Finally, after quite literally weeks of voting in the world’s largest general election, India has given its verdict. In defiance of every opinion poll prediction of a “cliffhanger” result, the ruling United Progressive Allliance led by the secular Congress (I) Party has won a clear victory, dealing a crushing blow to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies. Once again, presented with a free choice, Indian voters have rejected the politics of myopic communalist bigotry and chosen a political path which separates religious belief from political practice.
As the complete results show, the Congress alone has won more seats than the BJP and its allies combined, marking a shift away from the recent trend of regional powerbrokers holding the national parties to ransom as they scrabbled to form governments. Further, Mayawati Kumari (the first Dalit regional premier and leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party) has been frustrated in her ambition to hold the balance of power or even the premiership, which must surely come as a blow to India’s sculptors given the amount of statues of herself that the old charlatan might have ordered. Indeed, the fading of the regional parties’ influence can probably be seen on balance as a positive, showing that people voted out of concern with national political issues rather than with local or communal/religious interests at the forefront of their minds.
As well as the welcome battering of the communalist parties, some of the Congress’ gains have come at the expense of the Stalinist-led Left Front, whom they have trounced in Kerala and (in tandem with their rather politically eccentric allies in the Trinamool Congress) even gained some strength against in the Communist stronghold of West Bengal. It was a bad night overall for the Communist Party (Marxist) leaders of the Left Front, who dropped 27 seats, mainly in Kerala and West Bengal. This perhaps reflects the CP’s establishment status in both states, as well as an evident national mood to vote the Congress back into power.
Overall, what does it mean? The Congress, with its history of dynastic governance by the Gandhis and its increasing neo-liberalism in policy and practice, will not provide an emancipatory politics for the Indian people. However the fall of the “Saffron” Hindu nationalists can only be welcomed by people who support the absence of religious influence from the State that is secularism in its true form. Whether a truly progressive national force will emerge that is able to transcend the semi-feudal politics of the Congress or the bureaucratism of the Stalinists, remains to be seen. Here’s hoping.