India Votes 2012
February 2, 2012
While the United States is in the throes of an election year, with state primaries and debates taking place nearly weekly, India too is in the midst of an important round of state elections. The first elections began on January 28, and they will continue through the end of the year. The final results for the first five elections will be announced on March 6. Seven states will go to the polls, including India’s largest, Uttar Pradesh (UP), and the results of this round of voting will impact India’s ruling central coalition government in its run-up to general elections in 2014.
Q1: Who are the contenders in each state, and what are the issues?
A1: Following is a round-up of names, dates, and issues.
Manipur (January 28, partial re-polling to be held February 4 due to violence and reports of fraud): Manipur’s current chief minister, Okram Ibobi, of the Congress Party, sought a record third consecutive term. Ibobi and his party competed against the People’s Democratic Front, a coalition of the Manipur People’s Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Janata Dal-United, the Communist Party of India-Marxist, and the Naga’s People Front, which is reportedly supported by the militant National Socialist Council of Nagaland, which seeks outright independence.
Uttarakhand (January 30): The chief minister, B.C. Khanduri, heads the National Democratic Alliance, a coalition of center-right parties led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against opposition candidate Inder Hridesh of the Congress Party.
Punjab (January 30): The candidates running for chief minister are Parkash Singh Badal of the regional Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) Party, which is affiliated with the BJP, and former chief minister Amarinder Singh of the Congress Party, who will rely on the People’s Party of Punjab to play the spoiler. The Buhujan Samaj Party (BSP), which currently holds a tiny number of seats, also contested the election without allying with other parties. Punjab’s election, as reported by local media, might have been “surprisingly close” because of a strong performance by the main opposition parties—the Congress and BSP.
Goa (March 3): The chief minister, Digambar Kamat, of the Congress Party currently runs Goa in alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The BJP is currently in talks with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) to form an alliance in opposition to the Congress-NCP. The situation is still fluid, and the result will be announced on February 3. The Congress-NCP leadership in Goa is currently under suspicion of corruption due to a mining scam and environmental violations.
Uttar Pradesh (phased election February 8–March 3): UP’s current chief minister, Kumari Mayawati, is the first Dalit woman to hold the top post in an Indian state and is currently serving her fourth term in office. She heads the BSP, which is allied with the BJP, and will square off against Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party (allied with the Congress Party). Mayawati recently fired 10 ministers in UP, who are all under suspicion of corruption. Mayawati herself is thought to be corrupt by many, due to the vast increase in her personal wealth since taking office and her use of state funds to erect statues of local political leaders, including herself. Her supporters point to increased infrastructure and more children attending schools as reasons to back her candidacy for a fifth term.
Gujarat (date to be announced): The popular three-term chief minister, Narendra Modi, hopes to extend his tenure and build on the economic growth Gujarat has witnessed over the past 10 years. The Congress Party has been out of power in Gujarat since 1998 and has not yet put forward a candidate to challenge the incumbent.
Himachal Pradesh (date to be announced): The elections in Himachal Pradesh are set to take place toward the end of 2012. The BJP currently governs the state, and the current chief minister, Prem Kumar Dhumal, seeks to win reelection against “to be announced” opposition.
Q2: What is at stake?
A2: While the United States and the international community monitor the outcomes of these elections with their own strategic interests in mind—mainly the pace of implementing Stage II economic reforms such as further liberalizing the retail and financial services sectors (see http://www.icrier.org/icrier_wadhwani/Index_files/ ICRIER-Wadhwani%20Chair-%20ISSUE%20BRIEF-OCT%202011.pdf)—the fact remains that all politics is local. The nearly 205 million eligible voters in these seven states are absorbed with issues like corruption, land acquisition, infrastructure development, the price of basic goods, education, and job opportunities as their main issues.
Out of the seven state elections in 2012, Manipur’s political landscape has features that stand out from the rest. For decades, this eastern Indian state has been beleaguered by low-intensity conflict, due in large part to weapons and drug smuggling over the border with Myanmar. As a result, violence and intimidation have been used by opposition groups to influence the election. Furthermore, unlike the other six Indian states, notable issues on the minds of the parties and voters include preserving “territorial integrity” and removing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Manipur suffers from some of the highest rates of HIV and drug addiction in India, and infrastructure and energy issues plague even its capital. India’s central government has largely ignored Manipur since independence. But given the direct road that links Manipur with Myanmar, the next government may see the state’s strategic value as a means for bilateral trade and investment between the two nations, as well as with greater Southeast Asia.
Uttar Pradesh will be the most closely watched state contest in India’s 2012 election cycle, because it is India’s most populous state and considered an accurate indicator of the mood of India’s electorate. Although the Congress Party is not expected to come anywhere close to winning a majority in the UP general assembly this election season, it is trying to gain a significant number of seats and build momentum for the central government election in 2014. The outcome of the UP election serves as an unofficial referendum on the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition’s governance over the past eight years. Political commentators also view the election as a test of Rahul Gandhi’s effectiveness at campaigning on behalf of the Congress Party and for potentially succeeding Manmohan Singh as prime minister in the 2014 election cycle.
Persis Khambatta is a fellow, and Ketan Thakkar an intern, with the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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