Such Twitter and glitter
is intrigued by India's capacity to incorporate dynastic scions into its democratic procedure
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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, right, receives a bouquet from Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi at the meeting of newly-elected Congress lawmakers in New Delhi; a woman holds the Congress Party flag as she performs on the road during celebrations (photos: AP)
The Indian National Congress Party's racy bid to take control of the parliament of the world's largest multi-party democracy is the political equivalent of accelerating from 0-50mph in less than five seconds. And, like racing cars, India's political race has been one of the most watched television sports. The latest results from India's general election, which ended on 13 May, demonstrated the Congress Party's unsurpassed political prowess. The biggest losers were the far left and the right.
Indian politics is a fast moving game. And, the Congress Party has proven that it is the winning supercharger. Moreover, Indian election fever is an open wheel racing. The Congress Party opted for moderation, and more importantly, demonstrated that it is the champion of the underdog. India's economic outcasts and underprivileged classes voted overwhelmingly for the Congress Party precisely because they were grateful that it shielded them somewhat from the ravages of the global international crisis.
Though expectations are running more powerfully than ever in favour of the Congress Party, it was the enduring charisma and popularity of the heirs to the Nehru and Gandhi dynasties that carried the day.
There are no wavering working classes in contemporary India. Indians know what they want, and what they want is within reach. Arithmetically, India's general elections were no close race and their chosen party won comfortably.
Founding families retain much of their influence and political prestige and that truth works in the interest of the Congress Party and contributed to the party's popularity at the polls. Some might even go as far as saying that this was the determining factor in the party's landslide victory.
The star of the election was undoubtedly Rahul Gandhi, Nehru's great-grandson and son of Sonia Gandhi, the Italian- born Congress Party president. Rahul, who was instrumental in the "thumping success of Congress in the crucial North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh", is tipped to succeed the ageing, albeit exceptionally adroit, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (76), the architect of India's economic deregulation programme. Rahul (38), has vowed that his duty was to "change the system".
The Congress drubbing of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was a severe blow to Hindu ultra-nationalists. The BJP has no dynastic scion like Rahul of Congress eagerly awaiting his inevitable premiership. Unscrupulous leaders with dubious agendas head the party. The BJP was unable to capitalise on the public backlash against India's large Muslim minority following the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, the country's economic capital and financial hub, in November last year. At the time, there was much criticism of the ruling Congress Party's handling of the tragedy.
Congress has backed away from the tough rhetoric aired in the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attacks. However, it is clear that what mattered the most to the Indian electorate was the state of the economy and the capacity of the Congress Party to introduce big spending programmes. The Indian voter clearly had little faith in the leftist Third Front, an unwieldy coalition headed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The party saw its share of the vote plummet and their representations in the Indian parliament consequently drop from 43 seats in the 2004 elections to 16 this time round. The Indian left failed to galvanise the poor of India. The Third Front was "launched against the pro-rich economic policies of the national parties like the Congress and the BJP, against the growth of communal and fascist forces and to remain determined and committed to the cause of the pro-farmer, pro-poor, pro-worker and pro-other backward classes, pro-Dalit, pro-women, pro- minorities and pro-youth," pronounced a statement of the Third Front at the beginning of the elections. Needless to say, relatively few Indians were besotted with such outdated rhetoric.
In India, of course, few translate as tens of millions. "The excitement of the Indian elections has transferred online to one of its most popular social messaging sites Twitter," observed the Times of India. "The 26/11 Mumbai attacks had been the major turning point for Twitter in India with Mumbai residents flashing the latest news, from television or eyewitnesses on the social media channel," the paper noted.
The gap yawns wide between rich and poor in India. Indeed, another factor that explains the demise of the left in India is that both the Congress Party and the Indian populace is ambiguous towards pro-market reforms. India is no longer a socialist country, nor is the Congress Party socialist any longer.
"There is a lot of money riding on your waistline," an "ageing prima dona" told her starlet daughter as she was sunbathing and sipping something fattening by their private poolside, an Indian paper noted. The days of Mother India's 1957 Narjis are obviously long over. A new India is in the making, and it is certainly not to the left's liking.
"Indian citizens seemed to be interested only in knowing about the results on Saturday with the top 20 search items on Google India all related to the elections, with media sites featuring prominently in them," Twitter noted.
The clear electoral outcome of the Indian polls does not, however, hide the horrible fact that crime and corruption have become endemic in the world's largest and most dynamic democracy. In the most populous Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, with an estimated 250 million people, no less than "31 of the state's 80 MPs have criminal cases pending against them." The Indian electorate is convinced that Congress is vital for the dangerous road ahead of India.
Indians, and Indian politicians, are losing sleep over the economy. India is sliding deeper into recession, but it is doing relatively well by world standards -- Indian economic growth rate has slowed from nine per cent to below six. One sign that the sense of crisis has eased a little in India is that Congress was re-elected.
Pressure on governments is being felt globally. And, the Indian government is no exception. The main challenge of the Congress Party appears to be how to contain the ballooning fiscal deficit and simultaneously helping the country's poor and disadvantaged millions.
Right now the BJP is puny. The truth is that this jingoistic party is reaching the limits of what it can do. Hindu nationalism is in any case waning. Instead, the focus for Congress is on diversity -- unity in diversity to be precise.
The BJP is accused of crying wolf -- the canis lupus being the militant Islamists. Its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) fared poorly, though. But the BJP is not down and out just yet. Like Congress it is currently wooing regional politicians. Indeed, smaller regional parties are taking their cue from parties such as the Telugu Desam Party of Andhra Pradesh, which incidentally is part of the Third Front, but there is pressure on its politicians to switch to the Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
Having agreed an essentially cost-free alliance with key regional parties such as the Munnetra Kazahagam and the All Indian Anna Dravida, the UPA and NDA hoped to secure a parliamentary majority -- 272 out of the 543 seats.
Tailoring a policy to such divergent conditions is inherently imperfect. Some question whether India's poor have the instinct and the inclination to turn into a potentially powerful political force. Their aspirations are insatiable, and that is good as far as the Indian economy is concerned. Moreover, their travails will give added edge to those that emerge as winners from the global financial crisis. It is not borne too heavily by the taxpayer.
The difference in regional parties lies less in what each has done and more in what each of them can possibly do.