Inside Story

India: Protest vote or dress rehearsal?

As the ruling Congress party is rejected in state polls, we analyse how it will fare in next year's national election.

Last updated: 09 Dec 2013 14:04
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India's ruling Congress party has been punished in state polls and the vote is being seen as a test of public opinion ahead of national elections, due to take place by May next year.

It shows maturing of what you could call urban politics in India, which has historically been dominated by the rural belt. My expectation is the AAP…is emerging as a major urban force …. This is a sort of a mini French revolution. It represents a rise of a certain kind of a middle class in Indian politics.

Narayanan Madhavan, associate editor of The Hindustan Times 

Voting took place in the heartland states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Mizoram.

Congress lost ground to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or the Indian People's Party, and even to a new party called Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), as it struggles to rein in corruption and revive a stalled economy.

The Indian National Congress party was founded back in 1885. It has been in power for two terms, with Manmohan Singh as prime minister.

The BJP was established in 1980, and is led by Narendra Modi, who is the chief minister for the state of Gujarat, a divisive but a business-friendly figure.

Playing spoiler to the two main parties is the Aam Aadmi Party, or the common man's party.

It was launched just over a year ago, headed by social activist Arvind Kejriwal and campaigning on an anti-corruption platform.

According to Al Jazeera's Sohail Rahman:  "As far as BJP were concerned they seem to have done very well in this last phase. They worked on a premise they needed to see clean politics.

"The one big success story in this election phase has been the AAP party. They fought mainly in Delhi and they will be a force to reckon with come the general election," he said.

The state elections are a chance for the parties to set out their stall ahead of what is being billed as the most important general election in 20 years.

Bribery and corruption became the tragedy of the commons .... In some of the land deals in south India, on the official forms there was a certain column which said ‘Blessing Money’, which effectively meant that is the money which you have to give to the minister to receive his blessings in order to get the land deal through.

Sourav Roy, Asian affairs analyst and columnist with The Huffington Post

 The polls are taking place at a critical time for the democracy of 1.2 billion people.

India is Asia's third largest economy, behind China and Japan, but growth remained below five percent for the fourth consecutive quarter, between July and September.

Just two years ago, the economy expanded by close to 10 percent.

Interest rates remain high at 7.75 percent, in part to help tame inflation of some seven percent, which is hindering economic revival.

Meanwhile, political uncertainty is putting off foreign investors. And India has also failed to improve the perception of corruption.

According to Transparency International, it is ranked 94th out of 177 in a list of the most corrupt countries in the world, the same as last year.

That is better than neighbours Pakistan, at 127, and Bangladesh at 136, but still soured by a series of scams involving government officials, politicians and private companies.

So, is the backlash for the ruling party at state polls a protest vote over corruption and the state of India's economy? Or is it a sign of things to come in national elections?

Inside Story presenter Jane Dutton, is joined by guests: Narayanan Madhavan, associate editor of The Hindustan Times; Sourav Roy, an Asian affairs analyst and columnist with The Huffington Post; and Richard Varghese, an associate with Oxford Analytica, a global analysis and advisory firm.

"In terms of the elections, ... either a congress-led coalition returning or a BJP being sworn into power would make not much of a difference to the Indian economic outlook. With regards to actual reforms that are going on in India, I think the pace will be almost same and the direction will remain the same." 

Richard Varghese, an associate with Oxford Analytica


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