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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Primer on India’s Parliamentary Elections

This is a good piece to share with those who just want to get an outline of the election process It would be meaningful to your  non-Indian friends and your kids. If I get the time, I will put together something like this with a few more details about how the Indian Government works.  

Please remember - not all Americans are Democrats or Republicans, neither all Indians support Indian National congress party or Bharatiya Janata Party. The supporters of each party will accuse the other, some don't even understand democracy like our former President Bush "either you are with us or against us". Many a Indians do not understand democracy either  if such non-sense comes out of their mouths when some one differs with them. If you hold grudges against the other for differing in a civil dialogue, then you really have not understood democracy. In a true democracy, we learn to respect the otherness of others without having to agree with each other. To find solutions we have to understand the otherness of others and their motivations.

Thanks to New York Times, there are more India centric articles at  http://MikeGhouseforIndia.blogspot.com and on facebook at: www.facebook.com/IndiaPluralism

This article is at: http://mikeghouseforindia.blogspot.com/2014/04/a-primer-on-indias-parliamentary.html

Mike Ghouse

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A Primer on India’s Parliamentary Elections

Supporters of Indian National Congress campaigning at a rally in Mumbai, Maharashtra, on Monday.
Rafiq Maqbool/Associated Press
Supporters of Indian National Congress campaigning at a rally in Mumbai, Maharashtra, on Monday.

Over the next five weeks, Indians will take part in what is considered the world’s largest democratic exercise. Malavika Vyawahare, a reporter for India Ink, answers some basic questions about the election:

Q.Who are voters electing?
A. Voters choose the representatives to India’s lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha, and the composition of that body determines which party chooses the prime minister and governs the country for the next five years.
India Votes
News and analysis on the world’s largest election.
About 814.5 million people are eligible to cast ballots in this election. Voters will choose 543 members of the lower house; the president of India, a titular head of state, selects two other members of the chamber.
Q.What are the main political parties? How have their candidates risen to power?
A. India has a multiparty system with more than 50 regional parties and two major national parties, the Indian National Congress, which leads the governing coalition, and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.
The Congress party, which was formed in 1885, when India was still under British rule, has dominated Indian politics. The party played a leading role in the struggle against colonial rule, giving rise to some of the most prominent national leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, who went on to become the first prime minister of India.

Until the early 1990s, it had such broad support from the public that it was capable of forming a government without coalition partners. The descendants of Mr. Nehru dominate the party, and three prime ministers have come from that family: Mr. Nehru; his daughter, Indira Gandhi; and his grandson, Rajiv Gandhi.
Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984; her son Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991. His widow, Sonia Gandhi, took over the party and in recent years promoted their son, Rahul Gandhi, as the heir to their political legacy. Rahul Gandhi is now the vice president of the Congress party.
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The Bharatiya Janata Party, the other leading national party, is the main opposition in the Lok Sabha. Its roots are in the Hindu nationalist organizations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
The Bharatiya Janata Party won the 1998 elections as a leader of the National Democratic Alliance and stayed in power until 2004.

Narendra Modi, the party’s candidate for prime minister in this year’s election, is a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and a self-described Hindu nationalist.
Narendra Modi, prime ministerial candidate of Bharatiya Janata Party, at the release of the party's election manifesto in New Delhi on Monday.  
Tsering Topgyal/Associated PressNarendra Modi, prime ministerial candidate of Bharatiya Janata Party, at the release of the party’s election manifesto in New Delhi on Monday.

Mr. Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat, a state in western India, during riots in 2002. At least 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in clashes between Hindus and Muslims. Mr. Modi has long been accused of not doing enough to stop the violence, although a court rejected efforts to prosecute him. Nevertheless, he remains a divisive figure.

The Aam Aadmi Party, or the Common Man Party, was born out of mass street protests against corruption that erupted in 2010 and 2011. Its leader is a retired civil servant named Arvind Kejriwal.

The party surprised political analysts by winning 28 seats in the Delhi state elections, enough to seat Mr. Kejriwal as chief minister. But Mr. Kejriwal resigned just 49 days into his term, accusing the two main parties of failing to support an anticorruption bill.

The upstart party declared its national ambitions early and has fielded candidates for Lok Sabha seats across the country. But few expect it to pose a serious challenge to the established parties in the national elections.
Q.How does the voting work?
A.The Election Commission of India has mobilized  more than 10 million polling officials and security personnel to carry out the election. There will be about 930,000 polling stations. 
Voting is staggered. In this election, it will be done in nine phases from April 7 to May 12. Voting will be done by electronic ballot.

This is the first time that nonresident Indians are allowed to vote. It is also the first time voters will be able to exercise the option, “none of the above.”

The results are scheduled to be announced on May 16.
Election officials sealing an electronic voting machine with wax after polling came to an end in Tezpur, Assam, on Monday.   
Biju Boro/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesElection officials sealing an electronic voting machine with wax after polling came to an end in Tezpur, Assam, on Monday. 
Q.How is the prime minister chosen?
A.The party that wins the greatest number of seats usually forms the government and chooses the prime minister. Getting a majority, or 272 seats, usually requires building a coalition with smaller parties.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has named Mr. Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for this election, but parties are not required to choose a candidate before elections. The Congress party has not named a prime ministerial nominee.

The single largest party in the house usually chooses its prime minister, who may be a member of the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament.
Q.What are governing coalitions and how are they formed?
A.India’s multiparty democracy allows for the formation of alliances between political parties. Since the mid-1990s, coalition governments have been the norm as no party has been able to secure a majority on its own. Alliances are fluid and can change any time after the elections.

The two main coalitions in India are the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance.
Q.What are some key themes that have emerged in the election? What do voters care about?
A.Corruption: A slew of corruption scandals involving the Congress-led government, and an anticorruption push by the Aam Aadmi Party have left an impression on voters.
Economy: Slowing growth, persistent unemployment and high food prices have led to disenchantment with the present government.

Secularism: The ascent of Mr. Modi and his Hindu nationalist party has raised concerns that members of minority religious groups would face discrimination if the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power.

Q.How will these elections influence India’s relationship with Pakistan, Asia and the West?
A.Whether foreign policy is a high priority for the next government depends on the strength of the coalition. If it is weak, it will be too preoccupied with domestic battles to take on big initiatives in foreign policy.
India’s foreign policy is not likely to shift drastically, but a strong Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition would probably make larger changes because of the party’s Hindu nationalist streak and pro-business stand.
Li Keqiang, left, premier of China, with Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India, during the former's visit to India in May this year.  
Adnan Abidi/ReutersLi Keqiang, left, premier of China, with Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India, during the former’s visit to India in May this year.

The current administration, led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the Congress party, has not made improving relations with Pakistan a priority as domestic issues have kept the government occupied.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has outlined a zero-tolerance policy toward terrorism and accused Pakistan of infiltrating India. India under Mr. Modi would be unlikely to adopt a confrontational stance with Pakistan, but it is doubtful it would be on friendlier terms with its neighbor.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has made it clear that it would respond firmly to any Chinese territorial aggression, but Mr. Modi is also mindful of India’s economic ties with China. No matter which party is in charge, India is likely to avoid jeopardizing economic relations with China, which has emerged as a key trading partner and potential investor.
Though the Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto has reiterated the party’s opposition to foreign investment in retail chains that sell more than one brand of products, known in India as multibrand retail, Mr. Modi has welcomed foreign investment in his home state of Gujarat. His business-friendly reputation is likely to help strengthen ties with the West, which had shunned him after the 2002 Gujarat riots. The United States denied him a visa.

In recent years, both European and American envoys have met with Mr. Modi as he modeled himself as an investor-friendly politician. And with his strong following among Indian-Americans, business ties between the United States and India would likely grow.

But the next prime minister, regardless of party, will face strained relations with the United States. An Indian diplomat was arrested on visa fraud charges in December and later indicted, which set off a furor in India.

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