400 million voters, in a 60% turnout, just made a crucial decision for the future of the world’s largest democracy.
What does it mean for the US?
Michael Barone, writing for the Washington Examiner, explains Why the U.S. should listen to India’s voters
The Congress vision of India was built on three pillars: socialism, autarky and secularism. Socialism meant a government-driven economy policed by a Permit Raj — government bureaucrats had to approve every economic change. Autarky meant cutting India off from world trade, so that local industries could grow. Secularism meant toleration of religious diversity in a nation with both a large Hindu majority and the world’s second largest Muslim population.
The fall of the Soviet Union removed two of these three pillars. Manmohan Singh, then finance minister and now prime minister, began dismantling the Permit Raj. Successive governments led by the Congress party and the Hindu nationalist BJP opened up India to trade, and export industries grew. Secularism remained, embraced by the Congress and not entirely repudiated by the BJP.
With the de facto alliance with the Soviets defunct, India was now open to an American alliance. Bill Clinton became the first U.S. president to visit India in years. George W. Bush moved further, cultivating closer ties with India and signing and getting ratified a nuclear cooperation treaty.
It became obvious that we had much in common. Both countries have a large and capable military, both have nuclear weapons, both have electoral democracies and English common law traditions, and both are prime targets of Islamist extremists. After Sept. 11, when Pakistan’s Gen. Pervez Musharraf made a U-turn and promised to help the United States in Afghanistan, he did so in the awareness that the U.S. had a friend on the other side of his border.
India also has the potential to contain the power of China, in conjunction with other well-armed democracies around its periphery — Japan, South Korea and Australia. Its economy has been growing almost as fast as China’s, and it now has a middle class of perhaps 200 million people.
The election held over four weeks in April and May has produced a result very much to our advantage. The Congress party has been returned to power with a larger share of the vote than indicated by pre-election and exit polls, and will no longer need Communists and left-wingers for majorities in the Lok Sabha. The BJP attacked Congress for being too close to the United States; voters evidently decided that this was not a minus but a plus.
This NYT op-ed puts the election in context:
This was a new, largely young (60 percent of the electorate is under 35 years) and forward-looking India sending out an unmistakable message: We want stability and good governance, not the politics of caste and religion.
The message went home. On Monday morning, the Indian stock market — which hit a three-year low last March and has been fluctuating wildly since — soared. By the end of the day, it had gained the highest number of points in its history. Indian business was smiling again.
The election had been a face-off between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the Congress Party and the 81-year-old Lal Kishen Advani, leader of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It turned out to be a no-contest.
The mild-mannered, scholarly Singh was widely seen as the face of liberalization and economic reform. He was also admired for his integrity. Advani, who had led the 1991 march of Hindu zealots to the Babri mosque, culminating in its destruction and the unleashing of communal riots, was still identified as a Hindu fundamentalist.
Singh pointed to the future, Advani to the past. Singh belongs to the minority Sikh community (just 15 million out of over one billion Indians), while Advani is a Hindu (85 percent of the population). It was clear whom the voters preferred. Religion, which has often strongly colored Indian politics, took a back seat.
Back to the Barone article,
So what is the Obama administration doing?
Continuing its pattern of ignoring our best allies, as it has with the UK, Colombia, and others, and trying to mollify our enemies:
All of which puts the ball in Barack Obama’s court. He has scarcely mentioned India in public since he became president, even as he has been making emollient noises to the mullah regime in Iran. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, said publicly she wouldn’t object to China’s abuses of the human rights, which India has worked hard to uphold. The U.S. is preoccupied with the turmoil inside Pakistan, as well as with Pakistan’s problematic role in the fight against the Taliban. But building closer relations with India would give us more leverage in Islamabad. Clinton, who played a constructive role in her husband’s outreach to India, should understand this. Perhaps Obama does too.
But it’s hard to tell. Obama has continued military operations in Iraq and stepped them up in Afghanistan, but otherwise he is banking heavily on the proposition that he can convince those who have been our sworn enemies that they should be our friends. Maybe that will work. But in the meantime, it would not hurt to show some solicitude for our friends in India, with whom we share strategic interests and moral principles. The 700 million voters of India have chosen to be our ally. We should take them up on it.
Can’t say I’m holding my breath on it. The Summit of the Americas showed that Obama is more interested in reaching across the crowded room to our enemy than he is to our friends. John Hinderaker is thinking in similar terms:
India is one of the world’s most important and dynamic countries with enormous strategic importance in Asia. Strengthening our alliance with India was one of the Bush administration’s major foreign policy achievements. Maybe Obama considers that a reason to ignore India; let’s hope not.
Both the alliances with India and Colombia were great foreign policy achievements for the Bush administration. Will Obama therefore try to undo them?