Today, I was published in Italian. It was pretty much the highlight of my week. I’ve never been translated before – and that, combined with the fact that it was my first political article – has me pretty excited!
Here’s the link to the Italian article: http://www.altd.it/2014/04/08/india-elezioni/
And for everyone else – here’s the English version. Be kind, like I said – it’s my first attempt. Baby steps.
Election season has begun in the biggest democracy in the world. Starting April 7, 2014, the difficult process of identifying the next political leader of one of the world’s most powerful developing countries is a monumental task. The most politically and socially charged election in years; even now there is no clear way to predict a winner. The conflicting opinions of the nation are testament to how complicated India’s political scene really is.
For several years, the two major political parties in India have been the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress party.
At the root of their differences lies a crucial point of contention – religion. The Indian National Congress (INC) is considered a secular party whereas the BJP, or the ‘Indian People’s party’ considers itself fundamentally ‘Hindu’. Closely affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an infamous Hindu nationalist organization, the BJP is known for its ‘nationalist’ views with an emphasis on anti-terrorism laws and protection of Indian culture.
For decades the two parties have battled it out on the national scene. Though the Congress party is currently in power, both the Radia tape scandal and the 2G spectrum scam publicly exposed corruption and political and economical mismanagement on a enormous scale by the INC. However, despite the almost universal lack of faith in the Congress party, there are still those who believe that a corrupt, ineffectual government is preferable to one powered by a more religiously influenced party.
The third option – the Aam Admi party or ‘the common man’ party is the latest, surprise addition to India’s convoluted political landscape. Headed by Arvind Kejriwal, the AAP takes a hard line with corruption and advocates transparency at all levels of the government.
Butcher to Futurist
BJP’s nomination, Narendra Modi is a uniquely Indian success story. Born into poverty in Gujarat, as a child Modi used to help his father sell tea at the railway station in his hometown of Vadnagar. An average student but a keen debater – Modi was always politically active and his association with the RSS began in his adolescence.
His political career is a colourful one. Though he undoubtedly contributed to the unprecedented economic growth and development of his home state, his term as Chief Minister was also the bloodiest in recent years. In 2002, the Gujarat communal riots shocked the nation, resulting in hundreds of deaths.
Modi’s involvement in the situation has been hotly debated. Rumours range from political mismanagement and negligence to outright support of the persecution of the Muslim minority. Succumbing to political pressure, he resigned but was quickly re-elected. Now painted as the ‘butcher of Gujarat’, and with an eye on the ultimate prize – the role of Prime Minister – Modi needed an image overhaul.
Putting aside his anti-minority views, he focused on issues of development and social change. During his tenure, Gujarat’s economic and social development showed marked improvement. He advocated harsh measures against terrorists and publically called for the execution of terrorists implicated in the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament.
While Modi’s bias against minority communities remains troubling, he is a favourite for the Prime Minister role primarily because he is marketed as the face of economic development in the country. Additionally, he is also the only candidate who has any actual experience governing. Industrial giants like Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani and Adi Godrej have all declared their support for Modi.
A savvy politican – Modi has reached out to the youth of India through social media. He even has a viral YouTube campaign anthem. Futurist indeed.
The Golden Boy
If there had to be a Kennedy equivalent in India, It would be the Gandhi’s. In sharp contrast to Modi’s rags to riches story, Rahul Gandhi was born into power. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India started the proud family legacy, followed by his daughter, the notorious Indira Gandhi. Rahul’s father, Rajiv Gandhi, was also Prime Minister for a single term. He was assassinated, leaving the reins of the flagging Congress party in the hands of his Italian born wife, Sonia Gandhi. She proceeded to lead the Congress party for two terms – winning both the 2004 and 2009 elections.
The Indian National Congress has always been plagued with issues of corruption and bad decisions. From Indira Gandhi’s ill-advised declaration of Emergency to the more recent 2G spectrum scam, each of the Congress party’s terms have been riddled with problems.
Rahul Gandhi’s Prime Ministerial nomination is seen as a typical move from the House of Gandhi. Unfortunately, unlike his similarly inexperienced father, public opinion doesn’t favour the Congress party’s golden boy.
Though unflinchingly supported by the INC, Rahul Gandhi’s public image, though not as colourful as Modi’s, remains largely ineffectual. He’s committed several political and diplomatic faux pas like accusing the ISI of trying to recruit youth affected by the Muzaffarnagar riots, and his comments about the controversial ordinance negating the Supreme Court’s decision to disqualify lawmakers with criminal records.
Rahul also continues to duck hard questions about his corrupt party officials and his plans for development, economic and foreign policy. His first and only televised one-to-one interview was a disaster. After a decade as an MP, he came off as largely confused. Not an auspicious way to kick start a campaign trail.
Arvind Kejriwal has been described as a middle class hero. A former civil servant, he quit his government job to become a social and political activist. He teamed up with Anna Hazare to push the Jan Lokpal (anti-corruption) bill. Though Hazare balked at joining mainstream politics, Kejriwal eagerly stepped into the arena, forming the AAP and winning the Delhi elections, wresting power from long time Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.
His victory was short-lived. When the Jan Lokpal Bill failed to be implemented in Delhi, Kejriwal resigned from his post, a mere 48 days into his term. Though not yet a viable Prime Ministerial candidate, Kejriwal remains one of the most important political figures in India today, intrinsically connected to his party, the AAP. His election to Chief Minister alone inspired hope amongst voters that there was an end to the BJP-Congress stalemate. He will face off against BJP candidate Narendra Modi at the Varanasi elections.
Kejriwal’s political rhetoric is revolutionary in nature. He believes that corruption has permeated every aspect of Indian politics. His primary focus is on anti-corruption. The AAP believes that they represent the underdog – the common man who is ignored by politicians and the ruling elite. The AAP emphasizes self-governance and decentralization – calling upon Gandhian tenet of ‘swaraj’ or ‘self-rule’.
Another noteworthy aspect of the AAP are the members – primarily well-educated, qualified individuals – a big change from the charismatic career politicians that populate the Congress and BJP ranks.
Though Kejriwal remains a middle-class favourite – no small feat in a country where the middle class is broad and varied, the AAP does have its detractors. Many have pointed out that their actions remain more of activists than potential governors of India. Many believe that Kejriwal’s resignation was premature and naïve.
Though the outcome remains undecided, the interest generated by the elections is unprecedented. One of India’s biggest problems has always been a disinterested voting population – a handicap indeed for a country where votes can be bought easily. Politicians who promise benefits, quick fixes and rewards are often successful. The 2014 election is unique because of the rising rate of awareness amongst the educated masses. For the first time in decades, Indians of all ages are exercising their right to cast their vote. In this new world of technology and transparency – it promises to be a revolutionary race.