[Marxism] Arundhati Roy and Wall Street Journal in India's election

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Fri May 14 10:25:25 MDT 2004

(All over the world, movement is to the left, and
while Sonia Ghandi's no leftist or revolutionary,
nature abhors a vacuum and the people of India who
are being hurt by the capitalist government's 
subordination to neoliberal globalization did what
they had to to give the BJP regime a rude awakening.

(And you thought I was only interested in Cuba...<g>)

New Government
In India Pledges
To Push Growth

After Congress Party Win,
Sonia Gandhi Is in Line to Be
First Foreign-Born Leader
May 14, 2004; Page A1

NEW DELHI -- Voters left behind by India's booming economy
threw out the government and handed power to the party of
the country's most famous political figure, Sonia Gandhi,
who pledged to continue but widen economic liberalization.

Her winning Congress Party is likely to choose the
Italian-born widow of former Premier Rajiv Gandhi, who was
assassinated in 1991, as its candidate to form India's next
government. In governing, Congress officials said, they
would emphasize not only the changes that have ignited
India's long-stagnant economy through technology, foreign
investment and trade, but also rural and agricultural
programs to help the 700 million Indians who don't live in

Underscoring their commitment to economic growth, officials
recalled that the changes that unleashed rapid growth in
India were begun more than a decade ago, under a previous
Congress government.

"We started it, and will do it more efficiently," said P.
Chidambaram, a senior Congress official and former finance

Indian investors seemed confident that growth -- which
raced along at 8% last year -- would continue. Many had
feared a divided Parliament unable to quickly agree on a
new prime minister, and they reacted positively to the
strong showing by the Congress party. India's Bombay Stock
Exchange index ended the trading session 1% higher Thursday
from the previous close after falling more than 3% earlier
in the day. The index has lost more than 7% since India's
three-week election process started April 20; the value of
the Indian rupee has weakened almost 4% against the dollar
during that period.

The election represents a huge victory for the 57-year-old
Mrs. Gandhi, who through her marriage to Rajiv Gandhi
became heir to one of the world's great political
dynasties. His mother, Indira Gandhi, was prime minister
for a total of 15 years before she was assassinated, and
his grandfather was Jawaharlal Nehru, who pioneered many of
the inward-looking, socialist practices that shackled
India's economy for years.

Mrs. Gandhi campaigned relentlessly through India's
impoverished countryside calling for more focus on
uplifting the nation's farmers and disadvantaged, and
attacking the record on poverty of Prime Minister Atal
Bihari Vajpayee's Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party,
or BJP. (See related article.)

At the same time, Congress politicians promised to continue
India's moves to attract foreign investment and millions of
service jobs being outsourced from the U.S., Europe and
parts of Asia.

The movement of jobs to India has become a hot-button topic
in the U.S. But it also has proved controversial in India,
where people fret that their traditional way of life is
threatened by young workers picking up Western values as
they work for call centers or software firms focused on the
U.S. and Europe.

Yet economic growth has been a force of power positive
transformation, too. The BJP cut tariffs and reduced the
barriers for foreign investment in India. It also
aggressively sought to sell off dozens of India's
inefficient state-owned companies. The result is that India
grew at its fastest rate in 15 years in the quarter ended
Dec. 31, at 10.4%. Foreign investors sank a record $7.7
billion into Indian assets in 2003, and some $4 billion so
far this year.


The Congress Party's tumultuous political history:

1947 Congress Party leader Jawaharlal Nehru becomes
independent India's first prime minister

1952 Congress wins 364 seats out of 489-seat lower house of
Parliament, or Lok Sabha, in India's first free elections

1966 Indira Gandhi, daughter of Nehru, becomes prime

1975 Indira Gandhi imposes state of emergency, dissolves

1984 Indira Gandhi assassinated by Sikh bodyguards after
reclaiming power; Rajiv Gandhi, son of Indira, leads
Congress to power in elections called later that year

1991 Rajiv Gandhi assassinated; Congress leader P.V.
Narasimha Rao becomes prime minister, initiates major
economic reform drive

1998 Sonia Gandhi, Italian-born widow of Rajiv, takes over

2004 Sonia Gandhi leads Congress and allies to
parliamentary election victory

Sources: Congress Party; WSJ research

Nandan Nilekani, chief executive officer of Infosys
Technologies Ltd., India's third-largest software producer,
said: "In India today, there is broad consensus across all
parties that reform is irreversible and India has a unique
advantage in the IT [information technology] and
outsourcing industries."

Prior to the election, critics questioned Mrs. Gandhi's
leadership skills and whether Indians would accept a
foreign-born person as their prime minister. Some political
analysts said Congress could make another person prime
minister should its coalition partners -- which will
include leftist parties -- not accept her. They said one
alternative might be Manmohan Singh, the Congress finance
minister who initiated India's liberalization program in
1991. But now Mrs. Gandhi, barring opposition from the
minority parties needed to form a coalition government,
seems likely to end up the leader of the world's second
most populous nation.

Ghulam Nabi Azad, Congress party general secretary, said
he's sure she will be India's new prime minister. "She will
be the prime minister ... For stability, it is necessary
that the prime minister be from the single largest party,
that is the Congress party and our candidate is Sonia
Gandhi," he said after meeting her Thursday.

For the BJP, meanwhile, the jarring defeat underscored the
fickle nature of Indian politics. Mr. Vajpayee's party had
been widely favored in the election after aggressively
pursuing changes that helped transform India into one of
the world's fastest-growing economies.

The BJP had been expected to gain support, too, because of
Mr. Vajpayee's success in repairing tattered relations with
Pakistan through a peace initiative last year that has
significantly reduced tension between South Asia's two
nuclear rivals.

Thursday, leaders from the Congress party and Pakistan
government officials said peace talks would continue under
a new Indian government. "The dialogue with Pakistan will
continue. There will be no changes," said Kapil Sibal, a
Congress spokesman.

Politicians and analysts say the BJP's principal campaign
theme of growth and development, dubbed "India Shining,"
was undercut by widespread disaffection among the largely
rural population, many of whom saw few immediate benefits
from the country's economic and technology boom. Indeed,
the Congress and its allies latched on to the BJP's
campaign theme to depict the ruling party as deeply out of
touch with the realities facing India's impoverished
masses. The BJP's coalition fared worst in areas like
Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu -- both coastal states in the
south -- where the divide between the country's high-tech
hubs and surrounding poverty-ridden villages is most stark.

Mrs. Gandhi's political ascendance is the unlikely
culmination of a four-decade odyssey, which began at a
restaurant in Cambridge in 1965. An 18 year old, she was
learning English at a language school in the city when she
met Rajiv Gandhi, who was studying engineering at Cambridge
University. Friends of the family say Mrs. Gandhi knew next
to nothing about India but quickly fell deeply in love with
Mr. Gandhi, a scion to India's most important political
family. They were married three years later.

Mrs. Gandhi made the difficult transition from living in a
village outside of Turin, Italy, to residing in the home of
India's then prime minister, Indira Gandhi. The older Mrs.
Gandhi was an imposing figure in India's history, who
declared a state of emergency in 1975 and dissolved
Parliament. Sonia Gandhi, however, said her mother-in-law
was essential in helping her become an Indian and
understand the importance of Congress's struggle for
independence from the British.

Over a decade, from 1984 to 1991, Mrs. Gandhi was to lose
the two most important figures in her life in India. Indira
Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984;
Rajiv Gandhi was killed in 1991 while campaigning in
India's south. A close friend of Mrs. Gandhi's said her
husband's murder "nearly destroyed her." Indeed, Mrs.
Gandhi wrote in a memoir about her husband that she had
"fought like a tigress" to prevent him from entering
politics, fearing for his safety. She has also said she was
very reluctant to let her children join politics for the
same reason.

Still, in 1998, Mrs. Gandhi herself jumped into the
political fray fearing that the Congress party was about to
collapse. "I felt I was being cowardly to just sit and
watch things deteriorate in the Congress for which my
mother-in-law and the whole family lived and died," Mrs.
Gandhi said in a February interview on New Delhi

Late Thursday, the Associated Press reported that the
official vote tally showed the Congress and its allies
would win 217 seats in India's 543-seat lower house of
Parliament, or Lok Sabha, while the BJP and its coalition
partners trailed with 187 seats. A party needs the backing
of a total of 272 lawmakers to form a government.

"The major mistake of the BJP was they didn't increase
investment in agriculture. There was rural discontent all
over the country," said Prakash Karat of the Communist
Party of India, which is among four leftist parties
expected to cumulatively win at least 62 seats. This
leftist grouping could play a central role in forming a new
Congress-led coalition government.

But Congress officials indicated the new government's
economic strategy wouldn't veer back to the socialist past
although it would stress policies aimed at poorer Indians.
Mr. Chidambaram, the former finance minister, said that a
Congress government's economic policies would emphasize
investment in agriculture and improvements in the country's
education and health-care systems.

Congress officials also said that they'd push to increase
India's annual economic growth to 10% from the 8% it is
estimated to have achieved in the fiscal year ended March
31. They also said they would continue policies pursued by
the BJP to cut tariffs and reduce restrictions on foreign

India's business community largely voiced confidence in the
prospect of a Congress-led government, but some executives
suggested that the expected influence of leftist parties
could slow the pace of reforms. "The process [of reform]
will continue, but it may slow down, especially for the
first year until they find their feet," said Rahul Bajaj,
chairman and managing director of Bajaj Auto Ltd., India's
largest producer of motorcycles and scooters. "We will keep
investing and keep expanding."

The BJP's defeat marks the end for a government responsible
for some fundamental changes in India since it took power
in 1998. Just weeks after entering office, Mr. Vajpayee
rattled the world by testing five nuclear devices in the
Indian desert. The tests ended New Delhi's decades-old
policy of maintaining a strategic ambivalence on its atomic
weapon capabilities and prompted Washington to slap
economic sanctions on India. Pakistan responded weeks later
by testing its own nuclear devices.

In 2002, India and Pakistan almost went to war after
Islamic militants -- allegedly backed by Islamabad --
attacked India's Parliament building in New Delhi, sparking
fears South Asia could see the world's first nuclear
exchange. Mr. Vajpayee subsequently massed tens of
thousands of troops on Pakistan's border before Washington
helped negotiate a military stand down by both sides.

But Mr. Vajpayee has used his last two years in office to
seek stability in South Asia as a means of underpinning
India's economic growth. He launched largely successful
peace initiatives towards both Pakistan and China - both
India's historic adversaries. Islamabad and Beijing
continue to express confidence that the engagement process
is bearing fruit.

The BJP also broke India's long-held tradition of
maintaining secularism in government. The party came to
power vowing to promote the culture of India's majority
Hindu population, damaged, they charged, by centuries of
rule of India by the British and by Muslim kings. In the
campaign for the 1998 vote that brought the BJP into power,
the party's leadership called for a ban on cow slaughter,
the conversion of a number of Islamic mosques into Hindu
temples, and the scraping of affirmative action policies
they charged favored India's 150 million Muslim population,
the world's second-largest.

While Mr. Vajpayee didn't pursue these policies once in
office, the BJP's strong Hindu-nationalist image still
tarred his government's record. Wide-scale rioting in the
state of Gujarat in 2002 resulted in the deaths of about
2,000 Indians, most of them Muslim. The BJP's state
government in Gujarat has been accused of tacitly
supporting the violence against the Muslims, and India's
Supreme Court is still investigating the incident.

In Thursday's voting, the BJP lost seven seats in Gujarat,
a sign, political analysts said, that the BJP's Hindu
nationalism has been rejected even in one of its expected
strongholds. "The BJP has divided our community on communal
lines," said Girish Patel, a human rights lawyer based in
Gujarat. "They've completely isolated the Muslims."

Still, Mr. Vajpayee's willingness to push ahead with
economic reforms was perhaps the most important hallmark of
his government. In particular, he fought to force through
the sales of India's stable of largely inefficient
state-owned companies, despite strong opposition from labor
unions and the left-wing parties. The BJP party also took
the unprecedented step of accelerating reforms heading into
this year's election, slashing tariffs and raising the
foreign investment limits in the banking and oil and gas

Indian and foreign investors are likely to scrutinize the
new Congress-led government to see how strongly it is
committed to continuing such reforms. India's four
communist parties-which are expected to support the
Congress coalition-have traditionally fought against
foreign investment and government privatization. But their
leaders have signaled in recent years that they're changing
their stance as India battles China for economic growth.

In the state of West Bengal, a communist-controlled
government has aggressively wooed foreign investment,
pushed through labor reforms and begun privatizing their
own state-controlled companies. In the process they have
turned West Bengal's state capital, Calcutta, into a
high-tech zone and attracted the likes of International
Business Machines Corp. and PepsiCo Inc. to make major
investments in their state.

"We are not opposed to reforms as it helps the interests of
the people," said Somnath Chatterjee, a senior Communist
Party official from West Bengal. "We are seeking to provide
good services and an investor friendly environment."

The new government's clout will also likely depend heavily
on Mrs. Gandhi's performance, should she be named prime
minister. Going into the election, she was widely seen as
headed for political irrelevance, because Congress appeared
to most analysts as unlikely to seriously threaten the BJP.

But Mrs. Gandhi capitalized on the enduring authority of
her family's political dynasty - her late mother-in-law,
Indira Gandhi, also served as prime minister and was the
daughter of independent India's first premier Jawaharlal
Nehru. Sonia Gandhi used her two children, Rahul Gandhi and
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, extensively during the campaign, and
they were often greeted with almost a religious reverence
by crowds.

The Congress official said a new government would continue
the sales of state-owned companies, though in a more
selective fashion than the BJP's divestment program. The
Congress has attacked the BJP for seeking to sell-off
strategic assets, such as oil and gas companies, and
state-owned firms that are profitable.

Shy and unassuming, Mrs. Gandhi withstood blistering
personal attacks from the BJP for her foreign heritage, and
many of the party's leadership still say that still
shouldn't assume the post of prime minister. The Gandhi
family, however, is now saying she's earned it.

"I have seen my mother fight with her back to the wall. And
she has won. She has won against all odds," Rahul Gandhi
told reporters Thursday, smiling broadly and garlanded with

Write to Jay Solomon at jay.solomon at wsj.com and Eric
Bellman at eric.bellman at awsj.com

More information about the Marxism mailing list