Tag Archives: lok sabha

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.

Jayalalithaa scrambles India’s southern regional politics

JayalalithaPhoto credit to Malayalam Daily News.

It says something about the strength of India’s democracy that a regional leader who controls the third-largest bloc of MPs in the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the lower house of the Indian parliament,  and who has developed something of a personality cult as chief minister of her home state of Tamil Nadu, can fall from power broker to convicted felon in the blink of an eye.India Flag Icon

So it goes for Jayalalithaa (pictured above), a former star of Tamil cinema, who has towered over Tamil Nadu’s politics for the past three decades — she first served as chief minister from 1991 to 1996, again for four months in 2001, from 2002 to 2006 and, most recently, since May 2011 regional elections, when her party, the AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) won a landslide victory. She is known throughout the state as Amma, a Tamil word for ‘mother.’

With over 72 million people, Tamil Nadu is the sixth-most populous in India, and it has a population equivalent to Turkey’s. Its Tamil-speaking population also makes it unique among India’s states as a key cultural link with Sri Lanka, the island nation to India’s southeast.


In the most recent national elections in April and May 2014, her party won 37 out of 39 constituencies in the state of Tamil Nadu, a rare performance in withstanding the electoral wave that brought prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) its biggest mandate, by far in Indian history.

But on Saturday, Jayalalithaa’s luck ran out when a Karnataka-based court sentenced her to a four-year jail term in a corruption case that resulted, suddenly, in her demotion from office. The court found Jayalalithaa guilty in a ‘disproportionate assets’ case, essentially convicting her for illegally obtaining up to 530 million rupees (around $8.7 million) in unexplained income. That forced her to step down immediately as chief minister and report to prison, though she’ll have an opportunity to appeal the verdict.

She is now the first sitting chief minister to be found guilty of corruption charges.

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RELATED: Jayalalithaa, the Tamil actress-turned-strongwoman,
could play India’s kingmaker

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If the conviction holds, it will be a rare victory for anti-corruption reformers in India. Among the strongest regional politicians, few are as powerful or as popular as Jayalalithaa. That give the case national importance. If the Indian judiciary can hold to account someone like Jayalalithaa, whose face plasters billboards, subsidized food halls and even bottled water in Tamil Nadu, no one in India can credibly believe that she (or he) is above the law. It’s a powerful precedent, and it’s a sign to global investors of the growing strength of Indian legal institutions.
Continue reading Jayalalithaa scrambles India’s southern regional politics

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

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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:

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

Who’s who in Modi-world: A guide to the next Indian government


In just a few hours, India’s national election results will be released.India Flag Icon

If exit polls (and virtually all polls, leading up to India’s six-week elections) are correct, Gujarat’s chief minister Narendra Modi will have delivered his conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) and its allies to a potentially historic victory — and an equally historic defeat for the ruling Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस).

Whatever happens when election results are announced, there’s no doubt that Modi led one of the most ‘presidential’ campaigns in Indian history. If the BJP emerges victorious, as expected, it will be a mandate for Modi as much as for the BJP.

The magic number is 272 — if the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) can win an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the lower house of the Indian parliament, Modi will certainly be India’s next prime minister, and he’ll likely steer a relatively stable government that should last for its full five-year term.

If the BJP and its allies fall short of 272 seats, while still emerging as the largest bloc in the Lok Sabha, they will also likely form the next government by forging a series of alliances with regional parties, including any of the following:

  • the ruling, Dravidian AIADMK of Tamil Nadu’s chief minister Jayalalithaa;
  • the Uttar Pradesh-based Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of former chief minister Mayawati; or
  • the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which is a former member of the NDA, and is forecast to win both state and Lok Sabha elections in the state of Odisha.

While regional allies might temper the Hindutva tendencies of a stronger BJP government, they might also prevent Modi from enacting the kind of economic reforms that he has promised to unleash greater GDP growth and development and to stymie bureaucratic waste and massive corruption.

In any event, almost every sign indicates that Modi will become India’s next prime minister, and he was already gathering with top BJP officials in Gujarat yesterday planning his new government (pictured below in a photo that Modi tweeted):


So who are the individuals that could become the most important officials in a Modi administration?

Here is Suffragio‘s guide to Modi-world — a list of 25 Indian politicians and leaders who are most expected to play a role in a government that promises to be very different than the current government.

The officials are divided into four categories:

  • the BJP’s ‘old guard,’ which controlled the party in the its first major stint in government between 1998 and 2004;
  • the BJP’s ‘new guard,’ the new generation of leadership with whom Modi is more comfortable;
  • the Gujaratis, the members of Modi’s own inner circle after 13 years of state government; and
  • the allies, those non-BJP party leaders who might be expected to take key roles within the NDA and otherwise in the next government.

Continue reading Who’s who in Modi-world: A guide to the next Indian government

Mamata-Modi spat takes center stage in West Bengal


In today’s final phase of India’s six-week national elections, attention has increasingly shifted to West Bengal, which will elect the final 17 of its 42 seats in the lower house of the Indian parliament, the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा).India Flag Icon

But even as he tries to sweep the rest of the country, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, the leader of the conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) will find precious few votes in West Bengal.

As far as that goes, neither will his national rival, the secular Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस), which has governed India for the past decade under the leadership of party president Sonia Gandhi and prime minister Manmohan Singh.

That’s because, like so many of India’s states these days, West Bengalese politics is dominated by entirely regional forces.

Between 1977 and 2011, West Bengal featured the longest consecutive communist government in elective history — under the long-serving chief minister Joyti Basu, from 1977 to 2000, and his successor Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, from 2000 to 2011. For 34 years, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M) ruled West Bengal as the largest party of the Left Front (বাম ফ্রন্ট) coalition.

That all changed with the 2011 state assembly elections, when Mamata Banerjee (pictured above), known simply as ‘didi‘ (‘sister’ in Bengali), swept to power in a lopsided victory. She and her allies now control 227 of the 294 sets in the legislative assembly. Banerjee, who began her career in the Congress Party, formed the All India Trinamool Congess (TMC, সর্বভারতীয় তৃণমূল কংগ্রেস) in 1997.

Banerjee quickly joined the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and became railways minister in the BJP-led government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. She re-aligned herself with the Congress Party in   2009 as part of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), and once again served as railways minister, this time under Singh.

She returned to West Bengal for the 2011 state campaign, leading the TMC to its overwhelming victory. As chief minister, Banerjee has emerged as one of the most powerful players in Indian politics, and while she may not have lived up to high expectations that followed her victory three years ago, she’s generally seen as a relatively honest public servant and she’s worked to improve health and education programs throughout West Bengal, traditionally one of India’s poorer states on a per-capita basis.

It’s difficult to place Banerjee politically. At the state political level, she and the TMC are ideologically to the right of the Left Front, naturally, and at the national level, Banerjee has allied with both the major parties. It’s perhaps most correct to say that Banerjee is a populist, veering left or right as convenient for her political future or for West Bengal’s relationship vis-à-vis the central government.

But an alliance with the BJP seems unlikely as Modi and Banerjee has increasingly traded harsh barbs on the campaign trail.

Much of the explanation lies at the intersection of religion and politics. Modi is trying to maximize Hindu support in West Bengal, but also in the voter-rich states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and elsewhere in the ‘Hindi belt.’ Banerjee, for her part, is increasingly trying to unite Muslim voters in West Bengal, which comprise over one-quarter of West Bengal’s 91 million residents.

Modi has attacked the West Bengal state government for its handling of the Saradha Group financial scam that defrauded 1.7 million Indians, mostly in West Bengal, of up to $6 billion. Earlier this month, India’s supreme court referred the current investigations to India’s Central Bureau of Investigation amid signs of political interference. Modi has also taken a hard stand against Bangladeshi illegal immigrants. Last week, Banerjee pushed back, calling Modi a ‘donkey,’ and chastising him as the ‘butcher of Gujarat’ for his alleged role in deadly riots there in 2002.

Why is this all so important?  Continue reading Mamata-Modi spat takes center stage in West Bengal

India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 5


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.  India Flag Icon

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).

Continue reading India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 5

India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 4


After a huge third phase in which 91 constituencies of India’s election were decided on April 10, Saturday’s fourth phase of India’s general election is barely a trickle — just seven seats. India Flag Icon

It’s the last ‘miniature’ phase of the election — the next five phases, through May 12, will determine the remaining 432 (out of 543) seats of India’s Lok Sabha (लोक सभा).

The April 12 phase coincides with elections to determine Sikkim’s legislative assembly, and it will elect Sikkim’s sole representative to the Lok Sabha.

The Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF, सिक्किम प्रजातान्त्रिक मोर्चा) dominates Sikkimese politics, and its chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling, who has been in power since 1994, hopes to win a record fifth consecutive term in office. Though the SDF isn’t formally part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), it might be expected to back Narendra Modi and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) if it has enough strength to form a government, as widely expected.

Where are the other six constituencies?

  • In Goa, another small state, notable for its pristine beach resorts and its Portuguese influence, will elect both of its representatives to the Lok Sabha. The BJP narrowly controls the state government, and the BJP and its national rival, the Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) currently split Goa’s two Lok Sabha seats.
  • In Assam, the largest of the ‘seven sister states’ of India’s far northeastern corner, where 14 seats are up for grabs, three constituencies will vote on Saturday. Five of its constituencies held elections in India’s first phase.
  • Tripura, another northeastern state, which also elected one of its two representatives to the Lok Sabha in India’s first phase, will elect the second on Saturday.

Without offense to northeastern India, Goa or Sikkim, the fourth phase won’t determine the country’s next government.

The photo above shows a statute in the city of Namchi depicting Guru Rinpoche, the patron saint of Sikkim.

Indian Lok Sabha elections: Phases 1 and 2


Voting today ended in the second phase of India’s marathon election. So what was at stake in the first two rounds?India Flag Icon

Not much.

The two rounds were confined to the ‘seven sister states’ in India’s far northeastern corner, nudged to the east of Bangladesh and to the west of China and Burma. The seven states, just southeast of the Himalayas, are home to just 45 million of India’s 1.24 billion citizens. Part of the area is claimed by the People’s Republic of China, an issue that has long strained the bilateral Indo-Chinese relationship — China claims significant part of Arunachal Pradesh as ‘south Tibet.’

Bangladeshi migration into the region has also been one of the more politically fraught issues in recent years.

The first round, which kicked off on April 7, included just six constituencies:

  • Assam selected representatives in five out of 14 constituencies.
  • Tripura selected representatives in one of its two constituencies. The state is governed by neither of India’s major parties, but instead by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM, भारत की कम्युनिस्ट पार्टी (मार्क्सवादी), which could win both seats.

The second round included nearly just as few (seven):

  • Arunachal Pradesh selected both of its representatives.
  • Meghalaya selected both of its representatives.
  • Manipur selected one of its two representatives.
  • Mizoram was scheduled to vote for its sole representative, but that vote was been delayed until April 11.
  • Nagaland selected its sole representative. The Naga People’s Front (NPM), a regional party and a member of the BJP’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) dominates the state. 

The seven states contribute just 24 seats to the 543-member Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), and the key prize is Assam, with 14 seats.

Although the governing Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) is facing annihilation elsewhere across the country, its chances in Assam look good. The largest pre-election poll, conducted by NDTV, estimates that Congress could actually make real gains, winning up to 12 seats in the state.

Tarun Gogoi, the state’s popular chief minister, has held power since 2001, and Congress dominates the state’s legislative assembly. The Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) has only a minor presence in the state, and competes against several Assam-based regional parties. That may be changing somewhat as Narendra Modi, the BJP prime ministerial candidate, and his allies wage a national campaign, but Assam will certainly be one of the few states where Congress seems destined to shine, notwithstanding its potential collapse at the national level.

Could LK Advani become India’s next prime minister?


With India’s massive nine-phase election now underway, what happens if Narendra Modi doesn’t quite win a majority in India’s parliament?India Flag Icon

Everyone believes that Modi, the longtime chief minister of Gujarat, and his conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) are headed for a historic victory. But that might not be enough — and if history is any guide, it won’t be enough, even taking into account the seats of the BJP’s coalition partners in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

That could mean that India’s ‘Third Front,’ a motley group of regional and Marxist/socialist parties, could team up with the remnants of the center-left Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) and the few parties that remain in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). India has had Third Front governments  in the past, but it’s a path that traditionally leads to acrimony, dysfunction and, sooner rather than later, new elections.

But if the BJP performs as well as polls widely suggest it might, there could be no doubt that the BJP (and Modi) have a stronger mandate to govern India and a stronger claim on forming the government than a rag-tag coalition of a dozen or more parties.

In that scenario, the BJP may be forced to turn to additional parties — and their price for support might require that the BJP jettisons Modi as its prime minister. That’s when things get really interesting, and it’s why the internal rifts inside the BJP over the past two years will become so important if and when the BJP/NDA wins the election with less than an absolute majority. In particular, it means that the rift between Modi and the elder statesman of the BJP, Lal Krishna Advani (pictured above, left, with Modi) could determine the identity of India’s next prime minister. Continue reading Could LK Advani become India’s next prime minister?

Spring 2014 voting blitz: five days, six elections


We’re beginning to hit the peak of what’s perhaps the busiest world election season of the past few years.

What began as a slow year with boycotted votes in Bangladesh and Thailand in the first two months of 2014 snowballed into a busier March, with important parliamentary elections in Colombia, the final presidential vote in El Salvador, parliamentary elections in Serbia, a key presidential election in Slovakia, and municipal elections that upended national politics in France, The Netherlands and Turkey.

But the pace only gets more frenetic from here.

Between today and Wednesday, five countries (and one very important province) on three continents will go to to the polls: Continue reading Spring 2014 voting blitz: five days, six elections

The path to India’s next government runs through Uttar Pradesh

India, Uttar Pradesh, Agra Man on bike with girl on trailer and man pushing from behind in front of Taj Mahal at sunset

It’s the most populous state in the world’s largest democracy.India Flag Icon

It’s the great heartland of Hindustan along India’s north-central border, home to the Taj Mahal, home to seven of India’s 13 prime ministers, and the traditional base of the Nehru-Gandhi family, which has given India three prime ministers, and hopes to give India its next prime minister in Rahul Gandhi.

It’s Uttar Pradesh (which translates to ‘northern province’), and Narendra Modi’s path to becoming India’s next prime minister runs right through it.

A sketch of India’s most populous state

With 199.6 million residents, it’s nearly as populous as Brazil — and with 80 seats up for grabs in the 545-member Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the state is by far the largest prize in India’s parliamentary elections, which kick off April 7 and will be conducted in nine phases that conclude on May 12. Given the sheer size of the state, voters in Uttar Pradesh will go to the polls in six of the nine phases,** spanning virtually the entire voting season.

That means that Uttar Pradesh holds about one-third of the seats any party would need to win a majority in the Lok Sabha, the lower (and more consequential) house of the Indian parliament.


Though it lies in the heart of the ‘Hindi belt,’ which might otherwise make it fertile territory for Modi’s conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी), it won’t necessarily be the easiest sell for Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat since 2001.

In contrast to Gujarat, which is one of the wealthiest states of India, Uttar Pradesh is one of the poorest — it had a state GDP per capita of around $1,586 (as of 2009), less than 50% of Gujarat’s equivalent. Continue reading The path to India’s next government runs through Uttar Pradesh

14 in 2014: India parliamentary elections


6. India parliamentary elections, expected in May.

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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.

Photo credit to AFP / Prakash Singh.

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India’s Supreme Court re-criminalizes same-sex conduct in LGBT setback


In a setback for human rights in the world’s largest democracy, the Supreme Court of India early Wednesday re-criminalized same-sex conduct in a decision that directly affects millions of LGBT individuals.India Flag Icon

The court was considering a 2009 decision by the Delhi High Court, Naz Foundation v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi, that found much of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code unconstitutional.  Section 377 dates from the British colonial era in India — its origin lies in an 1860 law that prohibits ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature,’ essentially criminalizing same-sex conduction.  When the Delhi High Court handed down its ruling in 2009, it narrowed its reading of Section 377 to exclude adult consensual same-sex conduct, though the law continued to apply to sex with minors and non-sexual conduct.

Today’s decision by India’s Supreme Court, however, invalidates that interpretation, making same-sex conduct once again a criminal offense — think of it as the reverse of the US Supreme Court’s 2003 landmark decision in Lawrence v. Texas, in so much as the Supreme Court of India had the opportunity to decriminalize same-sex conduct in one fell swoop.  Instead, India’s Supreme Court ruled that it was up to the parliament, not India’s courts, to invalidate Section 377.  The effect is to criminalize same-sex relations at a time when most countries are moving toward greater LGBT rights in both judicial and legislative terms.

The 2009 decision was a landmark moment at the time for LGBT activists in India, who believe that the legacy code violates the guarantees to equality, freedom of expression and personal liberty in the Indian constitution.  The Delhi High Court (think of it as a kind of cross between a state supreme court in the United States and the federal DC Circuit Court of Appeals) itself took seven years to hold hearings in the Naz Foundation case, and the verdict was delivered eight years after the case was originally filed.  Here’s a portion of the Delhi Supreme Court’s ruling from 2009:

If there is one constitutional tenet that can be said to be underlying theme of the Indian Constitution, it is that of ‘inclusiveness’. This Court believes that Indian Constitution reflects this value deeply ingrained in Indian society, nurtured over several generations. The inclusiveness that Indian society traditionally displayed, literally in every aspect of life, is manifest in recognising a role in society for everyone. Those perceived by the majority as “deviants’ or ‘different’ are not on that score excluded or ostracised.  Where society can display inclusiveness and understanding, such persons can be assured of a life of dignity and non-discrimination. This was the ‘spirit behind the Resolution’ of which Nehru spoke so passionately. In our view, Indian Constitutional law does not permit the statutory criminal law to be held captive by the popular misconceptions of who the LGBTs are. It cannot be forgotten that discrimination is antithesis of equality and that it is the recognition of equality which will foster the dignity of every individual.

It’s difficult to categorize the state of LGBT rights in a country as diverse as India with over 1.2 billion people across 1.2 million square miles, but LGBT individuals face myriad challenges in a country where same-sex marriage and adoption are not recognized and no anti-discrimination laws exist.  India’s relatively conservative culture means that there’s a lot of opposition to same-sex attraction, both culturally and religiously.  Religious groups, for example, especially within India’s Muslim and Christian communities, applauded today’s decision.

While Section 377 was never regularly enforced, it was nonetheless widely used to harass LGBT individuals.

As supreme courts often like to do, India’s supreme court lobbed the issue back to the elected branch of government:

However, keeping in mind the importance of separation of powers and out of a sense of deference to the value of democracy that parliamentary acts embody, self restraint has been exercised by the judiciary when dealing with challenges to the constitutionality of laws. This form of restraint has manifested itself in the principle of presumption of constitutionality. Continue reading India’s Supreme Court re-criminalizes same-sex conduct in LGBT setback

BJP’s Modi begins Indian election campaign in an incredibly strong position


It’s nearly a year before Indians will go to the polls in the world’s most populous election, but Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi looks ever more like the man with the easiest path to become India’s next prime minister.India Flag Icon

Eleven months is a long time in the politics of any country, so there’s no guarantee, and even if Modi winds up as prime minister, it will be after a long-fought slog.  But the decision last week of the conservative Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, or भारतीय जनता पार्टी) to anoint Modi as the leader of its 2014 parliamentary campaign makes Modi the indisputable, if unofficial, leader of the BJP efforts to regain power after what will be a decade-long hiatus in opposition.

Modi faces plenty of obstacles, too, within his own party and the wider National Democratic Alliance coalition, of which the BJP is the largest participant.

But the fundamental fact is that Modi is now the BJP and NDA standard-bearer and he’ll playing offense against the governing Indian National Congress (Congress, or भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस).  A tired prime minister Manmohan Singh will likely leave office in 2014 after a decade of missed opportunities, above all having presided over an underperforming economy.  Moreover, the likely Congress standard-bearer, Rahul Gandhi, seems a hesitant and reluctant leader, even as the party moves more fully toward consolidating under his leadership.  Whereas Modi, after a decade in regional government, personifies a triumphant hunger to gain power and jumpstart India’s economy, Gandhi personifies the listlessness of a fourth-generation scion of a political dynasty that’s been intermittently in power since India’s independence in 1947.

That doesn’t mean that the residual power of the Gandhi family brand of the rougher edges or internal strife within the BJP and the NDA won’t scuttle Modi’s chances — polls show that Congress remains relatively unpopular and that, Indian voters aren’t quite completely sold on the BJP, the ‘saffron party’ nonetheless remains in a very good position to benefit from Congress’s expense.

The 2014 election will determine the membership of the Lok Sabha ( लोक सभा), the 552-member lower chamber of the Indian parliament.  The governing United Progressive Alliance holds 226 seats, of which Congress itself holds 203 seats; the NDA holds 136 seats, of which the BJP itself holds 115 seats.  The Third Front, a coalition of communist and other leftist third parties, holds 77 seats, and the so-called Fourth Front, which is dominated by the Samajwadi Party (Socialist Party) based in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, holds 25 seats.   Continue reading BJP’s Modi begins Indian election campaign in an incredibly strong position