India’s choice

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaks during a news conference in WashingtonSome 85 million are expected to vote in America’s mid-term elections this November. To give you some idea of the scale by which the US is the second biggest democracy in the world, the number on the electoral rolls in India is ten times that high. Of course, in presidential years, more people turn out in the US: over 100 million. India has added 100 million to its electorate since the last general election five years ago. For election geeks, such as your correspondent, this is the big one.

Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh is stepping down, and his party seems sure to lose office anyway. “His” party is a bit of a poor description. His control of cabinet has been weakened both by coalition with other parties and the fact that he is not party leader. He has been allowed to be Prime Minister by grace of Congress Party’s Italian-born leader, Sonia Gandhi. He is stepping down at this election to make way for her impossibly handsome son, Rahul. That India’s oldest and most successful party has an Italian-born leader and plans to install the Chairperson of its youth wing (an office created for him) as Prime Minister is explained in purely dynastic terms. Rahul will be fifth generation of his family to run Congress. (He is descended, by the way, from India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, not from the hero of its independence movement, Mahatma Gandhi, to whom he is not related).

Singh is leaving office unpopular. Not only do opposition politicians revile him, but Congress is blaming him for the upcoming defeat. He has put aside the party’s Fabian socialism and, in the 1990s, was a successful reforming Finance Minister. The Economist describes his ten years as PM as being “mixed to good” on the economy. But growth has recently slipped below 5%. None of the Western countries in the G7 will hit 3%, but India has recently averaged 8%.

Corruption has been getting worse. Perhaps this is not surprising in a party with weak leadership and a dynastic tradition. Despite its failings, Congress is the better choice. The BJP is a Hindu-supremacist party. Narendra Modi, who will probably become Prime Minister, is the present Chief Minister of Gujerat. He presided over communal riots a decade ago in which more than 1,000 people were killed. He has expressed regret only that he did not handle the media very well. Apparently, he did not explain the 1,000 deaths as well as he could have.

Hindu-nationalist rule could lead to a worsening of relations with Pakistan. War between India and Pakistan remains the greatest danger in the world today. With a combined population of 1.5 billion, both sides are nuclear-armed. Worse, there is risk of China, with another billion and half people, and more nuclear weapons, becoming involved.

Five years ago I described India’s choice as “awful”. This year it is probably worse. But India has a choice. For almost seven decades it has maintained democracy and an independent judiciary. It is a huge, poor and incredibly diverse country, yet its democracy survives. For ten years it has been run by a man whose name and style of dress mark him out as being from the Sikh minority. For all the BJP’s ranting, much of India remains secular and tolerant. Well done, India.

qlQuentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at

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