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India Poll 2014: The US Endorsement Keeps BJP Happy

The votes have been cast in India’s general elections and predictions are that the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies will form the next government.

The votes have been cast in India’s general elections, and predictions are that the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies will form the next government.

“We look forward to the formation of a new government, once election results are announced, and to working closely with India’s next administration to make the coming years equally transformative,” a carefully-worded White House press statement from President Barack Obama said on May 12. “The United States and India have developed a strong friendship and comprehensive partnership over the last two decades, which has made our citizens safer and more prosperous and which has enhanced our ability to work together to solve global challenges,” Obama said.

The statement from the US president came at the end of the two-month-long polling, and exit polls all predict a landslide victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party. The exit polls said the BJP would win 340 seats, and its prime ministerial candidate, an upbeat and militant Narendra Modi, in one of his latest television interviews, said that his party would get 330 of the 543 parliament seats in the 2014 general elections.

“India has set an example for the world in holding the largest democratic election in history, a vibrant demonstration of our shared values of diversity and freedom,” the Obama statement said, with “diversity” being a key word. The hotly contested nine-phase elections, with more than 800 million people queuing up for nine days ended with the last vote cast on Monday, May 12. It was a battle of words: dirty words, harsh words, bad words. It was, however, as India’s Election Commission says, largely “more” peaceful than ever before. There were fewer gang wars, street fights, attacks on candidates, booth capturing and mass voting than at earlier times; only three gun battles reported, largely between the left parties and their opponent regional parties, or between competing regional parties; a few slapping and shoving incidents reported by the Aam Admi Party, the newcomer to the national stage; a status quo in the number of corrupt candidates; few women candidates, as it has been in India for the last 60 years of elections, and the highest voter turnout so far.

On this outcome depends the appointments of India’s next army chief and the highest officer in command of its armed forces, its commerce and finance secretaries, cabinet secretary and, of course, a whole new bunch of ministers, new and unknown faces, most of whom are expected to be in some way connected to the ideologically right-wing “social” organization, the Rashtriya Jana Sangh (RSS), which controls the BJP and sister political outfits like the Shiv Sena, MNS and others. The talk in town is that it will, eventually, be the RSS that will control the government in India. This speculation received impetus when top BJP leaders met top RSS leaders on Saturday. In September 2013 in New Delhi, top leaders of the BJP and more than 25 RSS-affiliated organizations met at 12-hour sessions each day for two days to strategize on the “larger game plan for elections in 2014.” Only one BJP chief minister, Narendra Modi, was invited to that meet. On the evening of May 10, Modi and top BJP leaders again met the top-five in the RSS, this time, it is said, to plan the next government of India. RSS joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale told the media that the general strategy to form the next government was discussed, and added that there was no such thing as a “courtesy meeting” in the Sangh (read RSS affiliates). BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi said, “Mr Modi is from the RSS and he met them. Big Deal! At least our remote control is nationalist. Not in Rome.” The reference was to Italy-born Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi. So, neither of the two organizations are denying that the next government will be “close-controlled” by the RSS.

The Hindu-“Hindutva” and politics of “for Hindus” and temple-building agendas are back on the front seat, as is caste politics. As for foreign policy, a week ago, Modi said, “There are two types of people who have come in – illegal immigrants and refugees. Those who are refugees are our family. It is the responsibility of all of India, whether Gujarat or Rajasthan, to rehabilitate them with all respect,” reiterating that illegal immigrants from Bangladesh into India would have to go back. A lot will depend on who Modi’s foreign minister and his home minister will be. There is no veteran in the BJP like P. Chidambaram of the Congress, who is either home minister, foreign minister or finance minister, changing just hats. Of interest to the USA will also be who Modi’s appointments are to be defense and commerce ministers. The BJP has welcomed the Obama statement. Though Obama has been very careful to remain neutral, saying the USA looks forward to “working closely with India’s next administration,” the timing – not after the results are out on May 16, but after the exit polls – has revealed the US administration’s über eagerness to extend the hand of friendship to the “new” government. The Obama statement even before the results are out appears to be reaching out to the expected Modi government. Yet, at the same time, the use of the word, “new” camouflages the statement as a routine statement when a new government takes over in any country. For Modi, the Obama statement comes as significant acceptance after years of criticism.

Opinion and the exit polls are as sure as Modi and his party that there will be a BJP-led government in India, this time, to be known as the National Democratic Alliance. However, it will be an alliance. For the BJP to form a government by itself would require 273 seats, and some polls have predicted 280 for the party, 340 for the alliance. Yet some are reminding the BJP of something called the Bradley effect, a theory proposed in the United States to explain observed discrepancies between voter opinion polls, even what voters tell surveyors, and the actual election outcomes. Considering the money spent by the BJP on campaigning and the hype created, it will not surprise anyone if what is being projected is much beyond the final results.

Also, the BJP equation with some former allies like the AIADMK in Tamilnadu, Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, Biju Janata Dal in Odisha, who are all on winning in their respective regions, is terribly strained for the time being. Perhaps, keeping this in mind, ruling party chief and Congress president Sonia Gandhi met the president of India for an hour on May 13, reportedly a courtesy call. The president, Pranab Mukherjee, is a veteran Congress politician, and it will be he who will determine what the country should do in case of a fractured verdict. He will preside over a caretaker government. The Indian voter has most often proved opinion and exit polls wrong. This time, this rule of thumb may be wrong. Now it is just the breathless wait for the results and a brand “new” government, new in more ways than meets the eye.

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