Letter from New Delhi
The current Indian elections from 7 April to 12 May seem to be very complicated.
A humungous exercise. What with 814 million voters, including 100 million first time voters, voting on 1.4 million Electronic Voting Machines in 930,000 polling stations with eleven million police and security officers, this is the biggest election in the world to elect 543 members from 35 states to the lower house of parliament. Any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a majority government.
India has over 700 political parties but only three matter at the national level: Aam Admi Party (AAP), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress (Cong) parties. So it’s as simple as ABC. The other regional parties come into play to cobble a coalition if a single party fails to get the magical number of 272 seats.
Politicians are expected to spend $5 billion in electioneering as visible in mammoth rallies, TV and print ads, billboards, web promotion and every conceivable marketing ploy from video conferencing to applying party symbols as henna on rural women. A crucial vote bank is 24 million voters aged 18 to 19 polling for the first time.
AAP – the new kid on the block, founded in November 2012 to fight corruption, provide good governance and clean up the moribund establishment. Led by Arvind Kejriwal, an IT graduate and former Income Tax Commissioner, AAP swept into power in the Delhi State elections in December 2013.
After lightening reforms, AAP resigned within two months when its anti-corruption bill ran into problems. Moved up to national level to fight general elections, AAP provides a viable alternative to the other two national and established parties. AAP has almost nil chances of forming the government but even if AAP gets 40 to 50 seats, it will be very effective as the opposition and will not allow any deals smelling of crony capitalism. It has generated huge support from the silent middle class and also the poor who have been handed a raw deal. Beyond religious divide, AAP is for good governance.
BJP – the main opposition in the last parliament, was in the doldrums until the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendera Modi, was declared its prime ministerial candidate in June 2012. An impressive orator, Modi has provided efficient government, increased investment and all-round progress in Gujarat for the last 15 years after winning three state elections.
The Congress accuses him of involvement in 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots but the courts and the Special Investigation Team found him Not Guilty. Moreover, no riots have happened since then while other states have had up to 150 riots. Still, the Congress persists to hit him with this stick which does not stick.
Modi promises strong government with overall progress Gujarat style. This state registered ten per cent economic growth, one per cent unemployment, 100 per cent electric and water supply round the year to all and 15 per cent per capita growth, among other achievements. Considered pro-Hindu, the BJP reaches out to Muslims.
Congress – After ten years of rule, the economic growth has slumped from almost ten per cent to less than five per cent. Plus, huge scams involving government ministers and other appointees. No pro-active action by the government in the last three years to boost the economy, fight high prices and corruption. Led by 43-year old Rahul Gandhi, the son of the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the President of the Congress, the Italian Sonia Gandhi. The Congress has ruled for most of 60 years of India’s independence. But now, it faces the people’s anger for high prices, corruption, unemployment and lack of governance and accountability.
Considered pro-Muslim, the Congress promotes its secular platform.
So which party is likely to form the next government?
Most likely, BJP because it is now seen as Modi. He may not get 272 seats but even if he gets over 200, he can rope in some regional parties and independent candidates to forge a coalition government. Unlike the last coalition government that generated a weak government, Modi will dominate his partners and threaten them with another election to return with greater majority if they do not fall in line.
After the 2002 riots, the anti-Modi lobby in the West, and especially the Western media, started a campaign against him on human rights issues and succeeded in USA and UK not granting him a visa to address overseas Indians, especially Gujaratis. But the West realized that Gujarat is the top state for investment and poured Foreign Direct Investment to his state. Now the West is coming round with UK envoy calling on him in 2012, a US delegation and the US Ambassador calling on him recently and the British Prime Minister Cameron said he is welcome to the UK.
Now it is the voters who will decide for him and India. And, fortunately, not the West.
Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi
* Published in print edition on 18 April 2014