Sunday, May 10, 2009

India 12: Now

India's month-long general election process will come to an end this week. Now that I've filled in the history leading up to this election, I will describe three possible types of outcomes:

1. A continuation of coalition government led by the Congress Party. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has headed up such a coalition since the 2004 general election, is leading Congress into this election, as well. However, as I noted here, another generation of the Nehru/Gandhi family seems to be waiting in the wings, to replace the 76-year-old Singh before too long.

2. A return to a coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), similar to the coalition government from 1998 to 2004. Subsequent to the 2004 election, L.K. Advani took over the leadership of the BJP. Advani will be unable to make an issue of Singh's advanced age, because Advani is 81 years old. Narenda Modi, the 58-year-old chief minister of the state of Gujarat is sometimes mentioned as a potential candidate to be the BJP's next leader.

3. A coalition of smaller parties, without the big two. Some observers expect Congress's and BJP's combined share of the total vote to shrink to a level where a viable coalition might be formed without them. A group called the Third Front has emerged as such an alternative. It includes the Communists, who had previously supported Congress, and several regional parties. The Third Front has not designated a candidate for prime minister, but one name that has been frequently mentioned is that of Mayawati Kumari. She is the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, and would be the first Dalit, or member of the low Hindu caste sometimes called the "untouchables", to be prime minister.

A Third Front government appears to be a long-shot possibility.

India's economy is still growing, but at a slower pace. The recession in its export markets, such as the United States, is having an effect. That could diminish the popularity of the free-market reforms that launched India onto a fast track of economic growth during the past two decades.

The BJP seems more ideologically committed to those policies. But a reelected Congress government would probably continue its pragmatic support of free markets. That strategy on the part of Congress has been somewhat hampered by pressures from some of its more leftist coalition partners.

In foreign policy, the U.S. will probably continue to maintain cordial relations with either a Congress government, or one led by the BJP. The main difference might be that the BJP, with its strong identity as a Hindu nationalist party, could have more difficulty than Congress, in relating to Pakistan and other Muslim countries. But international relations are funny that way, and I suppose there could be a "Nixon went to China" effect, whereby the party more confident in its support from Hindus could conceivably open up more to Muslims.

The election results are scheduled to be announced May 16, but the full details of the next government will probably have to wait until protracted coalition negotiations are completed.

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