I think this is about as good a time for me to start waxing eloquence about the recently concluded elections in India and its results.
When I visited India in January, I saw the blitzkrieg of "India Shining" everywhere. During the Pravasi Bharatiya Saptaha (NRI week), I watched TV debates and there was talk about "India Shining" all over. I asked many people about the "feel good factor". I also asked the same people about the feelings of general public, and I uniformly received the answer that India was indeed feeling good. When I got back, I made several comments to my friends here about what I had heard. I also told them about the World Social Forum that was held in Bombay during January 16-21.
My personal observation was that people like you and me who have had access to higher education and have had opportunities for upward mobility were indeed doing well. I was not so sure about the masses.
The Poll Results
Keeping this in mind, I was surprised to get report after report of a NDA sweep in the elections. Not that there were no voices of caution about drawing premature inferences about the upcoming election.
(Digression: Apart from an odd news item from Google News, I was gathering much of my information based on just three news sources: The Hindu, The Times of India and the Maharashtra Times. The Hindu is a southern newspaper, but in my opinion the best available source of news from India. Unlike the Times of India (TOI), the Hindu provides real analysis. The web edition of Times is extremely poorly designed, but the print edition is not much better. Maharashtra Times (MT) is a newspaper in Marathi. Although owned by the same group that owns TOI, MT has a better finger on the pulse of the people. In fact, several regional newspapers such as Loksatta and Sakal do a much better job of providing news than TOI, which should be a matter of shame for the largest selling English language newspaper from India.)
While the polls were indicating that NDA's grip on the election was becoming loose with every day, nobody had an idea of what was in store. When the Andhra election results came out on the 11th of May, Chandrababu suffered a massive defeat. H K Surjeet from the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said Bharat ki Tasveer Jo Andhra ki bani (What happened in Andhra is a reflection of what is going to happen all over India). I refused to accept that statement and attributed it to the habit of Indian politicians to exaggerate.
The results of the elections and the events that unfolded in the eventful week after that proved EVERYBODY wrong at least once. Many theories have been proposed to explain what actually happened. Clearly, given the complexity of India's electorate, no one explanation is adequate.
It is clear, however, that at least some of the following things happened:
A closer look shows that BJP's vision was "India as a Developed Nation". Its strategy for India was to talk about where India can be in a global economy. The manifesto says:
The NDA is committed to making India an economic superpower through a seven-pronged strategy of:
1) India as the food factory of the world.
2) India as the global manufacturing hub.
3) India as the service provider to the world.
4) India as the centre of the knowledge economy.
5) India as the global tourism destination.
6) India as the global healthcare destination.
7) India as the global higher education destination.
While one may think of this as a noble goal, a more realistic person will say that the folks who wrote such a language in the manifesto were not connecting with most of the India, but with people of Indian origin who have gained much from India's liberalization policies. People ask me of what I think should be priorities for India, and my answer hasn't changed in many years: Education, Primary Healthcare, and Safe Drinking Water. How could the party in power not talk about these issues as their priority?
The Congress agenda, OTOH, emphasized the Back to Basics approach. It talked more about the Dalits, Adivasis, Women and Minorities. It talked more about how suicide rate among farmers has shot up during the last five years. Its main agenda was as follows:
The Congress’s six basics for governance:
• Samajik Sadhhavna to ensure social cohesion and harmony by taking the strictest possible action against those who promote bigotry and hatred;
• Yuva Rozgar to accelerate growth of productive and secure employment opportunities by around one crore a year so that each family has a viable livelihood.
• Grameen Vikas to improve the income and welfare of kisans and khet mazdoors across the country;
• Arthik Navotthan to unleash the creative energies of our professionals and entrepreneurs, the cutting edge of our middle class;
• Mahila Sashaktikaran to provide for the political empowerment and full educational, economic and legal equality for women;
• Saman Avsar to provide for equality of opportunity in every way for dalits, adivasis, OBCs and religious and linguistic minorities.
The difference between this agenda and the one put forward by BJP is substantial.
(Digression: BSP is one of my continued interests; I will make a more informative post about BSP some other day. For now, I will note that the party said that it has a three stage strategy: Lose elections yourself (get noticed), Become the cause the defeat of others (grab enough vote share to make a difference in the election), win the election yourself (win the votes of the Bahujan Samaj [The vast majority of low class]). The party has fast moved past the first and second stage.)
All of these factors (and others) came together to take the shine of the BJP led coalition's campaign. Unlike many other countries, election in India is a long and drawn out process. This gave enough time for the opposition to form concrete alliances and gain ground against the ruling BJP.