It is by total chance that I am in Mumbai during the Indian elections, and it is understandably dominating the news (superceded only by the ubiquitous IPL). Today has been Mumbai’s chance to vote, and the streets have been eerily quiet in comparison to the anarchy that I have experienced over the last few days.
I have been trying to get my head round the enormity and complexity of these elections, and had given up the ghost until I bought a copy of The Economist, who have cleared it up for me.
Just check out these staggering figures:
“The scale is mindboggling. It will spread over 5 stages, taking 4 weeks and involving 6.5m staff. In 543 constituencies, 4,617 candidates, representing some 300 parties, will compete for the ballots of an electorate of 714m voters.”
That goes some way to explaining why I was completely and utterly confused by the daily reports in the regular newspapers. The next comments, also from The Economist, go some way to explaining the problems that India has in shaking off the chains of feudalism, religious extremism, intimidation and corruption, even as it powers forward to become a global superpower.
These comments relate to Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s largest state and one of the key political battlegrounds in these elections:
“Eastern UP, a poor caste-divided and gangster-ridden region, shows Indian democracy at its seamiest. In the 16 regional constintuencies that polled this week, 272 candidates contested, of whom 17% had criminal records. The BSP’s, SP’s and BJP’s (3 of the biggest parties in India) were the most criminal: 44% of their candidates were tainted.”
“The BSP also had the distinction of fielding a famous alleged gangster, Mukhtar Ansari, who stood whilst in a prison cell, awaiting trial for the murder of a BJP lawmaker.
“A nearby BSP candidate and alleged gangster, Dhananjay Singh, got into hot water this week when he was accused of murdering a rival candidate, Bahadur Sonkar, who was found hanging from an acacia tree on April 13th (Mr Singh, incidentally, is a high-caste Hindu, while Mr Sonkar was a dalit).”
“Among the main parties, Congress (who are currently in power) had the cleanest contestants in UP. Only 25% were criminals.”
This seems quite astonishing to me, but is obviously commonplace within Indian politics. There has been no mention of this in any of the newspapers I have read.
From further reading, I have become aware that the burgeoning middle class in India simply wash their hands of Indian politics due to the inherent corruption and feudalism at its heart. This leads to most of the 300 parties focusing on rural and regional issues, rather than national policies, in order to win votes from the poorer sections of the population.
Another factor to consider is that, because there are so many parties, no one party has any chance of achieving a majority, and what follows the ballots is a melee of unseemly trading and deal-making, leading to unwieldy governing coalitions that will rule the country with timidity and impotence.