A question larger than who wins elections in the world’s fourth-ranked oil-consuming country is how much difference the outcome might make.
Elections in India opened Apr. 7 and will continue through May 12. An overarching issue is reinvigoration of a once-booming economy with a growth rate down by half since 2010.
A candidate leading in at least name recognition is Rahul Gandhi of the Congress Party, which founders in its second term atop the governing United Progressive Alliance after having been restored to power in 2004.
Economic drift has shaken popular confidence in Gandhi’s party and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a designer of the liberalization effort begun in 1991. Worse, scandals involving Congress Party members have stained Singh’s reputation for honesty and inflamed a citizenry weary of corruption.
An alternative candidate with strong support of business leaders is Narendra Modi of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Modi was chief minister of Gujarat during the rapidly industrializing state’s economic boom. But he has been criticized for not doing enough to quell deadly riots against Muslims in 2002.
An interesting long shot is Arvind Kejriwal, leader of the new Aam Aadmi Party, which routed Congress in Delhi Assembly elections last December. Kejriwal is running a populist, anticorruption campaign. As chief minister of Delhi, he oversaw aggressive subsidization of public services. But when opposition parties blocked legislation to set up an anticorruption board, calling it unconstitutional, he resigned in principal after 49 days in office.
Indian voters have clearly defined choices. But national problems transcend ideological differences. India remains hobbled by market controls, bureaucracy, and dissipation of political potency among 28 states and 7 union territories inhabited by 1.2 billion people, nearly 70% of whom live on less than $2/day.
India certainly needs less corruption, more economic growth, and more-equitable distribution of opportunity. But it also needs institutional reforms that seem ever in progress but seldom closer to realization than they were in the last political cycle.
The job is huge, whoever wins it.
(From the subscriber’s area of www.ogj.com, posted Apr. 11, 2014; author’s e-mail: [email protected])