Tag Archives: AAP

Modi sweeps state elections in Uttar Pradesh in win for demonetisation

Narendra Modi is riding high after winning a key set of state elections this spring, including in the all-important state of Uttar Pradesh. (Facebook)

If anyone had doubts, it’s clear now that Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has a clear grip on his country.

When Modi swept to power in 2014 by capturing the biggest Indian parliamentary majority in three decades, he did so by unlocking key votes in Uttar Pradesh. Ultimately, Modi owed his 2014 majority to the state, which gave him and the Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी)  73 of its 80 seats to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament.

Nevertheless, it was a surprise last weekend — even to Modi’s own supporters — when, after seven phases of voting between February 11 and March 8, officials reported that the BJP won over three-fourths of the seats in the Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly. That’s a landslide, even in the context of a state where voters like to see-saw from one party to the next every five years. The BJP victory marked only the fourth time in history (and the first time since Indira Gandhi’s victory in 1980) that a single party won over 300 seats in the UP legislative assembly, and it bests the earlier BJP record (221 seats in 1991) by just over 90 seats.

A referendum on demonitisation

The victory in Uttar Pradesh, one of five state elections for which results were announced on March 11, amounts to a massive endorsement of Modi (less so of the BJP). Though the 2019 elections are over two years away, the victory will give Modi some comfort that he will win reelection. For now at least, the Uttar Pradesh victory shows just how far behind Modi the opposition forces have fallen.

With over 200 million people, Uttar Pradesh is the most populous state in the country and, indeed, it’s home to more people than all but five countries worldwide.

In some ways, Modi’s staggering victory in Uttar Pradesh this spring  is even more spectacular than his 2014 breakthrough. After all, Modi was defending a three-year record as prime minister that hasn’t been perfect. Despite winning the biggest parliamentary majority since 1984, the protectionist wing of the BJP has slowed the pace of Modi’s economic reforms. It was only last November that Modi successfully completed a years-long push to reform the goods and sales tax — a landmark effort to harmonize state levies into a single national sales tax, thereby lowering the costs of doing business between Indian states. Those obstacles still exist, as evidenced by the truckers lined up at state borders for hours or days on end.

For all the supposed benefits of the November 2016 demonetisation plan, its rollout was cumbersome, with the sudden removal of 500-rupee and 1,000-rupee bills from circulation in a country where 90% of all transactions are cash transactions, most of which involved the two ₹500 and ₹1,000 notes (equivalent, respectively, to $7.50 and $15.00 in the United States). Though Modi hoped the abrupt step would stem corruption and retard the flow of illicit ‘black money’ that’s evaded taxation, the move also inconvenienced everyday commerce and trade, as ordinary and poor Indians struggled to transition to the new system.

So the state elections — in Uttar Pradesh as well as Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa — were referenda on Modi’s reform push, in general, and demonetisation, in particular.

Modi passed the test, as voters gave his government the benefit of the doubt — and he did it on his own, with the help of his electoral guru, Amit Shah, a longtime aide to Modi during Modi’s years as chief minister in Gujarat and the engineer of the BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 and, since 2014, the BJP party president.

Manoj Sinha, railways minister and, since 2016, communication minister, could be the Modi acolyte chosen to serve as Uttar Pradesh’s new chief minister. (Facebook)

So personalized was Modi’s campaign that the BJP didn’t even bother naming a candidate for chief minister. So the BJP won a three-fourths majority in India’s largest state without ever telling voters who it intended to serve as the state’s top executive. Speculation initially revolved around Rajnath Singh, the 65-year-old home secretary who once served as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh from 2000 to 2002 and who is himself a former BJP president. But But 57-year-old communications and railways minister Manoj Sinha, who was born in Ghazipur and represents the city in the Lok Sabha, is also a leading contender. Modi and Shah are expected to make a decision by Saturday.  Continue reading Modi sweeps state elections in Uttar Pradesh in win for demonetisation

Three lessons about the state of Indian politics from spring election season

Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa (left) and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (right) both have reason to smile at India's spring election season. (Facebook)
Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa (left) and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (right) both have reason to smile at India’s spring election season. (Facebook)

For the better part of a week, exit polls showed that Tamil Nadu’s chief minister Jayalalithaa, both beloved and scandal-plagued, was in trouble of being rejected by voters. India Flag Icon

But when election officials announced the results Thursday for the May 16 state elections, her governing AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) instead won a resounding victory. It proved the staying power of one of India’s most enchanting regional leaders, despite her temporary, nine-month suspension as chief minister that followed a 2014 a conviction on corruption charges, and despite disastrous flooding late in 2015 that affected the Tamil capital of Chennai and that killed over 400 people throughout the state.

None of those problems seemed to matter to Tamil voters, who returned the AIADMK to power, five years after Jayalalithaa returned to power at the state level and two years after she nearly routed both regional and national parties in India’s parliamentary elections.

Despite the pollsters’ last-minute spook in Tamil Nadu, none of the results announced Thursday in spring elections across five states offered much of a surprise. But the voting, across five states, from India’s northern border with China down to its most southern tip, which incorporated, in aggregate, a population of over 225 million Indians, was as close to a ‘midterm’ vote as prime minister Narendra Modi will get.

Regional parties are stronger than ever

Mamata Banerjee won a second term as chief minister of West Bengal, despite her failure to stem corruption. (Facebook)
Mamata Banerjee won a second term as chief minister of West Bengal, despite her failure to stem corruption. (Facebook)

In the spring’s two biggest prizes — West Bengal and Tamil Nadu — voters delivered resounding victories to regional leaders like Jayalalithaa and West Bengal’s chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

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RELATED: Banerjee eyes reelection in West Bengal state election results

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The resilience of regional parties, often more tied to personality or class patronage than to a set of policies or rigid ideology, shouldn’t have been a surprise. Following the spring voting, 15 Indian states are now governed by chief ministers from regional or left-wing third parties. Last year, Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) suffered humiliating setbacks both in Delhi and in Bihar, the former to clean-government guru Arvind Kejriwal in the latter to a regional party alliance headed by chief minister Nitish Kumar, one of a handful of politicians in the country with a better record on economic growth and development than Modi himself. Continue reading Three lessons about the state of Indian politics from spring election season

Forget the Gandhis. Kejriwal is now India’s true opposition leader.


When the former (and now future) Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal challenged Narendra Modi for a seat in the Indian parliament from the symbolically and religiously important city of Varanasi last spring, it was a sign that Kejriwal, days after resigning from Delhi’s 49-day government, maybe bit off more than he could chew. India Flag Icon

He lost. Badly.

Furthermore, instead of securing a national perch in Delhi, where Kejriwal (pictured above) and his newly formed Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, आम आदमी की पार्टी, literally the ‘Common Man’ Party) found such success in the 2013 Delhi regional elections, the party instead won none of the seven seats up for grabs to the lower house of the Indian parliament. The AAP managed to win four seats in Punjab only because of voter disgust with the corruption of the ruling Sikh nationalist party in that state.

Kejriwal’s decision to resign as chief minister, just 49 days after forming a minority AAP-led government to wage a national campaign looked like a disaster. The AAP, like many third parties, was largely swept aside by the Modi wave that gave the Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, or भारतीय जनता पार्टी) a landslide victory.

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RELATED: Kejriwal’s AAP looks for second chance in Delhi vote

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After Delhi’s government reverted to president’s rule, it seemed like the BJP would easily sweep to power there too, especially after winning regional elections last October in Maharashtra, the home of Mumbai (Bombay) and the second-most populous state in India.

Today, however, with the announcement that the AAP swept up an unexpectedly strong victory in voting on February 7 (winning 67 out of 70 seats in the Delhi legislative assembly), it’s no longer risible to think about Kejriwal competing on the same platform as Modi. Voters have given Kejriwal, whose AAP is barely two years old, a second chance to carry out his agenda of anti-corruption good governance. It’s the first time since Modi’s remarkable national victory last spring that any figure or group has decisively defeated the BJP at any level of Indian politics.

Remember that in the landscape-shifting December 2013 elections, the AAP won just 28 seats, four fewer than the BJP. It governed in an awkward alliance with the Indian National Congress (भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) that, under former chief minister Sheila Dikshit, had governed Delhi for 15 years and, increasingly, became synonymous with corruption and incompetence.

delhivote15In the latest vote, Congress won no seats at all to Delhi’s legislative assembly. The party is still reeling after its massive rejection last spring. Congress won so few seats nationally that it cannot even appoint the leader of the opposition in the lower house of the Indian parliament, the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा). Since its defeat, there’s no sign that the Nehru-Gandhi family shows any sign of realizing that it must fundamentally change in order to regain the electorate’s trust. There’s no sign of any rising stars in the party from outside the family — if Rahul Gandhi proved uncharismatic and uninspired in 2014, it’s conceivable that his sister, Priyanka Vadra, might be the right answer for 2019.

But given the uninspired leadership of the quasi-monarchical Gandhi family, Kejriwal has a real chance to eclipse Congress and build a new, populist force for the secular center-left in India, attracting votes from all castes and religions whose votes are no longer tied to the independence movement of the 1930s and 1940s. That’s provided that Kejriwal can, in the years ahead in Delhi, deliver on his promise of less corruption, better services and greater safety, especially for women. (Critics will note that there’s plenty of Hindu traditionalism lurking beneath the surface of the AAP movement, but that’s just as true for Congress as well or for any Indian party that wants to compete in a country where four-fifths of its population practice Hinduism). Continue reading Forget the Gandhis. Kejriwal is now India’s true opposition leader.

Kejriwal’s AAP looks for second chance in Delhi vote


Guest post by Devin Finn 

On February 7, when Delhiwallas go to the polls to vote for candidates for all 70 seats in the Vidhan Sabha (विधान सभा) — the union territory’s Legislative Assembly — the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, आम आदमी की पार्टी, literally the ‘Common Man’ Party) has another opportunity to prove it knows how to remake politics.India Flag Icon

The AAP’s leader Arvind Kejriwal has promised to end corruption and improve the lives of the poor. Hanging in the balance are several fundamental political processes: ongoing efforts to chip away at corruption, an unprecedented movement to combat violence against women, and the possibility that an alternative vision of politics may find support among voters.

Opinion polls indicate a tight race, with party leaders from both prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, or भारतीय जनता पार्टी) and the AAP trading barbs and accusations of rules violations. After a rough 2014, AAP is attempting to concentrate strength in Delhi and demonstrate that it can govern. AAP has sought to contest as many seats as possible, build a widespread political movement in Delhi, and train and equip activists who can exploit social media to generate precise and effective messaging. Even if AAP loses, will politics be the same?

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RELATED: Meet Arvind Kejriwal,
the rising anti-corruption star of Indian politics

RELATED: Did Kejriwal err in resigning as Delhi’s chief minister?

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The AAP campaign labors in the shadow of its brief administration a year ago. In a serious upset in December 2013, Delhi voters elected Kejriwal by a considerable margin to his New Delhi constituency seat, and handed AAP the reins to the city, albeit dependent on outside support from the previous governing party, the Indian National Congress (भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस). After only 49 days, however, Kejriwal resigned: he had promised to do so on principle if lawmakers failed to pass the Jan Lokpal, a parliamentary bill that would mandate an independent ombudsman to curb corruption.

Most Delhi voters and political analysts I conversed with during last spring’s election season asserted that Kejriwal’s resignation was no way to change politics. This was perhaps borne out by AAP’s electoral humiliation in the national vote in April and May 2014. Spreading itself thin, the fledgling party won just four seats out of over 400 it contested. Meanwhile, the BJP gained 51.9% of all seats and a comprehensive mandate.

Still, it is those ’49 days’ that both haunts and enlivens the AAP campaign. Kejriwal has apologized to supporters for reneging on the opportunity to lead the Delhi government. While he lost significant political capital by staking his leadership on the bill, Kejriwal now knows that he must play the political game for real. He has tried to demonstrate that in less than just two months, the concrete initiatives that AAP put in motion were on the right track, including  establishing an anti-corruption hotline and 5500 new auto rickshaw permits. Rahul Kanwal thinks this could be an asset:

The poor actually liked those 49 chaotic days. That was when electricity and water bills had halved and the neighbourhood cop and bijliwala were too scared to ask for bribes. The day Kejriwal’s government fell is the day the ravenous agent of the state was back on the poor man’s door asking for his monthly hafta.

While the #49DaysNostalgia lends an air of experience to today’s AAP effort, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as Kejriwal likes to say. The question is whether voters are willing to support AAP after its two serious missteps in 2013 and 2014. At least three major issues are at stake. Continue reading Kejriwal’s AAP looks for second chance in Delhi vote

Four lessons as Modi wave extends to Maharashtra, Haryana


Voters in two of India’s largest states elected regional assemblies last week on October 15 — in Maharashtra and Haryana.India Flag Icon

In both cases, the conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) will take power of state government for the first time in Indian history in what was the first major electoral test for prime minister Narendra Modi (pictured above), who swept to power nationally in May after promising to bring a new wave of economic prosperity, reform and good governance to India.

In Maharashtra, India’s second-most populous state, with over 112 million people, and home to Mumbai, India’s sprawling financial and cultural center, the BJP won a plurality of the vote and the largest number of seats in the 288-member regional assembly, where it will form a coalition government with either its longtime ally, the far-right, Marathi nationalist Shiv Sena (शिवसेना) or a more intriguing option, the center-left Nationalist Congress Party (NCP, राष्ट्रवादी कॉँग्रस पक्ष), which unexpectedly offered to support a BJP government shortly after the results were announced on October 19:

mahrastra october 14maha 2014

In Haryana, a state with just 25.4 million people, which forms much of the hinterland of New Delhi, the BJP won an outright majority of seats in the 90-member legislative assembly:

haryana state 2014 haryana assembly

There are at least four narratives about what happened in these two absolutely pivotal state elections, the first since India’s national election cycle in April and May. Keep in mind that, together, the two states have a population of 137 million, larger than Japan.

The first narrative confirms the BJP’s political dominance in the honeymoon period of the Modi era. The second narrative is its direct analog, the post-independence nadir of the Nehru-Gandhi family and the chief opposition party, the Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस).

The third narrative, with almost as much national importance as the first two, is the rift between the BJP and its longtime ally, Shiv Sena, and the possibility that Shiv Sena will be shut out of the next Maharashtra government.

The fourth and final narrative has to do with India’s third parties, especially as the election relates to the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, आम आदमी की पार्टी, Common Man Party), which didn’t even bother contesting the Haryana elections and may soon lose its one-time grip on Delhi’s government. Continue reading Four lessons as Modi wave extends to Maharashtra, Haryana

A state-by-state overview of India’s election results


It quickly became clear early on Friday morning across India that Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) were headed for a historical victory in India’s national elections, which took place across nine separate phases between April 7 and May 12. India Flag Icon

But to really understand the impact of the victory, it’s important to delve into the results on a state-by-state level. Where did the BJP massively exceed expectations? Where did it fall short? Where did regional leaders keep the ‘Modi wave’ at bay? Where did regional leaders fail? Each state tells us something about the future shape of India’s new political reality in New Delhi and about the future of state governance, which, after all, represents the most important level of government for most Indians, even in the Modi era.

For the record, here are the final results:


The BJP, together with its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won 336 seats in the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the House of the People, the lower house of India’s parliament. It’s the largest mandate that any Indian party/coalition has won since 1984.

The ruling Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) and its allies in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) won just 58 seats. Not only did the Congress suffer the worst defeat of its history under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, the great-grandson of India’s first post-independence prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, it’s the first time that a non-Congress party has won an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha.

Regional parties and other third groups won an additional 149 seats. Continue reading A state-by-state overview of India’s election results

India’s election results: Modi wave largest mandate since 1984

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 1.44.49 PM

The results are now (largely) in for what will certainly be one of the biggest election dramas of the decade.India Flag Icon

Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s chief minister, has led the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) to its best-ever victory. In India’s post-independence history, it’s the first time that the BJP — or any party — has won an absolute majority other than the  Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस).

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RELATED: In-Depth: India’s elections

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Conversely, the Congress, the party of Indian independence and the party of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, has suffered its worst defeat in the history of independent India. After a decade of rule, party president Sonia Gandhi and her son, party vice president Rahul Gandhi, face a long wilderness in the Modi era.

Here’s the latest on results, via NDTV:


The BJP, by itself, will hold 284 seats, which gives it an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा). Together with its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), it will hold 340 seats. That represents the largest mandate that any governing coalition has won since 1984, when Congress won over 400 seats under Rajiv Gandhi, who was waging the fight after his mother, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by her SIkh bodyguards in the wake of Sikh riots.

It’s hard to describe just what a massive landslide this was, but this NDTV map of all 543 constituencies give you a good idea:

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 2.04.09 PM

Continue reading India’s election results: Modi wave largest mandate since 1984

India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 8


If you can believe it, today marks the one-month anniversary since the first polls opened in India’s gargantuan nine-phase general elections. India Flag Icon

Today, with 439 members of the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा) already elected, India is now just two election days away from completing the voting process. Results will be announced on May 16 — just nine days from today.

The eighth phase adds 64 more seats to the total.

Uttar Pradesh

Fifteen seats will be selected in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state and the biggest prize of the election, with 80 seats.

The most watched contest is in Amethi, something of a Nehru-Gandhi family heirloom:

  • It was first won by Sanjay Gandhi, the son of longtime prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1980.
  • When Sanjay died in an airplane crash, his brother Rajiv Gandhi held the seat from 1981 (including as India’s prime minister between 1984 and 1989), until his assassination in 1991.
  • Rajiv’s Italian-born widow Sonia Gandhi held the seat from 1999 to 2004, though she is running today in the adjacent Rae Bareli constituency.
  • Rahul Gandhi, the son of Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi, has held it for the past decade, and he’s leading the campaign of the governing Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) in 2014 — with prime minister Manmohan Singh stepping down, Rahul Gandhi would likely become prime minister if his party defies polling predictions and wins the elections.
  • Rahul’s sister, Priyanka Vadra (pictured above with Rahul), is running the Congress campaign behind the scenes — though with an increasingly public role.

Though Rahul Gandhi’s official opponent is Smriti Irani, a former television star, he’s really running against Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी), who took the fight earlier this week to Amethi, a sign of confidence in the ‘Modi wave’ that the BJP and many national polls say is sweeping India after a decade of Congress-led rule (though polls have been wrong before, in 2004 and even in 2009).

Modi on Monday delivered a scathing attack on the entire Nehru-Gandhi family, calling it arrogant and angry — it’s the Indian political equivalent of spiking the ball as Modi appears on the verge of winning a landslide BJP victory:

There is no doubting Modi’s intention, which was to offer the spectacle of his presumption; the presumption of a “chai bechne wala” humiliating the “raj parivar” in their own backyard. The class warfare trope, beloved of old socialist-era Hindi films, played beautifully to his exceptionally large gallery. They cheered each time Modi pronounced ‘Sssonia madam’ with his now trademark sibilant hiss…. The truth is that Modi didn’t really need to go there. Yet he did because, simply, he could — hold a giant rally in Amethi and heap personal invective on the Gandhi family. 

Modi attacked Priyanka Vadra for her ‘arrogance’ in dismissing the local BJP candidate and baiting her into an angry response by attacking her father. Modi, who is considered ‘OBC’ (Other Backward Classes), a constitutionally protected class, and who once sold tea for a living, played both the class card and the caste card against the Gandhis.

Vadra accused Modi of practicing ‘neech rajniti‘ — or low-level politics — and Modi slammed back that it’s not a fault that he was born into a ‘neech jaati‘ — or lower caste. In states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where caste and politics are unmistakably linked, Modi has been careful to shy away from caste-based campaigning, though top Modi aide Amit Shah has been working for months behind the scenes to manage a savvy BJP campaign designed, in part, to maximize the caste divisions among rival parties.

Hindu poet Kumar Vishwas is running as the candidate of the newly formed good-government, anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, आम आदमी की पार्टी, Common Man Party), which rose to prominence in the December 2013 Delhi elections and briefly held power for 49 days until AAP leader and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal resigned when the legislative assembly blocked his keystone corruption bill.

Andhra Pradesh

The remaining 25 seats in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh are up for grabs, too. Continue reading India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 8

India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 3


The first two phases of India’s national parliamentary elections seemed less like an appetizer than an amuse bouche.India Flag Icon

But after a slow start that saw voting in just 13 constituencies confined to seven relatively isolated states in India’s far northeast, the third phases gets underway today with a blast.

Unlike the first two rounds, the April 10 phase, which will determine 91 out of 543 constituencies in the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), will have a real impact in deciding India’s next government.

Before going any further, here’s a map of India’s states for reference:



Theoretically, today’s largest prize is the southern state of Kerala (pictured above), where all 20 constituencies will hold elections today in the tropical southwestern state of 33.4 million.

But, by and large, it’s a race between the center-left and the far left. Continue reading India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 3

Did Kejriwal err in resigning position as Delhi’s chief minister?


Among the most anticipated races in India’s third election phase today will be in the National Capital Territory of Delhi, where Arvind Kejriwal hopes to make just as large a breakthrough in national politics as he did back in December in local politics. India Flag Icon

Kejriwal’s new anti-corruption party, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, आम आदमी की पार्टी, Common Man Party) burst onto the national spotlight when it won 28 out of 70 seats in Delhi’s legislative assembly, largely by stealing seats from the 16-year government of chief minister Sheila Dikshit’s Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस).

Though the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) won 31 seats, Kejriwal won the begrudging support of the eight remaining Congress legislators to form a government that would ultimately last just 49 days.

But following his resignation after a high-stakes fight over an anti-corruption bill, Kejriwal turned immediately to the national election campaign, with hopes of doing this spring what he managed to do in Delhi last December — energize voters both disenchanted by a decade of Congress rule and uncertain about a BJP-led government.

There are signs, however, that Kejriwal may have made a mistake — instead of building on its Delhi gains, the AAP could fail to make any advances nationally and it could even find itself embarrassed on its home turf.

Kejriwal’s record as chief minister

No one will dispute that it was a very busy 49 days.  Continue reading Did Kejriwal err in resigning position as Delhi’s chief minister?

What exactly is the ‘Gujarat model’? And can Modi export it nationally?

modi Ahmedabad

Narendra Modi’s strongest argument in his quest to become India’s next prime minister is the record of economic growth in Gujarat, where he has served as chief minister since 2001 — and the promise that Modi can unlock the same kind of growth nationally. India Flag Icon

There’s no doubt that Indian GDP growth has slowed — despite bouncing back from the 2008-09 global financial crisis with 10.5% growth in 2010 on the strength of a surge of investment in the developing world, India has struggled with much lower growth over the past three years. That’s one of the reasons that the governing center-left, governing Indian National Congress (Congress, or भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) is so unpopular as it tries to win a third consecutive term in India’s April/May parliamentary elections.

But what is the ‘Gujarat model’? Can Modi really claim that his government’s policies are responsible for the superior Gujarati economic performance?

What’s more, even if Modi’s claims do hold up, is the Gujarat model so easily replicable that he will be able to implement nationally in the likely event that he becomes India’s next prime minister?

Though Modi and his center-right, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, or भारतीय जनता पार्टी) lead polls in India’s election campaign, the answers to those questions will determine the success — or failure — of any future Modi-led government. Continue reading What exactly is the ‘Gujarat model’? And can Modi export it nationally?

Is Priyanka Vadra the secret Gandhi family weapon for Congress?


All eyes have been on Rahul Gandhi, the somewhat reluctant warrior who’s leading the campaign for the governing Indian National Congress (INC / Congress) that hopes to win a third consecutive term in power in this spring’s parliamentary elections.India Flag Icon

But it’s his sister, Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra, who is getting all the buzz recently with word that Priyanka will step out of the shadows to take a fuller role in the election campaign this year, mostly as an advisor and manager for Rahul’s campaign, but also taking an increasingly visible role as well.

As she steps closer to the heart of Congress’s campaign, it will be the third major Gandhi family member to figure prominently in the 2013 elections.  Their Italian-born mother, Sonia Gandhi, has been Congress’s party leader since 1998, though when Congress won the 2004 national elections, Sonia declined to become prime minister, instead handing the top job to Manmohan Singh, who will step down this spring after a decade in office.

Rahul is not technically the Congress’s prime ministerial candidate in 2013, but his role leading the campaign means that it’s more likely than not that he’ll become India’s next prime minister if the INC wins this spring.

That outcome seems increasingly less certain.  The latest CNN-IBN-Lokniti-CSDS poll shows that Congress and its allies, which together comprise the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) will win between 107 and 127 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the lower house of the Indian parliament — a loss of over 100 seats.  Instead, the more conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, or भारतीय जनता पार्टी) would win, together with its own allies that form the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), between 211 and 231 seats, under the leadership of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, has waged an aggressive campaign against Congress, on the basis that he can bring Gujarat’s high-growth economic approach to the rest of India.  Modi, who is 20 years older than Rahul, routinely refers to his opponent as shehzada, or ‘prince,’ and there’s speculation that Congress’s leadership decided not to anoint Rahul as its official prime ministerial candidate to avoid a presidential-style showdown between the two leaders that Modi would almost certainly win, despite his flaws.

Priyanka has campaigned before on behalf of her mother and broher in their constituencies in Uttar Pradesh.  But neither she nor her brother, Rahul, have faced the rigors of leading a national campaign in the world’s largest democracy — especially against perhaps the most talented BJP politician in over a decade.  Modi’s not without flaws, though, especially given doubts over his role in 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat.

But there’s no disputing that Modi, if the elections were held today, has enough momentum to win.

So who is Priyanka and how can she help turn things around for Congress?  Continue reading Is Priyanka Vadra the secret Gandhi family weapon for Congress?

Meet Arvind Kejriwal, the rising anti-corruption star of Indian politics

Arvind Kejriwal

Yesterday, the new government of Delhi’s national capital territory launched a new anti-graft hotline that received nearly 4,000 calls on its first day.India Flag Icon

In what was supposed to be the year of Narendra Modi’s easy rise to India’s premiership, it’s another brash new leader who’s making headlines instead — and not just in India, but worldwide.

It’s Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, आम आदमी की पार्टी), literally the ‘Common Man’ Party, which emerged as the key player in Delhi’s December regional elections as  an alternative to Modi’s conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) and the governing center-left Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) of Sonia Gandhi, the party’s leader; Rahul Gandhi, her son; and outgoing prime minister Manmohan Singh. 

Kejriwal, at age 45 one of India’s youngest chief ministers, took office on December 28, leading a minority government that, somewhat ironically, enjoys the outside support of the INC, which controlled Delhi’s government between 1998 and last December’s elections.  Congress, which was running for a fourth consecutive term in power under chief minister Sheila Dikshit, was decimated — it not only lost its majority, but now holds just eight seats, after suffering from widespread corruption allegations.  Kejriwal actually ran in Dikshit’s New Delhi constituency and defeated her by a margin of 53.5% to 22.2% (state BJP leader Vijender Gupta received just 21.7%).

Though the BJP actually won the greatest number of seats (31 to the AAP’s 28), negotiations between the AAP and the BJP failed, and Kejriwal took up Congress’s somewhat surprising offer to back his government, thereby avoiding a new round of elections.  Unlike other regional parties in India, the AAP managed to take power on a broad coalition of supporters, not on the basis of representing certain religious or class-based constituencies — it attracted Muslims and Hindus, rich and poor, Dalit and non-Dalit, and especially India’s educated younger generation.

Kejriwal, a mechanical engineer by training and a former Indian Revenue Service official, started an NGO in 1999 called Parivartan, designed to provide tax assistance and other help to Delhi citizens.  But it was as an anti-corruption official that Kejriwal first caught fire in the national spotlight, and under the mentorship of Anna Hazare, worked to demand what would eventually become the Right to Information Act (RTI) in 2005, which required government bodies to reply to citizen requests for information within 30 days or face penalties, and which relaxes many previous exemptions from disclosure under the Official Secrets Act and other legislation.  RTI replaced the much weaker, toothless and exemption-ridden 2002 Freedom of Information Act.  

In 2011, Anna and Kejriwal succeeded in pushing the government to start the process for drafting a Jan Lokpal bill, an anti-corruption law that would create the Jan Lokpal, an independent citizen’s ombudsman commission that would have the ability to investigate corruption.  Though India’s parliament pushed through a Lokpal Bill in December 2013, it’s much weaker than the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill — for example, it doesn’t protect whistleblowers, it doesn’t provide for any real punitive actions or the ability to prosecute corrupt bureaucrats, and it doesn’t provide investigative independence to India’s Central Bureau of Investigation.  Kejriwal took the final leap into elective politics when he founded the AAP in November 2012 with the intention of contesting Delhi’s local elections.

Having now swept to power in Delhi (literally on the image of a broom ‘sweeping’ corruption away), Kejriwal wasted no time in announcing a 50% cut in power rates and free water to Delhi residents within hours of taking power.  He’s already working to implement the AAP’s anti-corruption agenda with the anti-graft hotline, and he’s pledged to introduce a Jan Lokpal bill specifically for Delhi soon.AAP broom

There’s good reason for Kejriwal to be in a hurry — with the AAP’s momentum spreading from Delhi to other parts of India, it could be in a position to make a splash in national politics with the upcoming elections for the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the lower house of India’s parliament, which are due before May 31.  That gives Kejriwal some time to lay the foundation for what the AAP might be able to accomplish on a grander scale, a down payment on what a national anti-corruption party could enact.

After a decade of rule under Singh’s Congress-led governments, Indian voters are weary with Congress .  Its prime minister-in-waiting Rahul Gandhi seems unexciting and disinterested.  Indians are displeased with Congress’s reform record and the state of India’s precarious economy.  Meanwhile, the AAP has highlighted a growing disenchantment over bureaucratic corruption.

Though Modi, the decade-long chief minister of Gujarat state, promises to lead a BJP government that will bring Gujarat’s high economic growth rates to the entire country, there are doubts both about the extent to which Modi’s ‘Gujarati model’ is responsible for his state’s growth and how (and whether) such a ‘Gujarati model’ could even be translated to a much more diverse national economy.  Moreover, the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat continue to blemish Modi’s record.  Though he recently spoke out for the first time disclaiming any role in the violence, the riots, which resulted in the death of over 1,000 Muslims, will continue to haunt Modi’s campaign and the notion that he can be a trustworthy prime minister for India’s religious minorities.

So what damage might Kejriwal inflict on the status quo? Plenty.  Continue reading Meet Arvind Kejriwal, the rising anti-corruption star of Indian politics