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HVK Archives: Two editorials on Parliament elections 96.

Two editorials on Parliament elections 96. - Two London Papers

Posted By Ashok V Chowgule (ashokvc@giasbm01.vsnl.net.in)
11 May 1996

Title : Two editorials on Parliament elections 96.
Author :
Publication : Two London Papers
Date : May 11, 1996

The two editorials are being sent to highlight the way in which the so-called
intellectuals viewed the issue at that time, and to evaluate the material
with hindsight. Of course, the so-called intellectuals are in a confused
states now, as they were then.

First Editorial
Title : Indian Jigsaw
Author : Editorial
Publication : The Times, London
Date : May 11, 1996

Introduction: Better a left coalition than Hindu militants and a nuclear bomb

The arithmetic of India's general election is now clear, revealing a country
thoroughly out of love with the Congress Party which has ruled for all but
four of the past 49 years. India's voters pulled in many directions, but
they were decisive about what they do not like. The Congress Party has been
well punished for its corruption, quarrels, indecisive leadership and for the
perceived failure of the economic reforms it launched in 1991 to transform
the lives of the rural poor. In its worst humiliation since Independence,
the party has been reduced to a rump, by its standards, of only around 130
out of 545 parliamentary seats.

Indian elections are never as influenced by policies as they are by
personalities, religion and caste. These elections. the first in which there
was no Gandhi or Nehru factor to influence the outcome, point to the growing
appeal of parties that claim to speak for the dispossessed. But the Indian
electorate remains cautious. Voters seem to have sensed that their rejection
of Congress, vehicle of India's independence and guarantor of pan-Indian
secularism, is fraught with risk. and to have been reluctant to give any
rival party or coalition a clear mandate to govern.

The result is that there is no clear victor to replace Congress in power.
India's new political geometry will not be clear until the powerbrokers have
finished their jostling in Delhi. But the choice to be made is clear enough.
The alternatives are a government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP), and a coalition which would be led by the National
Front-Left Front (NF-LF) alliance, a clutch of Communist and Socialist
parties that polled heavily among Muslims and lower-caste Indians to win
around 140 seats. The BJP, with more than 180, is now the largest party and
claims to be able to form a government by drawing in small regional groups.
But the odds are that Congress would team up with the Left, even as a junior
coalition partner, rather than let in the BJP.

That would be cause for relief. In Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP has a
plausibly liberal and moderate candidate for Prime Minister; but the party
itself is anything but moderate. It instigated the riots that led to the
violent destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya; many of its upper-caste
supporters favour the creation of a Hindu religious state; and it is
committed to constitutional changes that would strip away the special status
of India's religious and linguistic minorities. The party's assault on
consumerism and television's corruption of Indian society by Western morals,
together with its hostility to multinational corporations, complete a
thoroughly disquieting domestic profile that would destroy India's delicate
internal balance. Even graver damage would be inflicted on regional security
by the BJP's firm pledge to develop an Indian nuclear bomb. At the first sign
that the BJP was serious, Pakistan would follow suit. Both sides could
develop nuclear weapons within months; and both have the missile technology
to deliver them.

The NF-LF platform is at least secular and non-nuclear, but on paper is even
more hostile than the BJP to foreign investment, economic liberalisation and
the privatisation of India's ailing public sector. Its candidate for Prime
Minister, Jyoti Basu, is the veteran Marxist who for 19 years has governed
West Bengal. But this is less threatening than might appear. Mr Basu, who
has been courting foreign investment in his own fief since 1994, is a
dedicated reformer who might make only cosmetic changes to the economic
strategy mapped out by the Congress Party. India is in for a period of
confused government, but with luck it will escape the trap of Hindu

Second editorial
Title : India's perilous drift
Author : Editorial
Publication : Daily Telegraph (London)
Date : May 11. 1996.

Nearly 50 years after India gained independence, the party that has dominated
its politics appears condemned to decline. Congress has suffered severe blows
before and then bounced back; under Indira Gandhi it was ejected for its
authoritarianism in the 1977 election, only to triumph in 1980. But since the
landslide victory won by her son, Rajiv, in 1984, the trend has been
downward. Congress lost its overall majority in 1989, opening the way for a
National Front administration under V. P. Singh. Two years later the party
was back in power but still well short of half the parliamentary seats.

Now in its worst electoral showing, it looks set to come in third behind the
Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the National, Front/Left
Front. an alliance of Left-wing, low-caste and regional parties. At local
level, Congress has been successful in only four of the 25 states. Yesterday
its leader, P. V. Narasimha Rao, resigned as prime minister. In the past,
the party turned to Nehru's descendants in times of crisis. Today, it is
unlikely they could do much to revive its fortunes, even if them, were
prepared to stand for parliament.

The decline of Congress, which was founded in 1885 and led the country to
independence, has left Indian politics bewilderingly fragmented. On the one
hand has been the rise of the BJP, which campaigns on a sectarian platform
quite at variance with the secular state fashioned by Nehru: on the other,
the multiplication of regionally-based parties, with which the centre has
been compelled to form alliances.

The result, after the latest election, is that India faces the prospect of an
unstable, short-lived coalition. The BJP, which advocates the resumption of
nuclear tests and restrictions on foreign investment, is obviously hostile to
Western interests. But a pact between the National Front/Left Front, which
is chary of the recent economic liberalisation, and a fractious, corrupt
Congress is not much more inviting. India, a huge and culturally diverse
nation, can ill afford drift at the centre.

If the situation is unsatisfactory, it is, at least, the outcome of a
democratic exercise. For almost half a century Indian voters have been free
to raise and cast down those who would represent them at federal and state
level. That ability has acted as a check on oversweening political ambition
and a safety valve for voter frustration. Compare that record with the
violent, dictatorial rule to which India's giant neighbour. China, has been
subject over the same period. Indian democracy is far from perfect. but set
against Chinese Communism it remains a beacon for Asians who value individual

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