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|India - Leftwing Backlash?|
Corriere della Sera - April 16th 2009
During this global economic crisis, it is often said that one consequence could be a reversal of globalisation, a revival of state intervention, even a political swing towards the left. Yet it is hard to find examples of countries where this is actually happening. If Barack Obama is counted as a leftwinger, then perhaps
More than 40 political parties held seats in the outgoing parliament. The governing coalition, led by the Indian National Congress, which is one of only two truly national political parties, consisted of 10 parties, but also relied on the less formal support of four others. The previous governing coalition, which ruled India from 1998 until 2004, was led by the other national party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and also consisted of 10 parties but had at one time or another been joined by more than 10 others.
That is where the possibility of a swing to the left comes in, but it does so for reasons of fragmentation, not a policy debate.
The incumbent government is unlikely to be held responsible for that slowdown, for everyone knows that the slowdown has had global causes. Even so, it has not gained great credit for the previously excellent economic record either. The reason is twofold: first is that Indian farmers saw little benefit from the country’s economic success, which is politically important because 70% of the population still lives in the countryside; the second is that in recent years inflation has hurt the poor, through rising fuel and food prices. That inflation has now subsided, but memories of it linger on.
At the last general election, in 2004, the BJP-led government was widely tipped to win, thanks to its good economic record. The fragmented nature of Indian politics, plus some rural discontent, instead produced its defeat. In 2009, many Indian political commentators expect the Congress party to win enough seats to form a government again, helped by the young son of its de facto leader, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul. That family’s loyalists hope that he might even take over as prime minister in a year or two’s time, even though he is only 38 years old in a country where prime ministers have typically been in their 70s or even 80s.
But the commentators could again be proved wrong. The BJP could end up strong enough to form the governing coalition. In that case, little would change: the BJP and Congress essentially agree about both economic and foreign policy. Yet there is a third possibility. Parties based on support from the lowest castes in Indian society, from many of the poorest groups, have been gaining political strength in recent years. One of the biggest such parties, based in one of the largest states, Uttar Pradesh, is led by a woman, Mayawati. If parties such as hers turn out to prosper at this election, thanks to rural discontent and the memory of inflation, there is a chance that Mayawati might in fact be strong enough to form a governing coalition, probably in collusion with
The opinion polls do not currently suggest that this is the likeliest outcome. But in rural, heavily illiterate, politically fragmented