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India at a crossroads
Jerusalem Post ^ | May. 16, 2004

Posted on 05/16/2004 7:34:54 PM PDT by yonif

The surprising return of India's Congress Party to power is potentially a major social, economic, and geopolitical development.

The change of power in the world's largest democracy, which followed an election that lasted three weeks, has confounded not only outgoing Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but also pundits, pollsters, and diplomats worldwide. Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born widow of Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1991, was widely expected to lose an election that was called ahead of its original date by a government that was sure of its victory.

With gross domestic product growing last year by 8 percent, and the subcontinent's economy having generally been a darling of foreign investors for the past decade, the BJP believed it had been presiding over an era of good feeling. As it turned out, the number of voters who shared the government's self-congratulation was lower than assumed, and certainly lower than sufficient.

Fueled by this upset's momentum, and by the romantic return to power of the Gandhi dynasty (whose founder was actually not the famous Mahatma Gandhi, but India's first prime minister, Jawarhallal Nehru), the international forces of economic reaction can be expected to celebrate this event as a defeat for globalization in general, and for Vajpayee's reforms in particular.

We urge them to hold their horses.

Clearly, the Indian economic boom has left too many people behind, and in many cases by the wayside. However, the fact that that many Indian voters are not happy with their current economy does not yet mean that what they want, or deserve, is what preceded it.

The fact is that until last decade post-colonial India has been one of the world's saddest economic stories. Inspired by an elaborate relationship with the Soviet Union, India abandoned itself to the devices of a very rigid version of socialism, replete with prohibitive import duties, state-controlled monopolies, and a labyrinthian bureaucracy that obstructed private enterprise and foreign investment.

According to Indian-born Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati, India's tragedy was that under the Gandhi dynasty the economy was the antithesis of Singapore's, Hong Kong's, Taiwan's, and South Korea's – the so-called Asian Tigers – embrace of the outer world.

"India missed the bus," concluded Bhagwati, adding: "No, it missed the Concorde."

The BJP has clearly done something to offset this.

The rise of the subcontinent as a hi-tech powerhouse, the emergence of a broad middle class, the energetic deregulation, privatization, and de-monopolization that it has unleashed have made India's one of the world's most promising economies, now enjoying not only a stable currency (inflation is just over 4 percent), but also a current-account surplus ($3.2 billion last year), and more than $100 billion in foreign currency reserves.

The Indian vote is clearly not a demand for less of all this. Rather, it is reminiscent of the restoration to power of reformed socialists that has been common in post-Communist Europe. Like those cases, this one too is not about fewer people approving of capitalism, but about more people demanding access to its fruits.

Sonia Gandhi – who has yet to decide whether she will personally assume the premiership – will be tested by her ability to keep the BJP's economic accomplishments intact, while delivering her voters' expectations, a tall order any day, but even more so considering the Communist Party's prominent position in the only coalition she can conceivably assemble.

The other major issue ahead of Vajpayee's successor will be India's position in the international system.

Until the fall of communism, India prided itself on the role it played in creating the Non-Aligned Bloc. Now an anachronism, that formation can be described, with the benefit of hindsight, as a diplomatic monument to the narcissism of frustrated leaders like Nasser, Nehru, and Tito. Ultimately, the idea of nurturing an international identity that would rest on what countries were not rather than on what they were failed collosally.

One thing, however, that the non-aligned actually were, and post-Gandhi India certainly was not, is anti-Israel.

Under its outgoing government India has turned its back on its predecessors' anti-Western heritage and rhetoric and turned much of India's foreign policy around. Part of this outlook was the creation of a strategic relationship with Israel, one whose rationale should be apparent to any student of India's situation in its region. Hopefully, Sonia Gandhi will prove more of a student of reality than of her dynasty.

TOPICS: Editorial; Israel; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: bjp; congressparty; india; largestdemocracy

1 posted on 05/16/2004 7:34:54 PM PDT by yonif
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To: yonif
Like those cases, this one too is not about fewer people approving of capitalism, but about more people demanding access to its fruits.

And instead of earning it, they want the government to steal it for them. This is all about envy and hate. How else can the far left come to power?

2 posted on 05/16/2004 11:33:32 PM PDT by Moonman62
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To: Moonman62

When I heard of this, my thoughts were "I getting real sick of the POOR and the governments listening to them." The problem is the vast uneducated masses who have an entitlement mentality. Gimme gimme gimme! I no longer believe democracy can work in the long run. Too many people need someone to keep them under control like the sheep they are.

3 posted on 05/16/2004 11:56:13 PM PDT by Clock King
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To: Moonman62

well, it isn't the far left, it's more like a left of centre party, more rightist in policies than the Labour government of Tony Blair.

4 posted on 05/17/2004 12:07:11 AM PDT by Cronos (W2K4)
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To: Clock King

The only problem with your argument is that Democracy may be flawed in some ways, but the alternatives are far far worse.

5 posted on 05/17/2004 3:48:36 AM PDT by spetznaz (Nuclear missiles: The ultimate Phallic symbol.)
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