04/17/2004, 00.00
india - elections 2004
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Many promises and hopes in the electoral campaign

by Nirmala Carvalho

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - All eyes are focused on the upcoming general elections of the largest democracy in the world. Polls are scheduled to open on Apr. 20 and will close on May 10 after 5 separate deadlines in various regions of the country.   As India prepares to elect a new government, we take a broad look at the main political parties in the fray.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is the present power, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party' (BJP). The confidence level of the BJP is soaring now and so are its fortunes. A.B. Vajpayee, the Prime Minister stands taller than anybody in the current political set up.

'India Shining', 'India On the Move' are the popular campaign slogans of the BJP and have managed to strike a chord with the Indian voter.   The India Shining campaign is a very obvious example of how the Party is trying to associate itself with modernity and the middle class. The BJP has managed to convince the rural population, which makes up the majority of the electorate, to aspire for a more modern India. With popular gimmicks, the NDA leaders have succeeded in rewriting the rules of the political game to the extent that the results of Election 2004 seem like a foregone conclusion.

The BJP has always been self-professed as a Hindutva  (Hindu fundamentalist) Party. It is now slowly trying to change its fundamentalist image and appear secular. The first step is to woo all sections of votes, especially the Muslim.  The Muslim voter, however, is wary of the BJP-led NDA.  At a minority convention recently, the party admitted that the Gujarat riots,  were a blemish on its record; at the same time it asked Muslims to give it another chance to prove its secular intent.  BJP is desperately trying to project itself as a force strongly committed to peace with the Pakistan and its Muslim neighbours.

The Congress was the umbrella party that dominated Indian politics for 47 years, running a near one-party show.   The 119-year old party has relied heavily on the Nehru-Gandhi legacy but now finds itself in a quandary over its leadership. Party President Sonia Gandhi is being projected as the Prime Ministerial Candidate. However, her Italian origin has been a bone of contention among many leaders, including former Congressmen Mr. Sharad Pawar and other potential alliance partners. Mr. Sharad Pawar went on to form his own party, the Nationalistic Congress Party (NCP). Downplaying Sonia's bid to premiership has allowed the Congress to keep its options open. It has also not allowed the BJP to turn the polls into a contest between Prime Minister Vajpayee and Sonia.  "We need to debate if a foreigner can occupy a high office" the Prime Minister has said. 

The Communist parties comprising the Left Front, the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M) are set to play a small but significant role in this year's general elections.

Though both the CPI and the CPI-M are 'national' parties in the technical sense, they have political clout only in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. The CPI was a key player in national politics until just five years ago and was instrumental in keeping the United Front government together.

The results of the Lok Sabha (India's Parliament) elections will be crucial in determining the Congress party's future in Indian politics. Its manifesto clearly outlines the party's aim of defeating the ruling coalition with the slogan – BJP Hatao, Desh Bachao (Remove BJP, Save the country) slogan.

The CPI-M too has an anti-NDA agenda. Though it differs with the Congress on economic issues, it is willing to support the party on secular issues. The CPI-M's election manifesto is critical of the BJP and the policies of the NDA government.  The party says that all secular forces should unite to defeat the BJP led NDA.

These are the main issues in the General Elections this year. Manifestos with tall claims and big pledges are all about promises and pious intentions.

On 22nd February '04, at the Fellowship of Catholic Professionals, Chennai, Mr. N. Ram, Editor-in Chief of The Hindu, stated that there is no possibility of a single party rule in the country in the conceivable future and that the current trend of coalition government would continue. Mr. Ram said that the BJP cannot win the polls and form a government on its own easily.  According to him, that it will sweep the polls is just hype, rather than a real possibility.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) is asking voters to focus on the individual candidates for the elections and has issued an appeal that "Every voter has the responsibility to vote for a person who: respects life from womb to tomb as a precious masterpiece of God's creation; stands for and is led by values that promote human dignity, social equality, religious harmony and national integrity; will protect the fundamental rights of all citizens as guaranteed in the Constitution of India; will work for the over all development of the poor and the marginalized; will preserve and promote social cohesion, communal harmony and cultural plurality, will genuinely address the social problems as um-employment, discrimination against certain sections of society and religious fundamentalism; will endeavor to remove corrupt unethical practices in all levels of society, will promote the religious values and will not exploit religion for sectarian and divisive purposes."

We will see how the electorate decides.


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