India after the
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
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.
Indian sheet music.
India travel guide books from Amazon.co.uk
Today's deals at Amazon.com.
Special offers on new releases from Amazon.co.uk.
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
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.