Elections: Indian Press Comments

I had written earlier [1 2 ] about the Indian elections, with comments from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Here is a sampling of commentary from the Indian press.

Shekhar Gupta writes in the Indian Express:

Rent-a-quote analysts and pseudo-socialists are out of the woodwork already. They call it the revenge of Bharat on India, the message from the poor to the feel-good classes and so on. The import of this election is more intricate than just that. If it was so simple, how come the greatest beneficiaries of feel-good economics, in South Bombay and New Delhi, the mall-multiplex crowd in Gurgaon, have voted exactly the same way as the debt-strangled farmer in Vijayawada, the jobless graduate in Hazaribagh, or the petrified Muslim in Mehsana?

This dramatic verdict is as much about anti-incumbency as about the rising expectations of our voter. As reform pulls more Indians above the poverty line, they are moving the bar of their expectations higher. From roti, kapada aur makaan to bijli, sadak, paani and then education, health, social dignity and security, all quality-of-life issues. This voter is more unforgiving, demanding, tougher to fool. It would then require something extraordinary to blunt his almost compulsive rejection of the incumbent.

The reality of today and tomorrow is Sonia and her coalition. Even in this heady moment, she would know the meaning of carrying the faithand futureof a billion people. She wasnt born among them. But she has adopted them as so many of them have accepted her. Its a formidable challenge, morally, politically and intellectually. While she may do well to learn from her predecessor the art of managing a rainbow coalition, she also has to understand what denied him a place in history that should have been his for the asking. In the national interest, it is not good enough to rise above your partys interest most of the time. You have to do it all the time. And when you blink, people will be brutal. The legacy of the family and the party she inherits is both mixed and complex. Her test lies in deciding how much of it to build on, how much to revampand how much to bury. The agenda is already formidable, from comforting the markets and writing the budget to picking up the thread with Pakistan and China, figuring out America, a complex world and Indias place in it. There is no time to lose. For, if theres one thing Verdict 2004 tells us, its this: the voter wants to see a better future, not tomorrow or the day after but today.

P Sainath writes in The Hindu:

The first thing the election results drive home is the sheer disconnect between the Indian elite and the Indian people. Here was a leadership that thought the `India Shining’ campaign would bring it success. A part of the elite even those with the Congress party went further than that. They believed the claims of `India Shining’ itself were valid and true. The dispute was over the patent rights on the shine. Did those belong to the Bharatiya Janata Party or to the Congress?

The Indian voters had very different issues on their mind. They were rejecting the National Democratic Alliance Government, which, as one poll slogan had it, stood for the “National Disinvestment Agency.” The intensity of this electoral quake rates an 8 on the political Richter scale.

At this point, the `feel good’ factor seems so pathetic as to require no ridicule. The ruling party even tried to co-opt the thrill of a great cricket tour of Pakistan. It didn’t work. Yet while the spin doctors have been sacked, the age of spin doctoring has arrived.

Also rubbed in yet again was, of course, that second huge disconnect. That between mass media and mass reality. Little in the media output of these past five years had prepared audiences for anything like this outcome. The polls succeeded where journalism failed. They brought back to the agenda the issues of ordinary Indians. Deeper analysis must await more data. However, some broad contours seem clear.

There is almost no government in the country that has ill-treated its farmers and not paid the price. That has hurt agriculture and not been punished. India has never seen so many farmers’ suicides as in the past six to eight years. For some, the urge to blame it all on nature is overwhelming. And yes, droughts have badly hurt people in parts of the country. But that would be missing the wood for the trees. Countless millions of Indians have seen their livelihoods crippled by policies hostile to them. Many of these applied to agriculture, on which two-thirds of the people depend. Any incoming government that fails to see this writes its own exit policy.

Vir Sanghvi of the Hindustan Times on Vajpayee’s legacy:

History will remember Atal Bihari Vajpayee as one of India’s finest prime ministers.

Mr Vajpayee has many achievements to his credit. He is the first non-Congress prime minister whose government did not fall before the end of his term. He is the man who made the BJP electable. And he is the first prime minister who showed that coalition politics could not only work in India but were also probably the only means of ensuring stability.

At a policy level, he exhibited both guts and imagination. The two initiatives with which he is associated the economic reforms and the normalisation of relations with Pakistan are both policies that were imposed on the bulk of the reactionary Sangh Parivar because of the sheer force of Mr Vajpayee’s own personality.

Mr Vajpayee took a reforms process that was in a state of disrepair and relaunched it with a determined earnestness. It was during his tenure that India became a global software superpower. And it was Mr Vajpayee’s courage and support for Arun Shourie that powered the privatisation programme.

Unlike many prime ministers before him, Mr Vajpayee had no court of sycophants and chamchas; he preferred to work alone. Even within the cabinet, there were few ministers who could be regarded as Vajpayee-loyalists; the prime minister did not believe in camps.

Though his personal popularity has been at an all-time high he remains India’s most popular politician, regardless of the fate his party has suffered Mr Vajpayee resisted the growth of a personality cult, rarely gave interviews and remained a largely silent, discreet figure who was unwilling to offer any opinions on non-policy issues.

When the history of his government is written, his many achievements will be set against one notable failure: the Gujarat riots and his unwillingness to punish those responsible for them, or even to restrain a chief minister who fought one of the most shamefully communal campaigns in Indian history.

Nevertheless, he should step down a happy man. He has achieved much of what he set out to do and even in defeat, he can say that he has been proven right he never thought the BJP would win an early election.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.