Monday, May 18, 2009

Indian voters reject divisive politics

The voters have spoken again - and "spoken with great clarity," to quote Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Congress party has won the greatest number of seats in the just-ended parliamentary elections, and the alliance it leads is only a few votes short of an absolute majority. This is good news for India, the South Asian region, and the world. We can expect a stable government in an increasingly unstable region - with Pakistan under threat from the Taliban, Sri Lanka's successful but controversial campain against the LTTE, and political crisis in Nepal.

Most importantly for India, we can hope for a strong and stable government that brings people together rather than dividing them on the basis of religious or other narrowly-focused group identities. With a respected economist in charge, we can also hope for a government that guides the country through the current global recession with minimum damage and - with any luck - one which even manages to promote continued economic reform and (some) development.

As important as the Congress victory is the defeat of the Hindu fundamentalist BJP and its allies, some of them even more extreme than the BJP. Parties that divide Indians along caste lines have not done well either.

In a surprise outcome, the Communists - who were leading a challenge to the Congress-led alliance - fared badly as well, even in their traditional strongholds of West Bengal and Kerala.

Despite the many ills that have crept into the Congress culture over the decades since it led India to independence in 1947, the party ideology has remained one that celebrates the diversity of India and supports the idea of common development. It has remained a "centrist" party without the idealogical rigidity of the left or the much more dangerous rigidity-cum-divisiveness of the BJP and its allies in the "Sangh parivar" on the right.

(The Wall Street Journal, 18 May 2009 - shows Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and Youth Congress leader Rahul Gandhi)

Most analysts agree that the people of India have voted for common economic development, and against cultural, ethnic, religious or caste divisiveness. India is nothing without its long history - and present mix - of diverse influences, ideas, ethnicities and cultures. Most Indians, it would seem, are very comfortable with this sense of shared history in a richly diverse land. This election is a celebration of this shared Indian identity as well as an expression of aspirations on the economic front.