The Carnival of Democracy

Posted on April 11, 2009. Filed under: Public Square |

Switching gears a little bit from the ever-depressing news out of the Af-Pak region, we’re now all set to look at what will be the largest democratic event in human history: the 700 million voters eligible to make their voice heard in the Indian elections, starting Thursday, April 16.

Since India works on a parliamentary system (like the UK, unlike America’s presidential system), its diversity is appropriately eclipsed by the hundreds of parties that voters can choose from, all of which have their own agendas and issues. Having said that, it’s coalitions that really come to power, and the ones that are expected to realistically contend are, with my interpretation of their positions attached;

  • the United Progressive Alliance; this is the ruling coalition, headed by India’s oldest party, the Congress, whose leadership essentially rests on the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, and whose politics generally tend towards leftist, secular ideals.
  • the National Democractic Alliance; the present opposition, led by the nationalist, right-wing, some would say more communalist BJP, and
  • the Third Front/United National Progressive Alliance, a hodge-podge of regional parties that mostly have disparate local agendas rather than a common national one, but chose not to align with the other two groups.

Here’s a quick guide to the elections from the BBC (it sorely lacks links, but there’s lots of stuff to click through on the right-side menu.)

You can also follow the elections via Google’s nifty Lok Sabha Elections 2009 page, in partnership with HT media.

Aside from another batch of the bright side/dark side of India articles in the Western press (which are around every time anything that’s even vaguely connected to India becomes popular. You know them, the kind of articles that start off with an image of the glistening, modern buildings that are surrounded by dirty, ramshackle slums, and so on), there are some other reasons why people in other countries and especially their governments should be paying attention to the elections,

  • With the subcontinent getting more important to the world at large, with several leaders putting some of their careers on the line there, especially with practically everyone saying Afghanistan is now Obama’s war, however things turn out with the region’s biggest player will be a major influence on the rest of the region. This is especially true because of India’s present commitment to investing in Afghanistan, which could easily change depending on which block comes to power.
  • Likewise, the prosperity of Pakistan could depend on these elections, as the opposition NDA have promised tougher responses to terrorism (which mostly emanates from the western neighbour), and were the most persistent callers for war after the Mumbai attacks. Subsequently, the negotiations over Kashmir will also depend a whole lot on whoever is in power in the Lok Sabha.
  • The alliance with America (while also playing the field with Russia and Iran), might also changes especially since both the NDA and the Third Front have said they will take another look at the US-India Nuclear Deal. The NDA has even said it might consider sending troops to Iraq.
  • The Big neighbour up north, totalitarian China will also be watching closely, not only to keep an eye on its neighbourhood, but also to establish the ‘efficiency’ of their system of government over ‘messy’ democracy.
  • India, with it’s robust economy that’s expected to grow by at least 5 percent this year, will be expected to start playing a bigger role with other countries in the region, including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Burma, Bhutan and Nepal, and depending on the government that’s in power, the relationship with these countries, and the outside world will be significantly altered.

These are only some of the ways the elections will affect the world from a foreign policy perspective without going into real details. But even if none of these points matter, the fact that 700 million people, the eligible citizens of a country that is home to 1/6th of the world’s population, will have the chance to make their voices heard and elect their own government.

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3 Responses to “The Carnival of Democracy”

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India’s elections should be exciting. More as a note than a critic: I find it hard to believe that India can be any more involved with Bhutan than it already is. Indeed, I’m quite sure that without Indian protection the small kingdom would have fallen under Chinese rule years ago.

I agree, India is extremely involved with Bhutan right now, but with the forces of globalization and connectivity becoming more prevalent the world over, the people of Bhutan, whether they want to or not, will slowly have to integrate into the world’s economy and zeitgeist, and the way India works with the country to do that will certainly have a big effect on Bhutan itself, if not other countries in the region.

I agree with you and i hope that any number of American officials are keeping close track of the election in such a internationally prominent country. It is great to see democracy in action and the free exchange of ideas and perspectives. Obviously I am a little biased because i would prefer Pro-American governments in all countries, but I think India will continue to be an exciting country to keeping watching because of its growing importance to American and international objectives.


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