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Indian elections:
Verdict 2004

This year's results stumped all forecasters, and media analyses of why the NDA fell have been far from convincing, says ARAVIND SITARAMAN


Contrary to every prediction—“scientific” or otherwise, the Indian election results of 2004 were a surprise that no one had even anticipated.

After all, the BJP-led NDA had performed very well in business, commerce, trade, jobs, foreign investment, infrastructure, economic development, and so on. For example, the inflation has been marginal despite extremely strong growth of over 8%; interest rates dropped from 8% to 6% enabling many to finance new homes, cars, and other consumer durables; the Sensex grew by over 20% increasing investor wealth and enabling companies to fund expansions in India and overseas; exports had grown from 10% to over 17%; forex reserves had grown from USD 23 billion to over 113 billion; and expenditure in subsidies had grown over 80% despite a fiscal deficit increase of only 25%.

Foreign policy had never been better with relationship with the US taking a deeper turn in the fight against terrorism, defense, economy, multi-lateral initiatives, commerce, people to people interface, industry, etc; relationship with China has graduated to a higher degree of understanding culminating with the Chinese accepted Sikkim as part of India; the relationship with Pakistan now has a roadmap that can be worked on. Clearly, in any democratic society, this would be called good governance. Surely, in the democratic history of India this has been the best performing Government.

It is interesting to read post-election analysis—from the same folks who had predicted a landslide NDA victory now actively trying to find reasons why people voted for the Congress. The pollsters are busy cooking up excuses as to why people responded the way they did to their questions in the pre-election and exit polls. Newspapers and television stations are falling over each other to appease the new regime in India and finding new reasons why the NDA lost. The underlying message is that the NDA lost not because it had not performed well, but for other things it did not do, or its underlying philosophy.

Many of reasons cited for the NDA loss are their non-secular stance that evoked fear and anger of the minorities, the lack of focus on agriculture, the pro-rich policies, their focus on cities and neglect of rural India, and their disinvestment drive. Congress sycophants say the charisma of Sonia Gandhi and her children galvanized support for the Congress and their allies. Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and other radical groups of the NDA say the dilution of the Ram Temple strategy caused the NDA’s downfall.

These are nothing but bogus analyses steeped into conventional and in-the-box thinking. If the Indian public was so against the NDA philosophy, why did they vote them to power in 1999 with a good majority? If the lack of focus on agriculture was true, how come we have higher subsidies mostly to the agriculturists, higher production, higher food stocks, and higher procurement prices? If the policies are pro-rich how come there are so many middle class people (across the spectrum) who are now able to afford cars, houses, consumer durables, cell phones, etc? If the focus was the cities without any investment in the rural India, how come we have such good roads, functioning hospitals and schools in most parts of India? If the disinvestment policies were so bad, how come investors voted with their pocket book and there was such a surge in foreign investment? The claims by Congress sycophants and the VHP are obviously self-serving and it is a waste of time and space to even comment on them.

The truth of the matter is that the Congress and its allies did not win. It was that the NDA did not win. So, instead of trying to figure out why the Congress won, it would be prudent to focus on why the NDA did not win despite a very good performance at the national level.

Firstly, the NDA alliance was fructuous with the departure of DMK and its subsequent anti-AIADMK coalition in Tamil Nadu. The Dravidian parties,
the DMK and the AIADMK, traditionally had a 33% loyal voter base. Either party came to power because of a divided opposition. With
the opposition parties banding together, the AIADMK had no chance. Despite the anti-media activities and the anti-minority perception of the AIADMK
Government, the state itself has seen large development. When the DMK Government exited three years ago, the treasury was in deficit,
industrialization was at a standstill, foreign investment was at a trickle. All this has changed with the AIADMK. However, from the loyal caste and
communal voting pattern of the state (and indeed the country), these are inconsequential.

There was no meaningful alliance possible in UP with the choice of Mayawati and Maulayam Singh Yadav. With no grassroots party leadership in the cow-land, the NDA did not stand a chance against the divisive politics in the states of UP and Bihar.

Secondly, the India Shinning campaign was seen by many as a completion of development and progress of India. Instead of stating that this was the beginning of the century of India, the NDA’s message was that India is already shinning so we do not need to anything more. Even though prosperity and development had reached many, the majority of the population had not visibly and personally gained from these developments. This was exploited by the communists to portray the NDA as the party of the rich.

Thirdly, the lack of development outside Hyderabad by the Chandra Babu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party contributed to an image that the NDA is pro-cities and anti-rural. When there was a huge surplus of grains all over the country, farmers were committing suicide because of indebtedness. Failure to tackle this with quick debt relief programs antagonized the poor against Naidu even if his reign has been stellar in governance and implementation.