As national election season nears in India, two major parties, the center-left National Congress Party and the center-right Bharatiya Janata Party, as well as a host of lesser parties, including the Communist Party and organizations representing regional or niche interests, prepare their slates of candidates for Parliament. The late April to mid-May polling season will bring out hundreds of millions of voters to balloting sites across this populous South Asian democracy. Another coalition government, similar to the one now in power under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, is the widely expected outcome. Since neither major party is likely to gain control on its own, alliance-building among the smaller parties, some with dreams of running the country without either Congress or BJP taking part in the government, is serious and intense. One party which aims to play a power-broker role is the Bahujan Samaj Party, leader of the coalition government in the state of Uttar Pradesh, and headed by popular politician Kumari Mayawati, a former school teacher and, remarkably enough for India, a member of the untouchables caste.
International relations, particularly in regard to Pakistan, and economic issues, including deficit spending to maintain and stimulate growth, are among the top considerations any new government will have to deal with immediately on taking office. Additionally, finalizing an agreement on a civilian nuclear power program allowing importation of enriched uranium for reactors, an agreement negotiated with the United States under the recent Bush administration as well as with the responsible international agencies, is another top priority. Doing something about corruption and the lack of transparency in business practices is also important, as the recent scandal involving Satyam Computer Services, an outsourcing company handling backoffice operations for many international concerns including prominent Fortune 500 conglomerates, has underscored. Since retaining international respect for its high-tech information services industry is essential to India, a nation enjoying enviable economic growth in recent years, it is possible that this particular case will spur needed changes in accounting practices and corporate governance.
The terror incident which claimed more than 150 lives in Mumbai last November nearly sparked another war between tempermental neighbors India and Pakistan. Patient investigation, amid international calls for calm, has revealed that 10 members of an outlawed organization based in Pakistan were responsible for the three-day attack targeting tourist locales. The organization, Lashkar-i-Taiba, is dedicated to liberating Kashmir from Indian control. The Kashmir issue has long been a festering one, adversely affecting the diplomatic relations of the two nations.
India’s relations with its other neighbors often focus on the issues of water rights and infrastructure projects for the region’s major rivers. Water for agriculture use as well as for electricity generation is important enough nowadays to merit top-level inter-governmental negotiations. India also contributes significant international aid to Afghanistan, another neighbor. This last fact is important to the United States, a superpower friendly to India but never really closely allied to the Subcontinent’s leading democracy. India also maintains friendly relations with its former colonial ruler, Great Britain.
“Beginning the long goodbye: Indian politics”, The Economist
Somini Sengupta, “A Daughter of India’s Underclass Rises on Votes That Cross Caste Lines”, New York Times
Robert G. Wirsing, “Hydro-politics in South Asia”, Asian Affairs/Highbeam Research
Heather Timmons, “Financial Scandal at Outsourcing Company Rattles a Developing Country”, New York Times
“Holbrooke Meets Indian Officials”, Wall Street Journal/Associated Press