India Insight

Women wield power in election wrangling

With the wrangling for allies in earnest ahead of election results due Saturday, women leaders hold an inordinate amount of power in deciding who will form the new Indian government.

Women leaders have always had a role in the rough and tumble of Indian politics, from Sarojini Naidu and Annie Besant in the independence struggle to Indira Gandhi, the second woman in the world to become prime minister.

Women leaders are perhaps at the peak of their influence now, with Gandhi’s political heir regarded the most powerful of them all — indeed, the most powerful political leader in the country.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is credited with energising the party and leading it to a surprising victory in the 2004 election, and she looks to have the lead this time around too, according to exit polls.

Gandhi, once voted the world’s sixth most powerful woman by Forbes, walked away from the prime minister’s job in 2004, but her influence over party allies and even with the on-again off-again left is unquestionable.

Will the Gandhi magic work again?

The countdown has begun in India. As political pundits peer into their tea leaves before the results of another marathon election, the question on everybody’s lips is: will the Gandhi magic work again?

Exit polls show the coalition led by Sonia Gandhi will fall short of an outright majority, but her Congress party has a slight edge over its rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
But then exit polls in India have been way off the mark in the past. Like the last election.

In the 2004 election, the Congress scored a shock victory over the BJP, which many said was a result of Sonia Gandhi’s tireless campaigning and, more importantly, the magic of the Gandhi name. Nobody, just about nobody, had expected the BJP to lose? Or the Congress to win. Not even the Congress itself.

from UK News:

How can rickety cars put India on road to success?

When it comes to climate change, the environment and other weighty issues, what could the leaders of the world's biggest democracy possibly learn from the rural Indians who cobble together rickety cars out of scrap metal and old bits of wood?

One of India's best known businessmen says the improvised vehicles that carry crops and passengers along dusty village roads show how local people are often the best innovators, coming up with cheap and effective answers to tough problems.

Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of the technology company Infosys, thinks politicians would do well to remember the decentralized philosophy behind the "jugaad". Mechanics with little money and poor access to cheap parts use whatever is at hand to build them: water pumps replace normal engines; wooden blocks stand in for brakes and old planks of wood provide the floor.

India’s election forecast: the street or the punters?

India’s bookies are still holding out on the Congress party scraping through a largely issueless election with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the firm favourite to retain his post. They have given L.K. Advani, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, a 3-1 chance to win the top job.

But are the bookies, who operate below the radar, missing out on a possible late advance by BJP?

Shares rose 4 percent to their highest close on Tuesday on investor speculation that the BJP, seen as business-friendly, may have gained momentum in the final stages of a mammoth election.

Should the Prime Minister be a member of the Lok Sabha?

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is not contesting elections to the Lok Sabha, the lower and popular house of parliament.This is for reasons of health and also because the constitution permits the prime minister to be a member of either of the two houses of parliament.Like Singh, we have had prime ministers from the Rajya Sabha earlier but they sought to get elected to the lower house and succeeded easily.As the de facto head of the government, the prime minister is expected to earn people’s approval directly.Mayawati recently took a dig at Singh over the issue.”This Manmohan Singh has not contested any public election…he was brought back door in Rajya Sabha and made prime minister,” the Bahujan Samaj Party chief said at an election rally.”If Manmohan can become PM, why can’t an educated Dalit woman.”This is possibly the first instance in Indian politics where the sitting prime minister has decided to stay away from the race.But should India’s prime minister be a member of the Lok Sabha?The opposition, after initially trying to make it a poll issue, now seems to have lost the plot.The question keeps popping up on internet discussion boards.FOR– Those who support the idea of a prime minister from the lower house say that a popular vote marks acceptability by the people as compared to someone nominated to the Rajya Sabha.– Such a person having earned the people’s mandate is seen as less susceptible to manipulation.– A person’s performance as an MP is seen as a necessary test of his competence and claim to the top job.– Some even suggest that a prime ministerial candidate should seek election with a pre-announced team, something like the shadow cabinet system in Britain.AGAINST– The most convincing argument against the idea is that the constitution puts no such caveat.– The upper house is seen as a talent pool where competent candidates are sent after consideration. This compensates for impulsive behavior of voters which can sometimes make “good” candidates unelectable. For example, Manmohan Singh lost the 1999 Lok Sabha election from the posh South Delhi constituency.– It is also felt that any prime minister would work according to the party’s ideology, membership of a house being irrelevant to his policies and performance.– Moreover, the prime minister is in any case indirectly elected (by the party MPs), so the argument of his having greater acceptance may not cut much ice.– Some feel that if the person is a representative of the majority party and competent then nothing else should count. Others say the proposal calls into question the very rationale of having an upper house, and therefore, needs to be fleshed out.One comment on the online forum points to the question being a moral rather than a legal one.There are two facts to bear in mind.In the Westminster system of democracy, a prime minister from the upper house would be an anachronism.Secondly, the constitution review commission recognised the lower house’s pre-eminence in its recommendation that the prime minister be directly elected by the house in the event of a hung poll verdict.As for the practical aspect, the Congress is contesting around 400 seats in these elections, and finding a safe seat for a politician like Manmohan Singh, the sitting prime minister, should have been easy.In March, opposition leader L.K. Advani raised the issue at an election rally.”Singh will be more acceptable to the people of India if he decides to fight the elections and go to the Lok Sabha,” he said.Did Advani have a valid point?

Do we need sex-education in schools?

A parliamentary committee, with a varied political membership, recently recommended that there should be no sex education in schools.

Sex even if done at the proper time, with a proper person, in a proper place, is a topic that makes many Indians uncomfortable.

The committee itself refused a power point presentation on the question “after going through the hard copy because of its explicit contents.  The Committee felt that it was not comfortable with it and could be embarrassing especially to the lady Members and other lady staff present.”

Bengal intellectuals queer pitch for communists

Amidst the stream of billboards, posters and party flags flooding Kolkata’s chaotic streets in the run-up to elections, a glazed hoarding featuring popular intellectuals of West Bengal is catching everyone’s eyes these days.

“Pariborton Chai” (We want change), reads the hoarding popping up at regular intervals, in opposition of the communists who have ruled the state uninterruptedly since 1977.

The hoardings are part of a campaign with a difference – It is not mounted by the opposition Trinamool Congress-Congress combine, but by a group of powerful intellectuals who have joined hands against the communists.

First, Second or Third (Front) – What’s the difference!

Much has been written about the imminent arrival in New Delhi of the Third Front, the joker in the Indian political pack that has talked itself up as a serious alternative to the two national parties in the 2009 parliamentary elections.

The difference they tout is of being more inclusive, bringing into the public fold social groups neglected or oppressed by the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Whether this claim, that some take rather very seriously, is sustainable is the moot question. The answer may be no, if the history of this rag-tag group that has emerged with near-decadal precision since 1967 is any guide.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan, India and the election manifestos

The world's largest democracy chooses a new government in an election beginning on Thursday, and given the fires burning next door in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the men and women who will rule New Delhi over the next five years will doubtless exert influence over the course of events.

Indeed, with the pain and anger over  the Mumbai attacks of November still raw, the mood could hardly be tougher against Pakistan. Even shorn of the campaign rhetoric, the positions of both the ruling Congress and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party on Pakistan begin from common ground. No dialogue with Islamabad until it "dismantles the infrastructure of terrorism", both parties say in their manifestos.

Full texts of the documents of the two main parties are here and here.

New Delhi's continued refusal to resume dialogue or indeed to expand other links such as trade has caught Pakistan between a rock and a hard place, according to this piece in 2point6billion.com, a website tracking developments mainly in China and India. While Islamabad has repeatedly called for resumption of dialogue since the attacks, Delhi has refused to comply until it is assured that Pakistan will prosecute all those involved in the planning and operations.

Verdict 2008: Jammu and Kashmir’s “vote for democracy”?

As the pro-India National Conference appeared set to emerge as the single largest party in Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections, the writing on the wall is a tad difficult to miss.Fed up of living under the constant shadow of violence in a state divided under religious lines, Kashmiri voters surprised seasoned political pundits by turning up in large numbers to cast their ballots.They defied calls of poll boycott from Muslim separatists and belied fears of violence in the wake of the bitter Amarnath Yatra land row that led to the fall of the Congress-PDP coalition government and imposition of central rule.Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the high voter turnout a “vote for democracy” and Congress President Sonia Gandhi has said this should be a message for “our neighbours” (about what the people of Kashmir want).Whether it is their desire for better governance and development first and the issue of autonomy later, the Jammu and Kashmir voters have set the ball rolling on the counting day in many ways.Conducted in seven phases, the elections this time came on the heels of agitation over the Kashmir government’s decision to give forest land to the trust that runs Amarnath, a cave shrine visited by Hindu pilgrims.This enraged many Muslims.The government then backed down on its decision, which in turn angered many Hindus in Jammu, the winter capital of the region.The deep divisions that surfaced and the polarized electorate seems to have helped the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a party that has traditionally struggled to make its presence felt in the state. The BJP won 11 seats from Jammu, a gain of 10 seats from 2002.Both the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party have done well in the valley.The National Conference has kept the doors open for a possible alliance with Congress to make the half-way mark in the 87-member assembly.But such an alliance will not come without its customary wariness given the history of their political tie-ups in the late 70s and 80s, most of which were followed by periods of Governor’s rule in the troubled state.It remains to be seen whether the NC and Congress take advantage of the lull in overall violence in the state and live up to voters’ expectations of giving more weightage to development issues.Or will they get cowed down by separatists looking to regain their foothold in the region?

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