Saturday :: May 16, 2009

National Elections in India

by eriposte

India has been at the polls for a while to elect the next national government. According to estimates from India's Election Commission, "An estimated 428 million of India's 714 million electorate voted in the five-phase general elections that saw a turnout of 59-60 percent....In the last parliamentary elections in 2004, 57.65 percent of the 671.4 million electorate had voted."

The results are streaming out and so far suggest that, despite the slowing down of India's economy since late last year, the secular Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is on track to win a majority of seats in India's equivalent of the House of Representatives - the Lok Sabha (total seats 543). This means that the Congress-led UPA will likely remain the ruling party and indications are that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will remain in his post. I'm waiting for all the results to be out to take a closer look at the electoral data across the country, but what is clear so far is that the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suffered setbacks and did worse than they expected in many states. Likewise, some of the "Left Front" parties - which have been playing up communalist and caste-based politics - also had a bad election, making the Congress-led UPA, which had severed links with those parties stronger. This is a sign that the new national government will likely be a bit more sturdy this time around.

I wish I had more time to write about some of the interesting developments, but since we've been discussing linguistic autonomy and the situation in Sri Lanka, I want to call out a couple of things.

Recall that the Congress party had paved the way for the linguistic reorganization of India's states over a period of decades. If you go back a few decades, the two large provinces of southern India that arguably led the movement against the imposition of Hindi as an official language of the Government were Andhra Pradesh (home of the Telugu language) and Tamil Nadu (home of the Tamil language and the ethnic Tamil majority). It is noteworthy that these two states have, in the last decade, played a pivotal role in enabling one of the major parties to win national elections and have been rewarded with many key positions in the government - a hallmark of representative democracy (quite the contrast to Pakistan). As the Times of India points out (emphasis mine):

Tamil Nadu and Andhra once again lived up to their reputation of playing a decisive role in the formation of government at the Centre with both the states contributing more than 65 seats to kitty of Congress-led UPA which will retain power.  While ruling Congress in Andhra Pradesh won 32 out of the total 42 seats in the state, DMK-Congress combine emerged victorious in 28 out of the 39 seats in neighbouring Tamil Nadu.  Congress also wrested the lone seat in Puducherry from PMK with Union Minister V Narayanaswamy winning from there by a comfortable margin.  It was UPA's tally of 75 from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Puducherry that had helped the Congress form the government at the Centre after the 2004 electionsSince 1996 Lok Sabha elections, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have played a major role in the government formation at the Centre...

Another interesting aspect at the local level in Tamil Nadu - where the major local parties responded in different ways to the ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka, where minority Tamil civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE terrorist group. As it turns out, the parties that were overtly in favor of India intervening to carve out an independent Tamil province in Sri Lanka - and likewise expressed some support for the LTTE - lost resoundingly. However, early reports suggest that not only was the media wrong in their assessment of how the Tamil issue would play out, socio-economic and populist issues had much greater resonance in comparison, especially in rural areas of Tamil Nadu. 

eriposte :: 10:17 AM :: Comments (2) :: Digg It!