By Patricia L. Sharpe
How boring! I’ve been looking for instances of vote rigging, fraud, bribery, intimidation and/or violence during the multi-week polling process in India, but so far my web searches have uncovered a complaint in just one precinct, in a suburb of Mumbai. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough. But believe me, I’ve tried.
On the other hand, before the weeks-long polling process began, there were plenty of blog posts and news items that warned of the tampering possibilities inherent in the electronic voting machines designed especially for India to work for the illiterate as well as the literate. Post election? No I-told-you-sos. I guess the machines weren’t so bad after all.
A Rare Achievement
So, three cheers for India. China’s leadership is afraid to ask the voters what they want. Russia’s last elections were rigged in favor of Vladimir Putin. Promoters of the Arab spring weren’t prepared for the tasks of governance, and look at what’s happening in Thailand. Above all, check out India’s neighbor to the West. When Pakistan managed to transfer governance from one set of civilians to another for the first time in its 60 years of existence not so long ago, there was much crowing. But why? This transition is pure aberration unless it can be repeated again and again and again, ad nauseum, to the point of boredom.
So three cheers for India which has been running honest elections, uninterrupted by a single military coup, ever since 1947, when the British partitioned the subcontinent and walked off.
The Mighty Congress Loses
In substance, what happened during this election was very dramatic, but that drama was as strong a testimony for the strength of Indian democracy as the boring mechanical perfection of the process.
The Indian National Congress, which (with a brief interregnum some years ago) has been ruling the country for 60 years, came away with less than fifty seats in Parliament, hardly enough to control an opposition coalition, but even that came as no surprise. It had been predicted for months. Congress has no new ideas, and the heir to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty refused to step aside for more energetic leadership even though it has long been clear that he has no taste or talent for politics.
So the mighty Congress lost massively, which is precisely what is supposed to happen when a once dominant political party loses relevance, and the reigning Gandhis conceded the loss, although (it’s said) the Congress leadership lacked the grace to wish the winner well, which is regrettable.
Nevertheless, one thing is clear: there will be no attempt to reverse the election, to undo the rejection, to prevent time from marching on. The results of the election will not be contested, because they are not contestable. The Indian Election Commission does a very good job. This is no small thing.
Now Another Drama begins.
Narendra Modi won (which is to say his party the Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) ended up with the lion’s share of seats in the Lok Sabha) because Modi campaigned on revitalizing the Indian economy, although (no secret) his base consists of Hindu nationalists who have an agenda of Hindu supremacy. Does this make Modi a proto-Nixon? Nixon, a Republican, was able to resume diplomatic relations with China without being seen as soft on Communism, which implies ( in South Asian terms) that Modi might finally effect a rapprochment with Pakistan. Maybe—and maybe not. Meanwhile, Modi has invited Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to attend his installation as PM and has further agreed to a tête-a-tête during the visit.
However, because of his Hindu Nationalist ties—and his ambiguous role in some horrendous Hindu-Muslim violence in his home state of Gujerat, Modi’s BJP lost 90% of the Muslim vote and most of the Christian vote as well. He will need to calm the fears of minorities if he is to achieve his economic agenda, but his ideological constituency will be very unhappy if he fails to fulfill their very inflammatory agenda and quickly. Fully satisfying everyone won't be possible.
Modi will also have to placate or reward, generously, farmers and tribal peoples if land is to be obtained for mineral extraction and industrial expansion without pouring more fuel on an already serious armed rebellion or giving rise to endless stalemate vis-à-vis local and state politics. The BJP does not control all state Assemblies. Moreover, only if marginalized, underskilled people can be persuaded to believe that they too will profit from a highly modernized version of economic progress will Modi be able to reform labor laws that protect workers in the short run while undermining the welfare of all in the long run.
And so on. Land mine after land mine.
An Election Test Always Looms
Because Indians are eager for change, they held their noses and voted for Modi’s ideologically controversial party. But results are expected, and the clock is ticking. If Indian voters can throw out the Congress and the Gandhis, they can also cast Narendra Modi onto the dung heap of history.