] Max-Jean Zins: Inde. Un destin démocratique. La Documentation française. 1999, 199 pp., FF 98.39 or Euro 15.-. The author justifies his title, "a democratic destiny": only a democratic India can, due to its extreme religious, cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity, survive as a unified country. Among the topics Max-Jean Zins touches: AIDS in India, the castes, the rural population, the linguistic diversity, Islam, the Congress Party, the Gandhi-Nehru-dynasty, etc.







Deutsch Politik Geschichte Kunst Film Musik Lebensart Reisen
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© Copyright www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.