Local issues dominate India's elections

Rick Moran
The world's largest democracy is holding parliamentary elections over the next 5 weeks to determine the make up of India's 543 member legislative body. More than 750 million are eligible to vote which accounts for the long voting period.

At issue are
local matters:

The elections take place as a worldwide financial crisis begins to clip India's economic growth, but the campaign has been dominated by debates over religion, caste, poverty and a host of local issues. Every party has appealed to voters by promising bundles to the poor, from an expansion of a federal jobs program to free television sets to families below the poverty line.

Here in Andhra Pradesh, one of 17 states where voting began Thursday and turnout was reported at 65 percent, several parties apparently presented would-be voters with incentives to go to the polls - cash for women, half-liter bottles of liquor for men. The state's chief electoral officer, I.V. Subba Rao, said an estimated $5 million in cash had been seized in recent weeks, allegedly meant to be handed out to voters. Some of it was found stashed inside car tires.

Here, voters concerns ranged from the parochial to the philosophical. In a working class enclave called V.V. Girinagar, a woman named Vijaylakshmi, 33, said she would reward the B.J.P. because its local legislator had funded brick lanes in the neighborhood. P. Kishtaiah, 52, said every politician at election-time promises to legalize his illegally built slum, but that no one has so far kept their word.

Nearby, in a middle class precinct, Uma Shekar, 40, who works at a software consulting firm, said he was fed up with corruption. He said his family had traditionally voted for Congress, but frustrated, had turned to other parties in recent years as well. "Nothing is working," he rued.


Whatever the result, it will not be conclusive. The Congress Party - which dominated Indian politics almost as a one party state for many years - now has many rivals, chief among them the Bharatiya Janata Party. And there are many smaller parties that will have to be bribed or convinced to take part in any coalition government formed by the winner of a plurality of seats.

It is unlikely that any coalition will be strong enough to address such contentious domestic issues as "affirmative action" for members of the lower castes nor on international matters such as India's continued refusal to have its industry subject to global warming strictures placed upon other countries - including the US - by treaty.

More probable is a weak coalition that stays in power by sharp dealing and corrupt agreements with smaller parties. In that sense, nothing much will change as a result of the vote.
The world's largest democracy is holding parliamentary elections over the next 5 weeks to determine the make up of India's 543 member legislative body. More than 750 million are eligible to vote which accounts for the long voting period.

At issue are
local matters:

The elections take place as a worldwide financial crisis begins to clip India's economic growth, but the campaign has been dominated by debates over religion, caste, poverty and a host of local issues. Every party has appealed to voters by promising bundles to the poor, from an expansion of a federal jobs program to free television sets to families below the poverty line.

Here in Andhra Pradesh, one of 17 states where voting began Thursday and turnout was reported at 65 percent, several parties apparently presented would-be voters with incentives to go to the polls - cash for women, half-liter bottles of liquor for men. The state's chief electoral officer, I.V. Subba Rao, said an estimated $5 million in cash had been seized in recent weeks, allegedly meant to be handed out to voters. Some of it was found stashed inside car tires.

Here, voters concerns ranged from the parochial to the philosophical. In a working class enclave called V.V. Girinagar, a woman named Vijaylakshmi, 33, said she would reward the B.J.P. because its local legislator had funded brick lanes in the neighborhood. P. Kishtaiah, 52, said every politician at election-time promises to legalize his illegally built slum, but that no one has so far kept their word.

Nearby, in a middle class precinct, Uma Shekar, 40, who works at a software consulting firm, said he was fed up with corruption. He said his family had traditionally voted for Congress, but frustrated, had turned to other parties in recent years as well. "Nothing is working," he rued.


Whatever the result, it will not be conclusive. The Congress Party - which dominated Indian politics almost as a one party state for many years - now has many rivals, chief among them the Bharatiya Janata Party. And there are many smaller parties that will have to be bribed or convinced to take part in any coalition government formed by the winner of a plurality of seats.

It is unlikely that any coalition will be strong enough to address such contentious domestic issues as "affirmative action" for members of the lower castes nor on international matters such as India's continued refusal to have its industry subject to global warming strictures placed upon other countries - including the US - by treaty.

More probable is a weak coalition that stays in power by sharp dealing and corrupt agreements with smaller parties. In that sense, nothing much will change as a result of the vote.