India's Elections #3 - Jai Ho, Congress! Get to It!
 

On May 14 the final phase of India's election took place as the last group of voters went to the polls. After a day to rest up, the election officials went to work on May 16 to count. Counting Day began early as the election officials and the watchers from each candidate gathered to begin the process of extracting the results from thousands of electronic voting machines and generating a final tally for each of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha (Parliament).

 

Results began to come in to the headquarters of the Election Commission around noon and by evening the results were known - the Congress Party and its allies in the UPA had won 261 seats, enough to earn them the right to form the new government!

The front page of the Sunday, May 17, Hindustan Times confirmed the great victory. "Singh, Still King - Congress stuns foes, itself, leads in 206 seats; best in 18 years", reflecting the seats won by Congress Party. It went on to say "...India votes for stability, development, Cabinet to get younger."

 

A front page editorial urged "Use this historic victory..." and continued "...the people of India ... have given a historic mandate for the UPA government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and its policies..... The choices provided by the flotsam of the Third and Fourth Fronts [Communist and other minor parties] have been exposed for what they always were: at best, professional nay-sayers; at worst, fly-by-night operators. But with the UPA now without albatrosses like the Left [Third and Fourth Fronts] around its neck, we expect the Congress-led government to press its foot more firmly on the gas of reforms and take out forward-looking policies from the deep-freeze."

Of course, once the results were known, it was clear that Manmohan Singh would serve his second term as Prime Minister, the first PM to do so since Nehru.The new Lok Sabha (Parliament) would include many young members, and more women (58) than ever before (below left). Shashi Tharoor, the former United Nations Minister whose writings we have followed, won a major vote share in Trivandrum, Kerala. We feel as if we have our own MP in India's Parliament! (picture of a campaign poster, below right)

 

Less clear, at least to us, was who would be appointed to the Cabinet (30 members) and who would be appointed to be Ministers of State of the various governmental Ministries (about 45). As the Congress Party had won the largest share of the seats within the UPA alliance, this was their decision to make, but their choices had to be tempered by the wishes of the leaders of the allied parties who wanted positions for their people.

 

All this bargaining and debating, negotiating and posturing was played out in fairly elaborate detail in the press, with perhaps the most obstreperous case, one party leader demanded a position for herself, plus a number of other ministerial posts for her people. If these were not forthcoming, she would 'walk out' of the UPA alliance. We found this overt display of patronage to be shocking and inappropriate in this day and age. Perhaps this behavior occurs elsewhere, but usually it's less visible!

On Friday, May 22, Manmohan Singh was sworn in as PM along with the first 19 of his Cabinet Ministers. As we watched on television, we felt that we were experiencing an important moment, certainly for India and also for the world.

As we learned of the new appointees, we were heartened to learn that Singh, and presumably the Congress Party leaders, were intent on getting people in place within the government, in order to 'get things done'. Many of his appointees are Congress Party supporters with experience in the areas they will manage. Also telling is the rebuff to a former ally who had been left out of the new government, to whom Singh is reported to have said "I Have to Run a Government and I also Have to worry About Its Effectiveness".

 

So, having had the great privilege of witnessing this greatest exercise of democracy, we feel we can close our reporting. Yet we will continue to watch with special interest as the new government tackles its very full and complex agenda.

To help guide this process, Manmohan Singh has asked each of his Ministers to prepare a list of tasks to be undertaken in the next 100 days. Those surely at the top of the list are:

  • Foreign Policy - with neighbors Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal, facing crises and government changes, India must watch its neighbors while deciding on the level of engagement with the US.
  • Economy - India's economy has been affected by the global economic crisis as exports have dipped. Slower growth affects employees, consumers, investors, companies and the government.
  • Employment - In a country where jobs are scarce, job losses are especially harmful.
  • Poverty - With 28% of rural and 26% of urban Indians below the poverty line, a special focus on uplifting more people is essential and urgent.
    And we could go on. . .

    So, we say, Jai Ho, Congress. Get to it!

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