Note from the editors: From the 7th of April to the 12th of May 2014, the Indian general election will take place, which with nine different phases is the longest election ever to be held in the country! It is also the world’s second most expensive round of elections, after the United States’ elections of 2012.
The members of the 16th Lok Sabha (the lower House of the Indian Parliament, which means House of the People) will thus be elected (which happens every five years or when the Parliament is dissolved by the President), in what is so far turning out to be a steaming event in one of the world’s most populous countries.
There are two major alliances which will compete in these elections: the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), driven by Rahul Gandhi (member of the Indian National Congress Party [INC], one of the parties that compose the UPA), and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by Narendra Modi (member of the Bharatiya Janata Party) who is a candidate to become the next Prime Minister of India.
The current Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh (who is also a member of the INC) has already completed two mandates and, so far, the UPA does not yet have a true candidate for Prime Minister.
If Modi were to win (which could happen since, according to The Economist, 70% of Indians are dissatisfied with the INC), for the first time in a decade, the INC would not be at the head of India. This could represent a massive change for the country!
The announcement by the Election Commission, on March 6, of the Lok Sabha polls to be held between April 7 and May 12, 2014, has set the stage for one of India’s most stirring elections to be battled by the Indian National Congress – UPA (United Progressive Alliance), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The formalization of poll dates led to the political activity climaxing as parties look to seal alliances with powerful regional leaders and assign party tickets. It will be India’s first Lok Sabha election to have the NOTA (none of the above, allowing voters to cast-off all fielded candidates) and “others”, which will permit the transgender community to vote under this category. Above all, these elections will have the upmost number of first-time voters in the history of Indian elections since 1947, the year of independence.
The political landscape of India has changed dramatically since the last elections, won by the Congress Party, which has ruled the country for the last ten years. Indeed, a political lethargy that culminated with inflation, the accusation of immune corruption, and the economic decline of the last years with the economy yet to show signs of a sustained revival led an exhausted Congress to the worst opinion polls in the history of the party. The Prime Minister (PM), Manohan Singh, who was the mentor of India’s policy of liberalization launched in 1991 under Rajiv Gandhi, has been assessed by Simon Denyer, the Washington Post’s former India bureau chief, as “silent but tragic”, and in his last book Denyer used the words of an old Elvis Costello song, “A Man out of His time”, to describe him. His selected successor, Rahul Gandhi, appointed by his mother Sonia the vice-president of the Congress, shows a fragile political preparation and inability to attract the electorate. This is why more than a party, the Congress will oppose the controversial Narendra Modi, leader of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), “India’s People Party”, who is tipped as front runner on the basis of opinion polls. Coming from the backstage of the BJP, Mody has been the chief minister of Gujarat for four consecutive terms, raising the state to one of the more developed of India – a fact that conceals the divide between this development and the enormous mass of people under the poverty line. A severe accusation still impends on Modi, despite having been recently absolved by the High Court: the fire on the Godhra train, in 2002, which ultimately led to the harshest communalism in the state between Hindus and Muslims and the subsequent social segregation of the latter.
Another event has broken up the former polarization of Indian politics: the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), “Common Man Party”, formally launched in November 2012, directed by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. The party has congregated an unexpected number of supporters all over the country, mainly in urban areas, and in January polls was signed as conquering a remarkable number of seats in the Lok Sabha (“House of the People” of the Parliament of India). The AAP was molded on the claim of equality and justice for all Indian citizens, first and foremost “the unheard and unseen common people of India”, and has adopted a (re) formulation of the Gandhian principle of swaraj (“self-governance” or “self-rule”) as a warrant that the government will be directly accountable to the people, not to administrators. However, notwithstanding the expectations that the AAP stimulated among intellectuals, artists, and a vast, drained segment of the Indian society, Arvind Kejriwal has generated an enormous controversy from tweeting that the country is “stuck between a moron Rahul Gandhi] and a murderer [Narendra Modi]” to branding himself an “anarchist”.
The “Third Front”, a blend of small parties lacking a structured organization and a common agenda for governance, is unlikely to form government. Yet, it will be central to endorse either the BJP or the Congress to cross the 180-seat barrier.
The swing states of UP, Maharashtra, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andra Pradesh can be decisive to who eventually will be the PM. Whoever he will be, the stakes are huge. In order to be effective, the central leadership must be inclusive, taking into account the needs of the 29 states of the Union, with their diversity of languages and religions, and a federal structure that has promoted strong regional leaders. Above all, it must take into account the rural-urban cleavages calling for social and economic symmetry, the fragmentation of the social system, and particularly the country’s subalterns, Dalits, tribes and, to a very large extent, women.
ROSA PEREZ is an Anthropologist, a Professor at ISCTE and Visiting and Institute Chair Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Gandhinagar, India. She lives between Lisbon, Portugal, and India.