Friday, April 17, 2009

India 6: Dynasty

India started voting in its general election yesterday. However, as I described here, the voting is stretched out over a period of four weeks, and we won't know the results until the end of that period. In the meantime, I will continue with some of the historical background, and the previous such post left off with the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in 1984.

She was succeeded as party leader and prime minister by her only surviving son, Rajiv Gandhi. He represented the third generation of his family to have headed the Indian government.

Economic problems had bedeviled independent India all though its history. Early Congress-led governments had pursued socialist economic policies.

India's economic growth had fallen behind that of other Asian countries, such as Japan and South Korea. And, by Rajiv's time in office, the Chinese economy had also begun to grow strongly. India was said to have a "Hindu rate of growth".

I'm merely quoting a phrase that was coined by one of India's own economists, and I intend no disrespect to the Hindu religion. Here is a blog post that purports to explain the pun behind that phrase.

Growth averaging around 3.5% annually, was insufficient to pull India's burgeoning population out of poverty.

As prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi took some tentative steps toward free-market economics. But major improvement in economic growth was years ahead. Some of his actions, however, facilitated the expansion of the country's information technology industry, which was a key engine of the accelerated growth that started in the following decade.

Gandhi had led Congress to a huge general election victory in the wake of his mother's assassination. But, in 1989, he lost the next election, after corruption scandals had arisen within his government. As had been the case when his mother was voted out of office in 1977, Rajiv Gandhi's opponents had formed an unstable coalition that temporarily assumed power.

V.P. Singh succeeded Gandhi as prime minister, but only held the post for less than a year, between December 1989 and November 1990. His tenure was ended by the loss of a confidence vote in the parliament.

Chandra Shekhar briefly succeeded Singh, but the coalition became even less stable, and a new general election ensued in 1991.

Gandhi was assassinated during the 1991 campaign. As had been the case with his mother, his opposition to an independence movement led to this death. The difference was that, in Rajiv's case, the dispute was external to India.

A civil war has long raged in Sri Lanka, an island country off the coast of India. A minority ethnic group, the Tamils, are fighting to establish an independent state for themselves in the northern part of the island.

In the late 1980s, Gandhi's government intervened in an attempt to settle the Sri Lankan dispute, including sending peacekeeping troops to the island. In apparent retaliation, a Tamil suicide bomber killed Gandhi on May 21, 1991.

Next: India moves in new directions after the 1991 election.

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