Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Round-Up: India’s Surprising Election

Posted by K.E. White on May 19, 2009

With all the attention given to Pakistan’s extremist threat, insufficient attention has been paid to India’s recent parliamentary election.

What’s the big news? The incumbent Congress Party (and its allies under the United Progress Alliance) won a resounding re-election. The UPA’s opposition on the right—the more hawkish and socially conservative BJP—lost seats, while its leftist critics were routed. These results defied predictions of a much tighter race.

But more importantly this election, juggling nine national parties and dozens of state parties and 400 million voters, rendered a decisive political judgment in India: awarding the Congress Party enough seats to pursue a national agenda, and not be held hostage by smaller, more insular parties.

The New York Times offers this macro-analysis of the election by Rahul Singh, who ushers in a new era of stable governance (this is the first time a majority government has won re-election in India) and the ascent of a younger, more secular worldview.

(Note: Singh’s last point is only partially true. While the number of under-40 members has increased, the average age of the lower house—Lok Sabha—is higher, making it the 3rd oldest assembly in India’s history.)

Anshul Chaturvedi blames the BJP loss not on policies, age or message but on tactics. His interesting post, drawing on years of following BJP politics, portrays a party made irrelevant by rooting its political power in coalition jockeying and neglecting its base.

The Times of India also offers this article exploring just how the Congress Party overcame the challenge of February’s Mumbai attacks. The article credits Indian foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee’s political tactics with blunting BJP criticism of the Congress Party’s handling of homeland security.

But, as Keith Jones points out, the Congress Party’s sweeping parliamentary victory represents a mere 2 percent increase in popular support. But this line of attack obscures the greater truth. Indians, presented with two national coalition parties and gobs of local parties, opted for UPA coalition led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

How will this election affect US foreign policy? Myra MacDonald, writing for Reuters, shows that tensions between India and Pakistan are still high. This might stymie US efforts to cool tempers so Pakistan can focus on its counter-insurgency, not to mention resolving the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir. Making progress on these fronts permits strengthened civilian rule in Pakistan, which can provide stability over its border with Afghanistan and battle terrorists posing a direct threat to America and its allies.

But what MacDonald omits in her article is the significance of the US-India nuclear deal brokered by the Bush administration. The nuclear deal threatened UPA’s parliamentary control in 2008. With the Congress Party’s reestablished mandate, this nuclear linkage may assist future diplomatic engagement.

Will a now strengthened UPA, popular Obama administration and extremist-battling Pakistan be able to make tough decisions regarding Pakistan?

Maybe. But with (a perhaps duplicitous) Pakistani regime ramping up its nuclear arsenal, the road ahead will be bumpy.

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