In India, the results of national elections are in, and they give the Congress Party led by Sonia Gandhi a landslide victory. There were widespread celebrations after the results were announced.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will remain, with an overwhelming mandate to continue his reforms of the economy. It is likely that India’s insurance, retail and banking sectors will be opened to greater foreign investment. Communist lawmakers had blocked such reforms, but lost more than half their seats in the latest elections.
Luv Puri is a journalist who has reported on the Jammu and Kashmir conflict from both sides of the Line of Control for The Hindu newspaper.
The Indian electorate voted for stability and governance for the next five years, as the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance braved the anti-incumbency factor to win elections in the world’s largest democracy and the second most populous country.
The verdict, which took the pollsters by surprise, is being portrayed as a vote for good governance by the Congress-led federal government of the last five years, and also a rejection of caste, regional and religion-based parties. The Congress party made a political comeback in the belt, which it lost in the 1990s to regional parties and to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress party’s archrival.
Indians await an era of stability, as the coalition will not depend on the whims and fancies of smaller parties and take a larger national perspective on the policy formulation.
The result restored the electorate’s faith in the Nehru-Gandhi clan, the first political family of the country. Rahul Gandhi — the great-grandson of India’s first prime minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru — proved his political mettle by revitalizing the party in India’s populous Uttar Pradesh, the heartbeat of Indian politics. His no-sense attitude and grassroots campaign in rural India clearly paid rich dividends.
The gains of the Congress-led alliance were at the expense of the Left, which suffered major reverses in parts of eastern and southern India, where for years it had electoral influence. The Left suffered a historic defeat in West Bengal, a state it dominated for the last three decades.
The foreign policy implications of the verdict are enormous. The two challenges the world faces are anti-Americanism and Islamophobia, and the Indian electorate voted against both. Under Manmohan Singh, the government inked a nuclear deal with the U.S. and significant progress was made on Indo-U.S. relations, which had languished over the past six decades.
The Left and the opposition criticized the Congress party for its pro-America tilt, which they claimed sacrificed the national interest. It seems that the electorate didn’t buy the anti-American rhetoric of the Cold War era.
Cambridge-educated Manmohan Singh, who is set to be sworn in as prime minister yet again, is the architect of the new economic policy in India in 1991, when he was finance minister. His policies, based on sound economic rationale, could not muster the requisite support from the Indian Parliament in the last five years, due to dependence on the Left and other parties for support.
Singh’s victory is significant in a time of global economic meltdown. His policies get the credit for keeping the impact of recessionary trends on the Indian economy to a minimum, with a tight regulatory mechanism.
The reforms in various sectors like banking and infrastructure, which were help up by the opposition, are now going to pick up pace. At the same time, the Congress party is going blend its economic reforms with welfare politics. Singh describes reforms with a human face, so that India’s poor is not left behind in the race for economic development.
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari was one of the first foreign heads of state who congratulated the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his party’s resounding victory. With a stable government, there may be progress in reviving the shelved peace process with India’s turbulent neighbour, Pakistan. The relations between the two countries nose-dived after the last year’s Mumbai terror attacks, orchestrated by Pakistan-based terrorists.
Pakistan’s fight against the Taliban will decide the fate of South Asia and the larger issues related to world peace. Pakistan urgently needs some kind of agreement with India on reduction of troops along the India-Pakistan border, so that Pakistan can dispense troops from the eastern to the western front.
Whether the new Indian government will oblige the Pakistan government will be Singh’s decision.
– Luv Puri