Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Democracy offline and awol

The world's biggest democracy is in a state of chaos. India recently elected another of the Gandhi dynasty to run the country, in the position of Prime Minister. But she doesn't want the job because her (soundly) defeated opponents have run a campaign since the election declaring that, because of her Italian birth, she should step down. Exciting and crazy things are happening over there:
Her withdrawal, and the prospect of Singh leading Asia's third-largest economy, spurred markets, helping stocks on the Bombay exchange post their second-biggest daily rally just a day after the worst plunge in the exchange's 129-year history.
Bizarre protests are occurring:
Scattered protests were reported across the country. One Congress worker in the northern city of Kanpur doused himself with kerosene and tried to burn himself alive, but was stopped. Another tried to jump from a building.
The person who might take the job instead?
Angry and upset, Congress lawmakers mobbed Gandhi and begged her to change her decision, which paves the way for the architect of India's modern economic reforms, Manmohan Singh, to possibly take over the world's largest democracy.
Until it's decided though, noone is in charge. Millions upon millions of people voted for Mrs Gandhi and yet now, the democractically defeated can lobby sufficiently loudly that she be forced to turn down the job - despite that she comes from a long line of leaders (I believe that she'd be the fourth from the same family). And all because she was born in Italy? That's hardly an unknown piece of data - it was central to her opponents' campaigns in the runup to the election. But they lost. In the USA she would never have been able to stand just as Arnold Schwarzenegger (now the Governator) could not stand for election as President because he is Austrian born. 1.1 billion people in a country; a democratic election that, as far as I can tell, was untainted by scandal/vote-rigging/allegations of fraud; it even included technology to speed the process (and noone seems to be saying that this was compromised) - nearly 1 million electronic voting machines were deployed; turnover was 56% (which, in a huge country with enormously varying levels of infrastructure and education is no mean feat - one voting station is 26km from the nearest road and sits at an altitude of over 5000m) - 56% of the electorate is 360 million odd people (from a registered base of about 675 million). It's an incredible turn of events that sees a democratically-elected leader opt not to take on the role because of vociferous allegations about her credibility as a leader as a result of place of birth. I was in India during the run up to the elections in February. I watched the national fervour build over a period of a few days. Mass rallys were held along the highways in Delhi. Thousands of people turned out every few kilometres along the road, with flags, banners, music and podiums for speeches. The candidates dashed along the roads in their SUVs, stopped briefly to give a rousing speech and then moved to the next spot. Mrs Gandhi, it's said, covered 60,000km in her election campaign. Was she right for the job? I have no idea. But I do know that she won a full scale election that few other countries could credibly have pulled off. And following this news? The stock market has a big rally. They'd better be careful what they wish for. India has a long way to go - I will write more about this in the context of off-shoring of jobs soon.

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous10:31 pm

    Indeed. Isn't Manmohan Singh a renowned e-government enthusiast too?

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  2. So they say, but my view is that there are far bigger infrastructural problems to solve first. India is growing enormously quickly, yet the transport, power and sanitary setup is behind the times. I won't worry much about off-shore movement of jobs until the infrastructure is in place to support it.

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