Friday, May 08, 2009

The General Election in India and Its Impacts on US-Indian Relations

The general election in India is currently in progress, and the result will be announced on May 16. It takes a while to count the vote as India is the largest democracy in the world. To begin with, let me review some news reports.

In this election, Indian voters aspire their own Hope of the Change, as they are frustrated with two established parties, which are the ruling Congress Party and opposition nationalist BJP. Independent candidates such as Mona Shah of Mumbai are drawing enthusiastic attention among Indian grassroots by denouncing corruption among political establishments (“Independent Candidates Rising in India Politics”; VOA News; 30 April 2009). In view of the Mumbai terrorist attack last November, the trend of Muslim separatists in Kashmir is a critical focus (“Indians Vote in Third Round of Staggered General Election”; VOA News; 30 April 2009).

The Congress Party and BJP are competing severely to win the majority seat in populous provinces (“Congress, BJP may spring surprises in Uttar Pradesh”; Hindustan Times; May 5, 2009). Market analysts of foreign investors in India are worried that Congress, which leads the current coalition, or the main national opposition Bharatiya Janata Party may have to cede policy influence to smaller caste-based or regional parties to form a government (“Poll worries to moderate brisk”; Express Buzz; 4 May 2009). This election has been under tight security control due to the danger posed by Islamic militants. Neither ruling Congress nor main opposition BJP are expected to win the majority by themselves, and small parties will have a key role to found a cabinet after this election (“Delhi's turn in Indian election”; BBC News; 7 May 2009).

Regarding the US-Indian nuclear deal, a Pakistani newspaper says “India is mortgaged to the US through Jewish Lobby, which was the major force behind the said Indo-US nuclear deal. While Congress’ Muslim-hatred is hidden under cosmetic surgery, BJP is openly in bed with the Zionist regime in the occupied Palestine” (“India is mortgaged to Uncle Sam”; Pakistan Daily News; 4 May 2009). In view of such criticism to the nuclear deal from Indian leftists, BJP demanded that the Obama administration maintain tax incentives to outsourcing companies in India to implement the strategic agreement with the United States (“BJP to link N-deal execution to US outsourcing move”; Times of India; 6 May 2009).

How do experts see the election and the nuclear deal? The Heritage Foundation organized an event, entitled “Indian Elections and Beyond: Refocusing U.S.-India Engagement”, on May 4. The video of this event is shown at the top of this post. The following panelists attended this forum.

Mohan Guruswamy
Chairman and Founder, Centre for Policy Alternatives, India

Walter Andersen
Senior Adjunct Professor of South Asia Studies, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University

Daniel Twining
Senior Fellow for Asia, German Marshall Fund of the United States

Lisa Curtis
Senior Research Fellow, Asian Studies Center, Heritage Foundation

There is no doubt that the strategic partnership with India is a vital and positive legacy of the Bush administration (See the post on the lecture by Nicholas Burns.). However, Indian officials are concerned that the Obama administration passes India, and more willing to engage Afghanistan and Pakistan. Despite such worries, Special Ambassador Richard Holbrooke expresses his commitment to develop ties with India.

First, Mohan Guruswamy outlined political parties and election politics in India. Despite impressive career in domestic and international bureaucracy and Ph. D. degree from Cambridge, current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lacks grassroots popularity. The Gandhi family enjoys deep rooted charisma among the public.

As India is a diversified society in terms of religion, ethnicity, caste, and local interests, Gurunsway said that multiparty coalition cabinet is inevitable. He foresees that the relation with the United States will slow down, because oppositions are critical to pro-American Singh administration. Stalinist Communists object to encircling China through alliance with America. Muslim parties are anti-Israel. The largest opposition BJP is the forefront opposition to the US-Indian nuclear deal as they regard the agreement an erosion of Indian national sovereignty.

Professor Walter Andersen narrated political party history of India since independence. In the early days, Indian politics was dominated by English educated urban élite and governed by strongly centralized bureaucracy. In addition, most of the prime ministers came from Brahmin class.

Such elitist and authoritarian political climate has changed since late 1980s as the rise of disadvantaged people leads democracy in India. The poor shares the majority of Indian voters, and they are more likely to vote than the rich. Today, major parties need to accommodate lower caste Hindus and religious minorities to form their cabinet.

Even though, governmental control on election campaign is strict. Banners, posters, and even exit polls are not permitted. This makes the result of this election extremely unpredictable.

Finally, Daniel Twining briefed Indian foreign policy vis-à-vis the United States, Pakistan, and China.

Twining says that there is a political consensus to pursue close ties with the United States for the rise of India and further commitment to the international club. He insists that the United States must develop a wider framework to manage global agenda with India, such as climate change and trade. The US-India global partnership must keep up with the framework between China and the United States.

Indo-Pakistani relations are turbulent now, as the Mumbai terrorist attack has provoked the growth of Islamic radicals in India.

As to China, current relationship with this country is called the Cold Peace. While mutual trade is growing, China feels itself encircled with the US-Indian nuclear deal and strategic partnership.

Among numerous issues commented by experts at this event, I regard two pints are critical. Growing influence of Islamic radicals must be defeated, and India is expected to play positive roles to help political reforms in Pakistan and Afghanistan. How to accommodate India’s aspiration for the rise in the global community in close relations with the United States is vital in this century for global peace and security, and also for prosperous world economy.

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