5/13/2004

Congress Party wins Indian elections in upset

The general election results are in from India - and Sonia Ghandi has restored the Congress Party to power in a surprise upset victory:

NEW DELHI, May 13 — Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will resign this evening after his ruling coalition suffered a resounding defeat in parliamentary elections, party officials said today.

The Indian National Congress, led by Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, emerged as the single largest party in the poll results announced today. It appeared poised to form the country's next government with the likely support of its electoral allies and the country's Communist parties.

It is not yet certain — although it seems likely — that Mrs. Gandhi herself will stake claim to be prime minister, since even some of the party's allies have questioned whether a woman of non-Indian origin should lead this nation of more than 1 billion people.

Still, the verdict represents a totally unexpected resurrection for the Congress Party of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, which ruled India for 45 of the 57 years since independence but had floundered so badly in recent years that it was being written off as an historical relic.

Early returns showed the Congress and its allies with 220 seats to the 189 of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., and its coalition partners, a result that no pundit or exit poll had come close to predicting.


The main reason for the win was the cognitive dissonance between the ruling ultranationalist/anti-muslim BJP's campaign platform of Shining India - touting India's economic growth - with the abject and worsening poverty of India's vast lower classes:

Failure to address the core issue of development and overconfidence on the "false campaign" of 'India Shining' led to the debacle of the BJP led NDA in the elections, leading economists said today.

They said the new Government should bring about balance in economic policies.

"They (NDA) went all out to prove India Shining whereas the reality was much different in rural belt and small towns," Prof. B B Bhattacharya of the Indian Institute of Economic Growth said, adding that "people who benefited from India Shining did not go out to vote".

Echoing similar views, Jayati Ghosh of Jawaharlal Nehru University said the new Government will have to redirect the economic policy and make adjustments to address the concerns of farmers and unemployed.

The verdict was against the BJP which failed to read the voters' mind who were throughly dissatisfied with its performance, she said, adding "the new Government will have to undertake genuine reforms, put off mindless privatisation like selling profit making PSUs and focus on employment".


It was intriguing to see the BJP reaching out to muslim voters in a bid to win support during the election - but the memories of Gujarat were likely too strong to woo muslim voters to the party that was proven complicit in the horrific pogrom - including systematic rape and burning of underage girls - against them. I shed no tears for the BJP, a party which had played on sectarian and ethnic divisions and prejudice to maintain its grip. In a democratic, pluralistic nation like India, there is no place for the discredited politics of exclusion.

And I can think of no better leader than Sonia Ghandi to bring India out of the taint of the BJP's rule - a woman whose foreign birth is of no consequence to her identity as an Indian. She personifies the face of India as a nation based on ideals rather racial or religious identity.

However, significant challenges remain. Sonia Ghandi is still untested as a ruling politican. The victory of the Congress Party was essentially delivered by the poor - and there's a fine balance between charting an economic course that addresses their needs with one that irresponsibly tries to pander to their wants. India's economic recovery is fragile and the nation may need to swallow some bitter medicine in terms of economic policy for it to stay on course. If the Congress succeeds then the economy will become a rising tide that floats all boats - rich and poor, Hindu and Muslim, alike.

3 comments:

Conrad said...

The general election results are in from India - and Sonia Ghandi has restored the Congress Party to power in a surprise upset victory:Yeah, it was a pretty big surprise � I was quite sure the NDA would fall short of an absolute majority but I had predicted that the BJP would be the largest single party in the Lok Sabha and play the TINA and natural party of governance card to cobble together another coalition government. I can�t believe that the Congress has outpaced the BJP as the largest single party; this is a real slap in the face.

The main reason for the win was the cognitive dissonance between the ruling ultranationalist/anti-muslim BJP's campaign platform of Shining India - touting India's economic growth - with the abject and worsening poverty of India's vast lower classes:I am really glad that the stupid media blitz of India is Shining fell flat on its face. It was an incredibly stupid idea given the nature of the electorate; it might be alright for the urban middle classes and political elite to bask in the glory of IT-led hype but the vast majority of people in India live in the real world where things aren�t so rosy. The BJP made a big mistake also by overestimating the power of its various more modern campaigning methods as well as the strength of its core base. Having said this there were other factors that I think were more important: the BJP has always been weak outside the West and the Hindi belt where it has traditionally relied on partners and regional allies in the South and East to pick up votes and this strategy collapsed badly here it was completely wiped out in Tamil Nadu where there was an unprecedented across the board win for the DMK-led rainbow coalition which won every single LS seat in the state and it suffered badly in the Andhra Pradesh elections both at the parliamentary and assembly levels which was another blow considering the strength of the TDP in the LS. It has always been non-existent in the Leftist bastions of Kerala and West Bengal (where its ally Trinamool was only able to win one seat) and only in Karnataka was it able to put up a good performance with a weak one in Assam, with its ally the BJD doing well in Orissa (the only regional ally of it that did). In the Hindi states it did alright in MP and Chattisgarh, as well as Rajasthan but these states don�t send many MP�s to the LS; in the key states of UP and Bihar it wasn�t able to crack the right caste combinations to overcome the OBC and Dalit parties. Even in its strongholds of Gujarat and traditionally favourable areas like Maharashtra it lost large numbers of seats to the Congress.

Still, if it had tied up with more successful regional parties in the South and been able to reach an accomadation with some of the caste-based parties in the Gangetic belt; things could have looked very different indeed and it would have had a good chance at forming the next government.

the BJP, a party which had played on sectarian and ethnic divisions and prejudice to maintain its grip. In a democratic, pluralistic nation like India, there is no place for the discredited politics of exclusion.True, however, the BJP is an oppositional party par excellence and one can be sure that it will stoke up various agitations and resort back to instigating communal flare-ups now that it is out of government to increase sectarian divisions and derive political milage from them. It will be a bumpy next five years ahead and whatever govt comes to power at the centre it will have to face a BJP-opposition that will definitely increase instability when it can see an advantage from doing so; a lot depends on how the Centre reacts. The record here isn�t all that good for Central govts to show some backbone in facing down these type of agitations and threats.

And I can think of no better leader than Sonia Ghandi to bring India out of the taint of the BJP's rule - a woman whose foreign birth is of no consequence to her identity as an Indian.

I have to say, I differ with you strongly on this. I have nothing against Sonia Gandhi, personally and the whole foreign-issue thing needs to be labelled for what it really is � just another form of racism disguised as nationalism. Despite this, I have always had a strong dislike for dyanstic politics on the Indian scene, their effects have been corrosive of democracy, inhibited genuine pluralism and a diverse agenda and have not had many positive effects. I have a special and intense antipathy to the Gandhi family, whose presence in politics for the last 30 years have been on the whole quite disastrous for India with only a limited number of exceptions. It is time we move beyond the idea that simple marriage or blood ties are no longer enough in themselves even a preliminary qualification for public office and frequently are a hindrance. We all know that Sonia Gandhi wouldn�t have a chance in hell of becoming PM if it hadn�t been for an accident of marriage and the same goes for her children. As a rule family members of famous politicians on the subcontinent have very rartely turned out to be anything better than mediocre leaders and much often worse. The nation deserves much better than this; considering Sonia personally, I think she displays too much of all that we hated about the ancien nepotist regime, a reliance on coteries, personalised ties of loyalty from second-level leaders, inadequate grooming of future leaders, and unlike dynastic leaders I think she lacks the political nous or the willpower to be able to keep both feisty coalition allies and opponents in line. It is quite clear that she has been pushed into politics quite reluctantly; given that she (quite intelligently in my opinion) was against her husband entering public life and shunned the limelight for as long as possible. An indication that she is aware of her limitations, which unfortunately she now has to overcome to succeed.

As for the Congress, it is very much a bankrupt party ideologically; the time when it could be called the party of the poor with a straight face, has long since elapsed and it has always shown itself to be all too willing to accomadate to vested interests at every level when faced to opposition to any much needed reform programme. An important indication of which way the wind was blowing, was the short meeting with Ambani and Sonia when the results started coming through and the recovery of the BSE sensex after the stockmarket became paranoid that there might be a non-BJP coalition at the centre. The Congress is seen by the coporate sector as a safe pair of hands, if less neo-liberal than the BJP and more prone to populist gestures. Still, it remains only a qualified step forward for secularism; given as Arundhati Roy has put it �the BJP only do by day, what the Congress did before by night� I can still remember the anti-Sikh progrom of 1984 and the pandering to saffronist sentiment that the Congress had periodically indulged in from the time of Rajiv Gandhi ill-adivsed interventions over MPL and Kashmir to the belated attempts of even progressively well-regarded state govts like that of Digvijay Singh to promote a �soft Hindutva�. When it comes to the rights of minorities, secularism and an egalitarian agenda; the Congress has always been a vacillating and ultimately ineffective guardian. One can only hope that in a coalition its regional and Leftist allies can keep it on such a path.

She personifies the face of India as a nation based on ideals rather racial or religious identity.I wouldn�t push this too far; for some this raises old spectres of colonialism and the whole bittersweet relationship with the West; this seems more benign from the view of the Diaspora but the perspective from the motherland is less sanguine. It will also serve as a lightening rod to provoke more targeted attacks on the religion angle; as her religion will definitely be used by the BJP and given the widespead presence of Christianity in key and sensitive sectors like education and chairty work, how this will play out remains to be seen. But memories are short, after all the foreign-issue thing backfired to a degree when questions were raised over Vajpayee�s own record during the Quit India movement.

The victory of the Congress Party was essentially delivered by the poor - and there's a fine balance between charting an economic course that addresses their needs with one that irresponsibly tries to pander to their wants. India's economic recovery is fragile and the nation may need to swallow some bitter medicine in terms of economic policy for it to stay on course.Room for manourvre is more limited than one might think here; with India�s role in the global economy any serious anti-poverty strategy that would takcle it head-on will not be possible without a serious re-engineering of social and property relations that Congress would have found it difficult to accomplish in its heyday let alone today�s era or coalition and interest politics; so there will still be a reliance and a pro-growth trickle down strategy. The genius of the Congress in the past has been to balance this with greater political rewards and integrations while ameliorating the engative economic fallout by compensating and cushioning the fall for those left out by the growth process. One could say that from a pragmatic point of view Congress has pursed an intelligent and gradual economic liberalisation policy while the BJP pursued a rapid and ultimately not-so-intelligent one. While this is still a second-best alternative in my opinion; it is of course an improvement. When it comes down to it, Congress has also been better at administering �bitter� medicine� than the BJP with its Finance Minister Yashwant �rollback� Sinha has been.

If the Congress succeeds then the economy will become a rising tide that floats all boats - rich and poor, Hindu and Muslim, alike.Much depends on what its coalition govt looks like and this is I think the real significance of the results; this has been an incredibly strong showing by the Left - with nearly 60 seats and a good one by the populist OBC parties and the Dalit as well as regional ones. This is good cause for cheer as it will not only act as a restraining influence but it is a genuine demonstration of pluralism and the inability of chauvinist nationalism or sectarian communalism to dominate the governance and political agenda. We have always been a rather fragmented and disorganised nation culturally and socially as well as politically in what we want and the vision of the nation. In the current context of democratic mass politics, I regard this as a long-term asset rather than a disability as somewith their alternative versions of nationalism do.

Finally, just as a point of note, I think you should correct the spelling of Gandhi to the normal usage; I understand given the difficulties in transliteration several different forms can be used but the accepted one is probably preferable; as otherwise when commenting on politics; some people are bound to take this the wrong way. Plus, anyway to get line breaks in these comments?

Tejas said...

Conrad's already addressed most of the issues you've raised. Anyway ..


.. with the abject and worsening poverty of India's vast lower classes Ever since the reforms process was initiated by the Congress party in the early 90s, the percentage of people beneath the poverty line has dropped gradually. There's no evidence that indicates that the lower classes got any poorer during the BJP's reign. Anyway, while it's heartening to see the Saffronists out of power, and the Congress in (I voted for the Congress), the Marxists may unfortunately stall the reforms process (the Congress in its manifesto had promised to continue with the reforms process, and had given tickets to ex-finance ministers Chidambaram and Manmohan Singh who have won & are pro-reforms, but it's hands are now tied). While the Communist Party of India - Marxist's politburo member, Prakash Karat, has comforted the pro-reforms junta by reassuring them that the Commies won't "liquidate capitalism", the general secretary of the CPI (M), Harkishen Singh Surjeet, has already declared that the disinvestment ministry should be dissolved ( the Congress had a pragmatic stand regarding this issue, wanting only loss-making Public Sector Undertakings privatized). As a result, the stock markets in India are down 7% today, with the PSU index down 15% (microcredit lending programs, which will likely be implemented, might also eat into the margins of government banks). One hopes that the Marxists don't decide to lend support to the COngress-lead government from outside, but instead choose to be part of the government, which will prevent them from criticizing the reforms program that the Congress might implement.


it was completely wiped out in Tamil Nadu where there was an unprecedented across the board win for the DMK-led rainbow coalition which won every single LS seat in the state.
This was entirely predictable, and the BJP seems to have made a very elementary mistake in choosing the AIADMK over the DMK as an ally. A rout was on the cards, and as it always happens in Tamil Nadu, the incumbent state government was voted out of power in the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP seems to have made a big mess in TN, starting with the arrest of Vajpayee-loyalist Vaiko under POTA , right to the choice of the AIADMK.



This is good cause for cheer as it will not only act as a restraining influence but it is a genuine demonstration of pluralism and the inability of chauvinist nationalism or sectarian communalism to dominate the governance and political agenda.
dude, I doubt if Indian politics is any less divisive now than it's been through the last few years. Like you'd pointed out, the BJP got its caste-combination wrong in Gujarat, UP, and Bihar. The developmental record of parties was inconsequential during these elections , and caste/religion as usual dominated . TO be fair to the BJP, the plank on which the party sought to be relected this time around was on a developmental one , unlike the campaign of hate that the BJP has resorted to in the past. Chances are that the RSS will push for a return to their core issue, Hindutva, next time around. This was indicated by an RSS member on TV. It was sad to see Chandrababu Naidu and S.M. Krishna ( pro-reforms Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka respectively) kicked out of power, and Laloo's party in Bihar (one of India's most backward states) winning this time around. Populism ( Y.S.Rajasekhar Reddy of the Congress, who promised free power to farmers in Andhra Pradesh, and allied with the TRS which wants a separate state of Telangana carved out of AP, won) and the correct caste combinations ensure victory, I suppose. Three cheers to democracy.

As an aside, I wonder what COnrad thinks will happen to Indo-Pak, Indo-US, and Indo-Israel relations. The CPI(M) was against Bill Clinton's visit to India and held prtest rallies before his arrival, while they've traditionally also been virulently anti-Israel. Will Sonia be able to make any concessions to Pak, considering the fact that desi hardliners will claim she's selling out ?

Conrad said...

Ever since the reforms process was initiated by the Congress party in the early 90s, the percentage of people beneath the poverty line has dropped gradually. There's no evidence that indicates that the lower classes got any poorer during the BJP's reign.Well, not quite. The Head Count ratio did increase quite significantly during the �structural adjustment� phase of 1990-91 and only recovered post 93 to its downward long-term trend. The fact that this continued since then says several things: firstly since there have been both Congress, UF and BJP led govts at the Centre, it obviously isn�t contingent overwhelmingly on what party is in power at the time and that there is a fair amount of underlying continuity behind this. Secondly, as long as the economy is growing, then this HC ratio will continue to fall, immerising growth doesn�t really apply to this index in our context � so a party would have to do something really stupendous to cock this up or enter into some sort major adjustment crisis. Having said all this, the HC ratio is a poor indicator of the state of the poor for a number of reasons � it is a very crude measure that doesn�t tell you much about relative poverty, is based on weak data collection and uses quite outdated methods to calculate an appropriate cut-off line. I mean even somebody who would be above the poverty line would not be particularly well off and could easily be pushed back below if he/she had some unforeseen blow to their ability to earn such as illness, dowry payments or irregular employment. Given the fact that most of the labour forces works and lives in the unregulated private and informal sector of the economy; insecurity is endemic for them and the fear that they could see themselves slip into this destitute class, ever present �frex many of the farmers who committed suicide in AP would not necessarily have been considered poor (after all they owned at least some land and were seen as a creditworthy risk) after the failure of their harvest for whatever reason; though, it was clear where they were heading and hence their inability to deal with it. Alternative measures of poverty that seek to measure relative differences in how far below the poverty line those classed as poor are and the levels of inequality amongst them draw a more bleak picture; only the urban poor have improved their positions markedly with the rural poor doing much worse. For SC/ST households the situation is even worse and depending on what state you look at these groups have been completely by-passed by growth. So the picture is more mixed here; I think it would be difficult to argue that the lower classes did any worse on a pure quantitative income level than in the previous five or so years but they didn�t do that great either and the rate of poverty reduction was much lower than say the 1980s when pump-priming the rural economy, leakages notwithstanding certainly improved things for the poor a lot � not that this helped the Congress a lot electorally either but there you go.

I voted for the CongressWe will have words on this, but I suppose there wasn�t much choice on offer in your state.

The Marxists may unfortunately stall the reforms process (the Congress in its manifesto had promised to continue with the reforms process, and had given tickets to ex-finance ministers Chidambaram and Manmohan Singh who have won & are pro-reforms, but it's hands are now tied)Well, let us cut through the rhetoric here. The CPI (M) is not really a radical party anymore and it has no coherent anti-capitalist strategy, one only has to look at the junkets of trips with industrialists in tow that LF leaders from West Bengal make on an annual basis to see this. As the Economist has been saying in its laudatory pieces on the LF govt here for the last 10 years or so and as the Far Eastern Economic Review has done on the software policy; these people have already come to an accommodation with regional capital which has proven to be mutually beneficial and this will not change at the national level. West Bengal has also gone from being a marginal food deficit state to the biggest rice producer in India, this would not be possible without compromising with the land-owning peasantry and the networks of mercantile capital in the countryside both major classes involved in private capitalist accumulation. This indicates the real thrust of the CPI (M) policy behind its ideological fa�ade. As for the reforms process well, even with bribing the Jharkhand MPs the Narasimha Rao govt would never have been able to pass its budgets without the support of the Left parties in the Lok Sabha, similarly despite the CPI being a major constituent of the UF the Finance portfolio was awarded to the neo-liberaliser Chidambaram and the CPI minister of the Home and Agriculture portfolios didn�t really do anything to rock the boat (except speak the unpalatable truth from time to time in Indrajit Gupta�s case). So one can rest assured that nothing will be done to reverse the reforms process; in fact no major national party has really even seriously thought about doing this from the mid-1980s onwards whatever they might have said in public; the only debate has been over the pace and the nature of the reforms to be carried out.

the general secretary of the CPI (M), Harkishen Singh Surjeet, has already declared that the disinvestment ministry should be dissolved ( the Congress had a pragmatic stand regarding this issue, wanting only loss-making Public Sector Undertakings privatized).Well, you do realise that Manmohan Singh himself, had accused the BJP of selling off the �family silver� in privatising PSUs that didn�t need to be privatised. I find it hard to get worked up about this issue, I don�t think it has much to do with growth and I remain unconvinced that either privatisation or nationalisation in themselves are important. What it more important is the level of competition, productivity and factor utilisation; here private companies have all to frequently tended to simply behave as oligopolies when they get the chance and PSUs that could have been run well have been abused by their political masters. The correct policy would be to encourage private competition while ensuring a good administration for the PSUs left in state hands.

As a result, the stock markets in India are down 7% today, with the PSU index down 15%Think about it; in 1996 when there was a real danger that a Communist might become Prime Minister and when the UF was going to be govt which unlike the BJP and the Congress had not ideologically explicitly shown itself to be aggressively pro-reform; there was no comparable sensex tumble. Rather what we saw was a parade of the big industrialists from Ambani downwards troop through the CPI (M) headquarters in Delhi to ask for a stable leadership which they felt the JD and other UF members couldn�t offer but which the CPI (M) could. Whereas, now with the Congress as the largest party and going to be bedrock of the next govt and Manmohan Singh as a likely FM candidate we see the biggest freefall in the 129 year history of the BSE � call me paranoid but this is very much an overreaction of Finance capital, particularly the short-term and black money segments that have been important supporters of the BJP and which now see a more stricter regime coming to power. You can note that when Manmohan Singh made a public statement warning that if the freefall continued that the govt would feel constrained to take action against speculators there was a late and partial recovery. While this is an important and dynamic sector of the economy, one should also remember that about 80% of the accumulation is carried out outside this sector in the agrarian and the non-corporate service and industrial sectors � in other words where the bulk of the people live and work. This can be seen very much as a mini-strike by Capital against any potential victory by Labour � I assume people became a bit wide-eyed when Sonia Gandhi started talking about how this would be a govt of �khet mazdoors� etc.

One hopes that the Marxists don't decide to lend support to the Congress-lead government from outside, but instead choose to be part of the government, which will prevent them from criticizing the reforms program that the Congress might implement.Well, it looks like they won�t join but I don�t think it would make much of a difference. The Congress alliance has about 215 seats and the Left will support them which with the Communists having 60+ and the SP 37 will give nearly 100 seats if some other small parties can be roped in. This will give the Congress coalition over a 300 seat strong support; the calculations of Surjeet et al will be that the Left will not withdraw its support � historically it has never used this threat before against even its NF/UF partners, I don�t see why it will start now; particularly as the BJP is much stronger and it has identified the BJP as the prime threat both in terms of communal violence and economic liberalisation. The Congress is by far the lesser danger here for the Left, so this won�t happen; also having a 300+ majority will insulate the coalition from anyone of the smaller parties leaving so even 20-30 strong parties can threaten to leave and join the BJP without the govt falling. So there will be no repeat of minority govts falling in the past after a couple of years as we saw in 1998. All in all, I think this Lok Sabha will last for at least 4 years, it not the full term � barring some disaster of course.

This was entirely predictable, and the BJP seems to have made a very elementary mistake in choosing the AIADMK over the DMK as an ally. A rout was on the cards, and as it always happens in Tamil Nadu, the incumbent state government was voted out of power in the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP seems to have made a big mess in TN, starting with the arrest of Vajpayee-loyalist Vaiko under POTA , right to the choice of the AIADMK.Yeah, no doubt. The Congress also was much better at making pre-poll alliances this time round and had done its electoral mathematics quite cleverly � one can see in how its seat share went up even though its voteshare did not; there was another across the board sweep for the LDF combine in Kerala which is unusual.

I doubt if Indian politics is any less divisive now than it's been through the last few years.Well, let me put is another way; I am glad that these divisions are out in the open political forum rather than hidden behind some sort of intra-party backdoor dealing which is what would have happened if the NDA had won outright. Division and conflict are the essence of democracy in our current state of evolution and is a major motor of progress.

Like you'd pointed out, the BJP got its caste-combination wrong in Gujarat, UP, and Bihar. The developmental record of parties was inconsequential during these elections, and caste/religion as usual dominated .I think it is a bit more; the problem for the BJP was that they antagonised key elements of the peasantry which swung against them as a class. Now this was a stupid thing to do, as the landed peasantry and the middle castes that dominate them are probably the largest single most powerful bloc in the country; it was after all this class that ejected the British. It was also leading segments of this class that were the first to break with the Congress in the 1960s and 1970s; the SC and Brahminnical support bases of the Congress actually remained quite firm until the 1980s when they left for the Dalit and BJP parties. The only places where the BJP combine did well were in the central Indian tribal belt where the adivasis who had solidly backed the Congress for the last 50 years had become fed up with them and switched to the BJP or had their leaderships bribed into shifting (as once upon a time, Congress used to) these states like MP, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh have a weaker peasantry and an upper caste base that is heavily saffronised and hence the good performance of the BJP here. Though 5 years of Uma Bharti will guarantee a Congress return and the lack of a programme in Chattisgarh and infighting in Jharkhand will do the same there.


TO be fair to the BJP, the plank on which the party sought to be re-elected this time around was on a developmental one, unlike the campaign of hate that the BJP has resorted to in the past.Yes, but what else differentiates the BJP from the Congress. After all Congress has been much better at balanced economic management and delivering development to the rural poor and been quite willing to massage the middle class-upper caste and mobile elements of the peasantry by soft saffronism when it needed to do so. Advani started saying towards the end of the campaign that the BJP would be happy to become some sort of saffronised Congress party; the problem with this line of thinking is that why should one vote for the BJP in this case when one can vote for the real thing. Also I am sceptical as to what degree the BJP was actually interested in implementing some of these programmes; it has always been very good at reforms for the rich and for Capital much less so for the poor and Labour � it isn�t part of its vision.

Chances are that the RSS will push for a return to their core issue, Hindutva, next time around.I think this will backfire on them unless they come up with something new. The Mandir issue doesn�t inflame people like it used to, relations with Pakistan have been improving and the foreign issue thing smacks of desperation to me.

It was sad to see Chandrababu Naidu and S.M. Krishna ( pro-reforms Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka respectively) kicked out of power, and Laloo's party in Bihar (one of India's most backward states) winning this time around. Populism ( Y.S.Rajasekhar Reddy of the Congress, who promised free power to farmers in Andhra Pradesh, and allied with the TRS which wants a separate state of Telangana carved out of AP, won) and the correct caste combinations ensure victory, I suppose.Re to my arguments about the peasantry above. I can�t shed many tears for Naidu, I know you IT and science people liked him but I don�t think his policies offered much to the state as a whole and he made all the errors of over-emphasising ICT as an engine of growth. At the macro-economic level and for the great mass of people it can�t play the same role that industrial manufacturing or commercial high-value added agriculture can; his SAP deals with the World Bank struck me as disastrous and his approach to the Naxalite problem, rural indebtedness, police corruption and heavy-handedness and the Telegana agitation left much to be desired. I know he got a good write up in the press but this was primarily for middle-class urban consumption and didn�t reflect the real impact of his policies. As for populism, I mean come on; the Akali Dal has been offering these deals for years while part of the NDA, few surplus farmers in the Green Triangle belt of Punjab, Haryana and Western UP pay for their inputs. And silly schemes like the provision of a cow to every adivasis household in Chattisgarh is not only populist but also counter-productive. Not to mention the few thousand crores spent on the India is shining campaign.

I wonder what COnrad thinks will happen to Indo-Pak, Indo-US, and Indo-Israel relations. The CPI(M) was against Bill Clinton's visit to India and held prtest rallies before his arrival, while they've traditionally also been virulently anti-Israel.Re: Indo-US, I think things will proceed slowly but gradually. There will obviously be deepening economic ties and trade links with more business relations and IT related development but no big change here. This is good, the BJP for its own rather odd reasons fooled itself into thinking that they could some how become major US allies; this is ridiculous, Pakistan is always going to make for a more dependent and therefore more desirable client state, as Powell�s recent announcement has only gone further to support. This is not going to change anytime in the near future, so there is no point in kidding ourselves about the nature of Indo-US relations; until issues with Pak are resolved they will remain good but distant. On a host of other issues such as agricultural liberalisation, IPR, patents and domestic subsidies and dumping we will find ourselves in common cause with countries like ZA and Brazil in the WTO against the US, so it won�t pay to get too chummy without realising the clashes of interest that exist here. The Left here is probably less likely to get all misty-eyed about supposed American good intentions here than the other political blocs.

Re: Indo-Israeli ties, this is a more tricky one and a relationship that has been systematically mismanaged right from independence. The main link is obviously defence and arms deals; Israel is now the second biggest supplier and provides much of the most advanced weapons technology from what I understand. This won�t change and it is important to have a long-term perspective here as both the Left and the saffronist have a rather idealised view of relations with Israel (from different perspectives of course). This is a relationship that has gone back the 1965 war and continued, with Israeli equipment playing a key role in that and the 1971 war (key but not essential) just as supplies from Israel and ZA were important when Kargil happened and the US/EU were still observing an arms embargo. So this is a long-term relationship and existed at a time when Indian foreign policy was much more pro-Palestinian, sometimes ridiculously so; I doubt this will see any drastic reversal. Israel has always followed a realpolitik approach in its arms sales and has been willing to sell to regimes that have been both quite subversive as well as anti-Semitic. As we are neither and there is no danger of these weapons being used against Israel this will continue; given that we pay a remunerative price in hard currency there is no reason for this to be altered. Not that it matters all that much, after all counter-insurgency is a low-tech exercise for the most part and the technological balance of power has not made much of a difference to Pakistan who we have overwhelmed by superior size and better planning in military conflicts and in any potential confrontation with China it will again be better planning and execution that will be decisive given our relative sizes; rather than any edge in technological equipment. As for the HR training being imparted, from what I can see it is counter-productive; Israeli counter-insurgency methods, quite apart from their questionable moral implications, would only work if we were occupying territory where the local population were considered as non-citizen aliens. The reverse is true in our cases, so different methods are needed, if any peaceful resolution is to be reached.

As for the Left, well, this is really a symbolic issue in my opinion. The Communist parties have oscillated on the issue and it is worth remembering that before the 1964 split when it was more subservient to Moscow, they were actually more well disposed towards Israel in the 1950s that the then Congress govt (and it must be said the Jan Sangh precursors) as this was a time when it was unclear which camp in the Cold War Israel would firmly commit to. Since then, because due to Nehruvian non-alignment and closeness to Arab leaders in the ME, this never presented itself as an issue; after 1989 and Oslo there was a large consensus on upgrading ties with Israel and India has followed much of the rest of the world in its relations, arguably with more consistency since Israel was recognised within a year or two of its independence and unlike many African and Asian countries diplomatic relations were not broken off during the 1967 war. With normalisation between Israel and the PLO there has been a steady upward trend in Indo-Israeli relations; and I can�t remember Peres�s visit or that of Weizmann as the Israeli Foreign Minister and President arousing much, if any opposition. Only Sharon�s visit got people a little excited and the CPI (M) flustered; which was unfortunate but to be expected as he is persona non grata in several parts of the world and there was no reason for us to have swung so violently to the other extreme and become more pro-Zionist than many Israelis themselves. In the past there has always been an unhealthy tendency to over-idealise one side or the other and too many illusions have been entertained about the Palestinians and Palestinian Nationalism, while in the present we seem to be entertaining too many about Israel and Zionism. The two sides need to be regarded stripped bare of their self-justificatory rhetoric and be seen for what they really are: two contending nationalist movements emeshed in a conflict over land. As we have no direct interest or essential stake in either side, we can�t afford to uncritically accept the self-propagatory myths of either � this will mean less embarrassing sudden volte-faces for us based on ill-founded assumptions about the conflict. While ostensibly neutral, our foreign policy was heavily in favour of the Arab and Palestinian side for much of the conflict only to reverse itself of late � and this is precisely the wrong policy-mix from a long-term point of view, which should have been more pro-Israeli in initial stages and more pro-Palestinian in the later ones. However, as with the Cold War, we have had a recurring tendency to back the wrong side at the wrong time. A sensible policy would be to maintain a balance with a tilt towards Israel on defence procurement, technical collaboration and economic ties and a tilt towards the Palestinians on HR issues, political symbolism and in international forum that deal with questions of Palestinian statehood. There are benefits from favouring both sides in different spheres and this is what a sensible pragmatic policy would call for; there is no need to go overboard and give all out backing to one side over the other as we have tended to do in the past.

As for the CPI (M)�s antics, this is something that will be confined strictly to the symbolic level of political discourse. Foreign policy in India has always been made by the PM not the Foreign Minister and as this will be a Congress person; there won�t be any virulent anti-Israeli action. Both Congress and the BJP have been highly realist in the foreign policy- even if their definition of national interest aims can be questioned, their methods have been more consistent with accepted practise. Congress has had no problems with maintaining a strategic partnership and upgrading relations as the Oslo peace process moved on, despite the pro-Palestinian and Pro-Arab Nehruvian stance in the region and Arafat basically becoming another member of the Gandhi family coterie and the BJP while babbling on about a supposed Hindutva-Zionist-US axis had no problems in dispatching the President to full state visits to Sudan which is on the terrorist sponsor list of the US state dept and has backed a number of extremist groups in the region not to mention its policies in southern Sudan which have resulted in ethnic cleansing but where ONGC has an interest in oil exploration and the BJP sent its minister to Syria where the continual Indo-Arab ties were harped on. All this pales beside the strong co-operation between Iran, where the tenure of the NDA has seen several naval exercises and collaboration on expanding port and naval dockyard facilities on the Iranian coast and where the 20 year plan for Indian naval expansion envisions a strong allied relationship with Iran. So ideological concerns can be put on the backburner when geo-strategic imperatives are seen to arise. Moreover, any rhetoric will remain at the verbal level; as these strategic decisions have already been taken and key parts of the policymaking apparatus in India such as the upper echelons of the bureaucracy and military leadership have decided to continue the relationship; any discourse critical of Israel, will be like that found in the left-liberal sections of European public opinion, given a fair amount of dissemination but with almost a nil impact on state policy. This will allow the left intelligentsia, which is the only section of society that really has any interest in this issue or even cares about it to get worked up and release steam; the only fallout will be that rightwing Zionists will get outraged as usual about supposed anti-Israeli bias while the counterparts amongst the Palestinians will feel that they are once again being bent over a barrel and screwed; the more progressive Zionists might indulge in some brief hand-wringing but this is about the net result that will happen. So I don�t think this should be taken too seriously.

Will Sonia be able to make any concessions to Pak, considering the fact that desi hardliners will claim she's selling out ?I doubt it; the foreign origin issue has already backfired to some degree and I think it reveals a telling divide in how the issue has come to be seen in India. Much of the rural masses and peasantry don�t see it as of primary importance; unlike the more middle class, urban and supposedly sophisticated chattering classes who are quite happy to send their children abroad, welcome foreign capital and trade and have their sons marry non-Indians and settle one member of their family overseas but get all huffed up about this so-called affront to national pride. I suppose after having compromised on so much else, this is a relatively easy and cost-free way to affirm one�s nationalism; for most desis who won�t have the opportunity to travel abroad and who probably won�t see a non-Indian in their lives much less marry one have a more relaxed attitude primarily because they will be less insecure at a psychological level and also because they will subscribe to the traditional view of Indian marriage systems that once a girl marries into a family she becomes part of that family. The sell-out label won�t wash as well; given the BJP�s own debacle over the Lahore and Agra summits and the Kargil affair and the industrial capital of both states have shown increasing desire for rapprochement and normalisation of relations.