What A Stunner!

The elections results in India threw everyone for a loop.


The election results in India proved quite a stunner. Everyone, we mean everyone — the political parties, exit pollsters and the media, us included — was thrown for a big, wide loop.

The BJP-led ruling alliance had called early elections and even had the gall to ask the electorate to return it with a mandate for a two-third constitutional majority.

They fashioned an arrogant campaign around the frivolous slogan, India Shining, with the aim of calling attention to the spectacular economic growth the country has experienced in the past few years. The moribund Congress tapped into rural resentment and the failure of the ruling alliance to focus on the agrarian agenda. The Indian electorate tossed the BJP out by their ears. 
Elections are not a reward for the past, but a mandate for a plan for the future.

This is democracy at its most glorious. Whatever one might feel about the outcome, one cannot but feel proud about the fact that the Indian electorate spoke as resoundingly as it did and that the transfer of power occurred without a hitch.

Er, almost.

The Indian democratic process is by no means perfect. It is still rife with corruption, ruled by an oligarchy of traditional parties, and chaotic. Democracy is more than voting, of course, but we need to be cheerful about the fact that we do not kill by the thousands to effect regime change.

The drama that followed only decorates the distinctive process of Indian democracy. It would be more appropriate to call it a “tamasha,” in the perfect Marathi tradition of accepting the scandalous in a celebratory fashion.

Sonia Gandhi’s ascendancy to prime minister, her on again, off again withdrawal, the plaintive pleas for reconsideration and the final annointing of her Highness as the Kingmaker, is worthy of the best political soap opera. Should we believe these theatrics? Perhaps if we believe in the transparency of hypocrites. Already the news from India is replete with stories about how everyone is courting Sonia, nationally and internationally, to exalt her Highness as the divinity she has maneuvered so cleverly to become.

It would be unwise to read a major shift in the Congress Party’s fortunes, which the tamasha has led some to assume. In fact, Congress actually received almost 2 percent fewer votes than it did in 1999. It returned to power only because it finally gave up any illusions of securing a parliamentary majority on its own and this time sought out pre-poll alliances, something it had spurned in the past.

In these alliances, it turned out luckier – and luckier more than calculating would be the term – than the BJP. Indeed, the political fortunes would have been reversed had the BJP-led alliance stuck to its 1999 election partners.

Even though Sonia Gandhi’s calculated and caliberated post-election theatrics have served their purpose of elevating her stature, this election continued the public erosion of her party.

India is now destined for the next few decades, atleast, to be governed by parliamentary coalitions, which are frequently messy. However, given the diversity of the country and the competing tugs and pulls on public polity, that may not altogether be a bad thing.

We see the rise and fall and rise again of unseemly characters. This election witnessed the drumming of Jayalalitha and the triumph of Laloo Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh. According to published reports, the new cabinet has at least three members with criminal cases pending against them.

Really, who would you rather take?

Nevertheless, this election will forever remain a cautionary reminder to the powerful against arrogance and complacency. George Bush, are you listening? 

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