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.
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
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.
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→
Nearly two years ago, when Indian voters swept Narendra Modi into power, it was all supposed to be about development.
Modi, the former Gujarati first minister, led the Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) to a dizzying landslide on the promise that he would be the energetic 21st century CEO of India, Inc. He repeatedly emphasized that his administration would prioritize toilets over temples, that a Modi-led government would be far more interested in promoting economic growth, human development and policy reform than in policing the religious norms of the Hindu nationalists so influential in the BJP.
But by the standards of Modi’s own 2014 campaign, he’s failing.
His efforts to enact business-friendly land reform (essentially, giving the Indian government stronger rights to eminent domain) was curtailed by farmers, Rahul Gandhi and even opponents to Modi’s own right flank.
An attempt to enact a Goods and Services Tax bill, which would harmonize a single tax rate across India’s state borders, is also flailing (for now) in the upper house of the Indian parliament. Officially, the economy grew in 2015 by 7.5%, but there’s reason to doubt those numbers.
After five rounds of voting that ended on Thursday, the results of Bihar’s state elections were revealed last Sunday, handing a surprisingly strong victory to chief minister Nitish Kumar — and a correspondingly disappointing defeat to prime minister Narendra Modi that’s caused ripples nationally and ripped the aegis of invincibility from Modi’s political cloak.
With 104 million people, Bihar has a population twice that of Myanmar/Burma, whose elections have been received with far more international coverage. Though it’s not even India’s most populous state (it ranks third), Bihar is home to more people than all but 11 countries in the world. It’s here, in one of India’s poorest states, that a regional election drew into conflict three of India’s most colorful and powerful politicians and where two distinct (and imperfect) visions of India’s development have clashed, with a result that will have national implications for India’s future.
To understand the real significance of the Bihari election, it’s worth taking a step back to understand the decade-long posturing between Modi and Kumar. Bear with me.
A tale of two visions of ‘vikaas’
The first of those two visions belongs to Modi, whose Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) so overwhelmingly won national elections in May 2014. That was just as true in Bihar as it was elsewhere in India, where the BJP took 22 of the state’s 42 seats in the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the lower house of the Indian parliament. In part, Modi was selling a vision of development and economic progress based on the ‘Gujarati model’ that he laid claim to after 13 years as chief minister of the state of Gujarat. The Modi approach involved a top-heavy approach to government and economic boosterism that found Modi jetting to China, Japan and the United Arab Emirates to cajole foreign development to his state. Though Gujarat’s economy has always been among India’s stronger performers, there’s no doubt that Modi’s zero-tolerance approach to corruption and attention to strong infrastructure, including some of the best roads and power generation in India, has been successful. Despite the Hindu-Muslim riots that left over 1,000 Muslims dead shortly after Modi took office in 2001, Modi’s 2014 campaign slogan of ‘toilets, not temples’ rang true — he was a man more interested in bringing good roads and clean water to his country than giving voice to Hindu nationalism, or at least that was the promise of his campaign.
But there was always another model, and that’s Kumar’s Bihari model.
Ultimately, it was this model that won the day in this autumn’s elections — a five-phase spectacle over the course of nearly a month, between October 12 and November 5. When the results were announced, Kumar’s Mahagathbandhan (‘Grand Alliance’), a coalition between his own Janata Dal (United) (JD(U), जनता दल (यूनाइटेड)) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD, राष्ट्रीय जनता दल), the party founded in 1997 by former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, won a clear mandate, far larger than anyone had expected in what was thought to have been an incredibly tight race.
The Kumar-led alliance won 41.9% of the vote and 178 seats in the state’s 243-member Legislative Assembly, while Modi’s alliance won just 34.1% of the vote and 58 seats, far more lopsided than anyone had predicted.
Kumar’s story — and his relationship with the BJP — is complex.
Except for a short period between May 2014 and February 2015, when he briefly stepped aside after his party’s loss in India’s national election, Kumar has served as Bihar’s chief minister since 2005, and for most of that time, he was an ally of the BJP in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Kumar took over a state known as something of an economic basketcase. Even today, Bihar has a far higher poverty rate than much of the rest of the country. When you think of overpopulated and underdeveloped India, you are probably thinking of Bihar or somewhere very much like it. In contrast to Bangalore or Mumbai or even Modi’s Gujarat, Bihar’s hopes never lied in the kind of sexy development that comes from foreign investment. But over the course of Kumar’s tenure as chief minister, he has managed some of the highest GDP growth rates in the country (including an average GDP growth rate of 10.6% between 2005 and 2014) and an 8% reduction in poverty. Like Modi in Gujarat, Kumar focused on infrastructure, including better roads. But he also turned to greater social welfare spending and his record on poverty reduction is far stronger than Modi’s Gujarati record.
But perhaps Kumar’s greatest governance success came from reversing the sense of lawlessness that characterized Bihar under the leadership of his predecessor (and now coalition partner) Lalu Prasad Yadav.
Becoming chief minister for the first time in 1990, Yadav reigned over what became known nationally as a ‘jungle raj,’ a state of wild corruption, economic malaise and violent criminals riding roughshod. In 1997, when he was implicated (and eventually convicted) for accepting kickbacks in an animal husbandry scheme known as the ‘fodder scam,’ he stepped down in favor of his wife, Rabri Devi, who intermittently ruled as chief minister until 2005. At the same time, Yadav founded a new breakaway party form the Janata Dal, the RJD.
The two remained enemies for the better part of a decade and a half. As the RJD became a byword for petty corruption (even today, 49 of the 80 incoming state legislators have pending criminal cases), Kumar promised a new approach that transcended religion and caste, nominally an ally of the BJP, while Bihar’s green shoots emerged in the mid-2000s onward.
In 2013, as it became apparent that the BJP and the NDA favored Modi to lead the alliance into the 2014 elections as a prime ministerial candidate, Kumar withdrew from the alliance. He did so mostly because of Modi’s role in the controversial 2002 communal violence and riots in Gujarat. Just as the BJP was about to win the most massive victory in Indian history, Kumar walked away from the alliance, in no small part over secularism. One suspects that it also had to do with Kumar’s disappointment in not leading the alliance himself. But for years, Kumar has refused to let Modi’s campaign in Bihar, and his disapproval of Modi’s record had been on record for years.
How the ‘Grand Alliance’ stole Bihar back from Modi
The 2015 Bihar elections were supposed to be one of the great triumphs on Modi’s path to consolidating the BJP’s power, and the prime minister campaigned throughout the state early and often at the advice of his chief strategist, Amit Shah.
But something went awry.
In contrast to the ‘toilets, not temples’ mantra of his 2014 campaign, the BJP got bogged down in an attempt to use communal issues, like eating beef, to fire up its Hindutva base in India, a step that seems to have backfired. Despite Modi’s popularity, the BJP might have benefited from grooming a local charismatic figure that could have led the party’s efforts in Bihar. Through the campaign, it was never quite clear who would become chief minister had the BJP won the election, unlike the ‘grand alliance,’ which made clear that Kumar would carry on as chief minister if elected. Unlike Modi, just 18 months into his tenure as India’s prime minister, Kumar has a decade of proven results as chief minister. It’s not crazy to think that Bihar’s voters are sophisticated enough to support Modi nationally and Kumar locally.
Yet one of the reasons that the BJP did so well in the 2014 national elections in Bihar was that the JDU and the RJD were divided. Though the Nitish-Lalu alliance has generated its fair share of wariness, given the 15-year rivalry between the two figures, the coalition between the JDU and the RJD made it much easier to unite Muslim supporters (in a state where over 15% of the population is Muslim) and the disadvantaged Yadav caste.
Joining forces wasn’t easy for Kumar, whose good-governance agenda has little in common with the RJD’s pocket-lining. But the Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस), previously the governing party of India, engineered the coalition between the two parties and joined up as the third, by far weakest, partner of the alliance in Bihar. Rahul Gandhi may be a ghost when it comes to contemporary Indian politics, and aside from its overrated role in bringing Kumar back together with the corruption-tainted Lalu, has been entirely absent from the Bihar campaign (as in Delhi, where Arvind Kejriwal delivered a whopping defeat to Modi earlier this year).
Lalu, as a politician, is one of India’s greatest showmen. He toured every corner of Bihar state, and he used the campaign to attack the hardliners who have dominated headlines in India for their Hindu nationalism since Modi took office. It worked, and his party (the RJD) won more seats than Kumar’s JD(U). He’ll expect something in return for that victory, and it might be more than just a space in Kumar’s next cabinet for his two ambitious sons.
The consequences for Modi’s government and the road ahead
There’s no doubt that the Bihar electoral rout is the worst political crisis since Modi took power nearly 18 months ago. Modi’s enemies in his party, including the old guard that he sidelined two years ago, have now called into question the highly centralized approach that Modi has taken to India’s government.
But as much as the Bihar elections represent a loss for the BJP and for Modi personally, it’s not fatal. Though it’s true that Modi’s government has gotten off to a slow start as far as reform goes, he has more than enough time to right the course. The next Indian general election will not take place until 2019. In the meantime, he should double down on reform. Despite the fact that many BJP parliamentarians are protectionsist, he should push full speed ahead with a reform of the national goods and services tax that will harmonize rates and rules across state lines. As far as regulation goes, this isn’t a Thatcherite rupture, it’s low-hanging fruit. Land reform and steps to reduce graft, make government more transparent and businesses more efficient would be welcome. As far as development goes, Modi would do well to copy Bihar’s program of providing free bicycles to girls and incentives for primary and secondary education.
He might even work with Kumar in the weeks and months ahead to merge the best of both models, two sides of the same pro-development coin. Nothing would get Modi’s government back on the path of ‘toilets, not temples.’ That’s especially true with a tough set of state elections coming in 2016 and 2017. No one expects Modi and the BJP to sweep Tamil Nadu or West Bengal, where local parties rule supreme. But the 2016 election in Assam is winnable, and the fight for Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous (and still quite impoverished) state in 2017 will be fierce. A loss there will not doom Modi’s chances in 2019, but an embarrassing loss just might.
Less than a year after his resignation in the wake of a strategic miscalculation, a break with India’s conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, or भारतीय जनता पार्टी) over its decision to anoint Narendra Modi, then the chief minister of Gujarat, as its prime ministerial candidate in 2014, Nitish Kumar is back as the chief minister of Bihar state.
It’s not every day that Patna, Bihar’s capital city, becomes the epicenter of Indian domestic politics. But the return of Kumar (pictured above) heralds the comeback of one of India’s most wily politicians, a potential national rival to Modi, and one of the most capable policymakers in India today. It’s no exaggeration to say that Kumar’s ‘Bihari model’ is in some ways superior to Modi’s ‘Gujarati model’ when you look at the development gains that Bihar state made under Kumar’s nearly decade-long tenure as chief minister from 2005 to 2014.
Kumar’s return comes no less than nine months before regional elections are due in Bihar, one of India’s most important states that will now be shaped widely as a standoff between Kumar and Modi.
With nearly 104 million people, it’s India’s third most populous state. Bordering Bangladesh on its far eastern corner, Bihar has a predominantly Hindi-speaking, Hindu-practicing population. But 16.5% of the population consists of practicing Muslims, making it an especially diverse state in terms of religion.
Don’t underestimate how important the state is — and how important its further development could become. Bihar is home to more people than the entire country of The Philippines or Vietnam or Egypt, and it’s only at the beginning of what could be a longer trajectory of rising economic growth.
For now, Kumar is taking a gentle stand with respect to Modi, pledging to work with India’s new prime minister for Bihar’s benefit. But Kumar will not be renewing a one-time alliance between the BJP and Kumar’s own party, the Janata Dal (United) (JD(U), जनता दल (यूनाइटेड)).
Once a leading player in the BJP-dominated National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Kumar pulled the JD(U) out of its alliance with the BJP when it became clear that Modi would lead the alliance through the 2014 elections. That was a difficult proposition for Kumar, whose party attracts a significant share of votes among Bihar’s Muslim population. Modi’s reputation among Muslim Indians remains fraught, in no small part over Hindu reprisals for the burning of a train of Hindu pilgrims. Those riots, which took place in 2002 in the first months of Modi’s tenure as Gujarat’s chief minister, led to the deaths of nearly 1,000 Muslims. Critics argued that Kumar, instead, wanted to be the BJP-led alliance’s candidate in his own right, and observers point to long-standing antipathy between Modi and Kumar, as veteran writer Sankarshan Thakur writes in The Telegraph:
The two men have duelled infamously on the national stage and the prickly needle between them became the sole cause of the collapse of the JDU-BJP alliance in Bihar and the crises that have dogged the state to this day. The Modi juggernaut had decimated Nitish in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and caused him to resign. Nitish has displayed a near-pathological aversion to Modi, refusing even to bring the Prime Minister’s name to his lip. His return as chief minister raises the charming prospect of the two men having to come face to face and engage as leader of nation and state.
Bihar’s regional elections, due before November, will be the most important political test for Modi’s strength since his election last year. The BJP’s recent loss in regional elections in the National Capital Territory of Delhi to the anti-corruption Arvind Kejriwal must certainly give Kumar hope that he, too, can unlock the means to defeating Modi. For their part, the BJP, under the leadership of former Gujarati minister Amit Shah, will pull no punches in its attempt to wrest Bihar away from Kumar, giving it a key foothold in northeastern India. If Modi and the BJP succeed in Bihar, they will have a credible shot at winning 2016’s elections in West Bengal — the fourth-most populous state in India and, like Bihar, both much more Muslim and much poorer than the rest of India. Continue reading Nitish Kumar returns to front-line Indian politics→
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.
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.
Today marks the final phase of India’s election marathon.
Voters in 41 constituencies will elect their members of the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the 545-seat lower house of the Indian parliament. After today’s voting, exit polls should give Indians (and the rest of us) the first indications of what the results might be, though they have been vastly wrong in the past. The official final results will be announced on Friday, May 16.
In particular, it’s the biggest day of voting in two of India’s most populous states. Uttar Pradesh will elect 18 of its 80 seats today, and West Bengal will elect 17 of its 42 seats. In addition, Bihar will elect its final six legislators.
In West Bengal, a state of 91 million Indians, chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s local All India Trinamool Congess (TMC, সর্বভারতীয় তৃণমূল কংগ্রেস) is set to win the biggest share of the vote after sweeping to power in the state’s 2011 elections and, in so doing, sweeping a 34-year communist government out of office in West Bengal.
Nonetheless, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CP-I(M)) and the Left Front (বাম ফ্রন্ট) are expected to win a large share of the vote as well.
That leaves India’s two national parties, the governing, secular Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) of Rahul Gandhi and outgoing prime minister Manmohan Singh, and the conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) of chief minister Narendra Modi, both unlikely to make many gains in West Bengal.
Both Uttar Pradesh and Bihar will provide more fertile territory, especially for the BJP, which needs to win most of the 122 seats in those two states to have a chance at winning a majority government in the Lok Sabha.
In what might be the most watched constituency in India, Modi is battling Arvind Kejriwal, the former chief minister of Delhi, in the city of Varanasi (formerly Benares). Lying on the shores of the Ganges River, the city is known as India’s holiest, and it’s in the heart of Uttar Pradesh.
Kejriwal emerged as one of the most popular politicians in the country after his showing in the December 2013 elections in the National Capital territory. His newly formed Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, आम आदमी की पार्टी, Common Man Party) took power for 49 days, instituting popular policies from water and power subsidies to hotlines for reporting bribery. Kejriwal resigned, however, in February, when the territorial legislature refused to enact his jan lokpal bill that would have instituted mechanisms for reducing corruption.
Since leaving office, Kejriwal has led a national campaign for the AAP, hoping that he can recreate the same electoral magic nationally that he did six months ago. But there’s a general sense that Kejriwal made a mistake by resigning, and that his national campaign attempts to do too much in too little time. There’s a chance that it will backfire so much that the AAP might not even win a majority of Delhi’s seats to the Lok Sabha.
If you can believe it, today marks the one-month anniversary since the first polls opened in India’s gargantuan nine-phase general elections.
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.
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.
With just three rounds to go between today and May 12, and just 194 seats left to fill, Indians are once again going to the polls today to elect MPs in 89 constituencies.
The biggest prize of today’s voting is Gujarat, the home state of Narendra Modi, where his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) hopes to win the lion’s share of the state’s 26 seats in the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the lower house of India’s parliament.
Modi (pictured above in a ‘selfie’ posted to Twitter after voting earlier today in Ahmedabad) has served as chief minister of Gujarat since 2001, and he’s won three consecutive elections, most recently in December 2012. Much of his campaign revolves around his own stewardship of the Gujarati economy over more than a decade. The promise that Modi, as India’s next prime minister, can bring the ‘Gujarat model,’ with its high level of development, GDP growth and investment, to all of India is an alluring prospect. But it’s questionable that there’s anything like a ‘Gujarat model’ at all — it’s probably more accurate to talk about a ‘Gujarat narrative’ that begins well before Modi took office. While Modi has worked hard to bring investment to his state, and while he may be credited with some of the state’s economic success over the past 13 years, it’s not certain just how he would effect the lessons of Gujarat’s development throughout the rest of India.
But for today’s purposes, the governing Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस), which currently controls 11 of the state’s 26 constituencies, will almost certainly lose many of them. As in so many other states across India, Congress, under the uncertain leadership of Rahul Gandhi, seems destined to mark historical losses. Continue reading India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 7→
Today, Indians in eleven states (and a territory) will vote in the sixth phase of its elections.
In terms of seats, today’s phase of voting (in 117 constituencies) is only marginally less important than last week’s April 17 phase, in which 121 seats to the decided.
What’s more, after today’s voting, we’ll be well over the halfway mark of voting in all 543 constituencies of the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा) — following today’s phase, we’ll be 195 constituencies away from the end of what’s been the largest, longest election in Indian history.
So where are the key points in today’s round of voting?
The biggest prize is the southern state of Tamil Nadu, which elects all 39 of its Lok Sabha representatives today. It’s one of India’s most populous states, with over 72.1 million people, and it’s also one of India’s largest state economies, with its capital Chennai a primary manufacturing, services and financial hub.
Unfortunately for Narendra Modi, the frontrunner to become the next prime minister, and for Rahul Gandhi, who hopes to lead the current government to a third consecutive term in power, neither of India’s two national parties are expected to win very many votes here. Continue reading India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 6→
It’s election day once again in India, and today marks the fifth phase of the nine-phase marathon to determine India’s national government. Indians today will elect 121 members of the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा). That makes today’s round, just barely, the most important of all nine phases. Together with the April 24 phase next week, Indians will choose 43% of the seats in the entire Lok Sabha in just two rounds of voting.
So what are the keys to the voting in today’s phase?
Here’s our trusty map of India’s states, as a reference point before we jump into the state-by-state breakdown:
The biggest prize is the south-central state of Karnataka, a state of over 61 million Indians, home to Bangalore and India’s high-tech sector. All of its 28 representatives to the Lok Sabha will be elected in today’s voting.
More than any other state in India, it’s been especially impermeable to the ‘Modi wave’ that polls predict will lift the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) and its prime ministerial candidate, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, to power.
In the May 2013 state elections, the BJP lost control of the Karnataka state government, terminating the BJP’s historic first government in India’s south. The loss had less to do with Modi than with corruption and infighting within the state party. Nonetheless, the BJP was wiped out, losing 72 seats in the state assembly, and damaging its reputation in advance of this year’s national elections.
With the memories of the disastrous BJP state government still fresh, Karnataka could be the rare bright spot for India’s governing party, the Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस), which could pick up eight seats for a total of 14, according to the latest NDTV poll.
One of the marquee contests is in the Bangalore South constituency, where Congress’s candidate is Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekan, running against the BJP’s Ananth Kumar.
The BJP’s most impressive victory in last November’s state elections occurred in the arid, western state of Rajasthan, India’s eight-most populous state, where Congress lost 75 seats and the BJP gained 84 in the state’s legislative assembly. It was the BJP’s best-ever performance and Congress’s worst-ever performance.
So Modi has high hopes here, in a state that lies just north of his own home state of Gujarat — if the BJP runs away with this election and forms India’s next government, it will be largely because of the lopsided victories it’s expected to win here and elsewhere in India’s north.
Twenty constituencies, out of a total of 25, will vote in Rajasthan today, including the historic city of Jodhpur (pictured above).
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.
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?
In a more perfect Indian democracy, the increasingly presidential-style showdown for the April/May Indian general election would not be between Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, and Rahul Gandhi, the latest scion of the long-ruling Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
Instead, it would pit Modi, a champion of economic liberalism and Hindu nationalism against Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar state. Kumar, who’s been in power since 2005, can claim to have transformed Bihar from an economic basketcase into one of the fastest-growing states in India. What’s more, Kumar has paired the quest for high economic growth with the values of secularism and a push for greater social welfare spending. Kumar (pictured above) has been mentioned as a potential prime minister, and he certainly will be in the future — even if Modi wins this year’s elections.
But in the odd calculus of Indian domestic politics, Kumar, formerly an ally of Modi’s conservative Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी), is increasingly marginalized in the current campaign.
At first glance, it’s odd that Kumar and Modi came to be allies in the first place, it’s odd that Kumar would leave the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) last summer just as Modi won the prime ministerial nod from the BJP’s leaders, and it’s odd that Kumar, with the strongest counter-example to Modi’s ‘Gujarat’ model, could now be squeezed out of having any national role in Indian politics.
When the BJP decided last June to anoint Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, as its prime ministerial candidate, however, Kumar promptly pulled his party, the Janata Dal (United) (JD(U), जनता दल (यूनाइटेड)), out of the NDA, depriving the coalition of its second-largest member.
That decision now looks like a mistake, because JD(U) stands to lose most of its seats in the April/May parliamentary elections. Though it currently holds 20 of the 40 seats allocated to Bihar, projections show that the JD(U) could lose around 15 (or more) of those seats.
6. India parliamentary elections, expected in May.
In the spring, the country of 1.24 billion people faces a decision — either award a third term to a listless, relatively corrupt center-left government with uninspiring leadership or take a chance on a controversial center-right government that promises economic transformation, but which could inflame India’s Muslim population.
Before May 31, Indians must choose the entire membership of Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the lower house of India’s parliament — it currently has 545 members, but can have up to a maximum of 552.
On the left is the familiar Indian National Congress (Congress, or भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस). This is the party of Jawaharlal Nehru. And Indira Gandhi, his daughter. And Rajiv Gandhi, her son. And Sonia Gandhi, his Italian-born wife. And now Rahul Gandhi, their son. With 206 seats, Congress is the largest party in the Lok Sabha today, and it leads the United Progressive Alliance, which holds a total of 226 seats.
After a decade in office, India’s first Sikh prime minister, economist Manmohan Singh, will step down no matter who wins the elections — and he’ll do so with an economy in the doldrums and a record of having achieved few of the economic and social reforms that Indians expected when he came to power in 2004. Though he pushed through reforms to liberalize India’s retail sector earlier this year and a law strengthening punishment for rape after the brutal gang rape and murder of a woman in Delhi in December 2012, Singh’s record as prime minister has been panned — much in contrast to his record as finance minister between 1991 and 1996. GDP growth is expected to rise in 2013 to around 5% after falling for three consecutive years — from 10.5% in 2010 to 6.3% in 2011 to just 3.2% in 2012. But that comes after the Indian rupee fell nearly 25% in value against the dollar throughout 2013 — and still remains around 13% lower than it was in January 2013.
Sonia Gandhi, Congress’s party leader throughout Singh’s administration, is expected to continue in that role, with her and her son Rahul (pictured above) leading Congress’s campaign. But Rahul’s relatively lackluster performance on the campaign trail has led some commentators to wonder whether he really cares if Congress wins or loses in 2014. Rahul recently tried to create some distance between himself and Singh, but it remains to be seen whether Rahul has the political skill to become India’s next prime minister.
On the right is the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी), which last held power between 1999 and 2004, when it lost a disastrous ‘India Shining’ campaign that seemed to disregard the majority of Indians who weren’t pocketing the gains of India’s economic boom at the time, despite GDP growth of around 8%. This time around, the BJP has embraced Narendra Modi, the thrice-elected chief minister of Gujarat, home to one of India’s strongest regional economies. He’s popular, not least of which because he’s seen as impervious to corruption, but he hasn’t explained yet how he would translate his Gujarati economic model to the entirety of India. What’s more, he’s plagued by his role in controversial anti-Muslim riots in 2002 that left over 1,000 Muslims dead. Modi’s role remains murky, but it was enough for the United States to deny Modi a visa in the 2000s. It’s a handicap for Modi’s national ambitions, in light of a population of 176 million Muslim Indians who largely mistrust Modi, who got his political start in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing, Hindu paramilitary group.
Today, Modi seems like the odds-on favorite to become India’s prime minister, but he and the BJP face challenges. It’s no secret that former BJP leader and deputy prime minister LK Advani has clashed with Modi in the past, and that Modi’s rise to become the nominal head of the BJP remains controversial. What’s more, he starts the campaign with just 117 seats in the Lok Sabha. The second-largest member of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition, the Janata Dal (United) (जनता दल (यूनाइटेड)), a center-left party with 20 seats that controls India’s third-most populous state, Bihar, when that state’s chief minister Nitish Kumar pulled out of the NDA in June 2013 over differences with Modi.
The BJP thrived in a set of state assembly elections in November and December 2013 in a wide swath of north-central India — it retained Madhya Pradesh (India’s sixth-most populous), retained Chhattisgarh and gained Rajasthan (India’s eight-largest). But it lost its sole foothold in India’s south when it lost control of the government of Karnataka in May 2013. There’s also no indication that the BJP can make inroads in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, where it placed third in February 2012 state elections behind two UPA-friendly parties, the Samajwadi Party (समाजवादी पार्टी, Socialist Party), which holds 22 seats, and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP, बहुजन समाज पार्टी), which holds 21 seats. In West Bengal, India’s fourth-largest state (and one of its poorest), chief minister Mamata Banerjee has a lock on politics after her center-left All India Trinamool Congress (সর্বভারতীয় তৃণমূল কংগ্রেস) took power in 2011, defeating the even more communist Left Front (বাম ফ্রন্ট), which also has a strong influence in Kerala in India’s southwestern corner. Both parties belong to neither the UPA nor the NDA after Banerjee pulled her party out of the UPA in 2012.
Yet another worry is the recent rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (आम आदमी की पार्टी), a new party that rose to prominence in Delhi’s state elections in December and that leads Delhi’s new minority government with outside support from Congress. Whether you think the Aam Aadmi Party marks a cynical brand of populism or an important moment in the fight against corruption in Indian government, its leader (and new Delhi chief minister) Arvind Kejriwal is a suddenly unexpected key player in India’s national elections.
Taken together, it could mean Indians deliver more votes to third parties in 2014 to either Congress or the BJP — but whether they do so in a way that could actually transform Indian governance is less certain.