Indian voters in assertive mood

Indian voters in assertive mood


The results of the recent Indian state elections are a clear message to the ruling Indian National Congress that it should take the perils of incumbency seriously - when voters get jaded - as it prepares for the general election in May.

True, the good showing by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is tempered by the fact that it occurred in four states - Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh - where the party is strong already.

The BJP might not be able to replicate its successes automatically in India's southern states, for example. However, what the Congress party has to confront is the bitter truth that it fell far below public expectations of action on corruption and high inflation.

These are national, and not merely state, issues and are likely to feature heavily in choices that the electorate makes next year.

Congress is the party that led India to independence in 1947, has ruled the country for most of the time since then, and reflects the democratic and secular aspirations of a broad swathe of citizens.

All the more, it needs to look deep within itself to see where and how it went wrong. This is pressing because it is being challenged by a BJP rejuvenated by the charismatic leadership of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

His reputation for effective leadership and personal integrity has led many to see him as the face of a new, prosperous and confident India.

However, the BJP, too, cannot afford to take success for granted given the sensational victory of the Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party in Delhi.

This party, which was set up last year and has set its sights on becoming a national player, could develop into a third force capable of keeping the BJP on its toes should the latter win next year.

Aam Aadmi's platform against corruption and its stand on transparency and accountability have captured the imagination of Indians who prize clean politics as much as they do democracy.

In the final analysis, what all these and other parties will be judged by is their economic programmes.

Although the latest data speaks of a fragile recovery, the economy is marked by a combination of high inflation and low growth that requires careful policy calibration.

The economy expanded by only an annual 4.8 per cent in the quarter through September, and production at factories, mines and utilities decreased 1.8 per cent year on year in October after having grown by 2 per cent in September.

India needs sustained action, backed by political will, to resume its trajectory as an Asian success story. The party that can deliver the economic goods, and ensure the fruits of growth trickle down to the economically most vulnerable, will no doubt be the one that will appeal more to Indian voters next year.

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