Thursday, February 12, 2015

India's Ruling BJP Party Crushed In Regional Poll

by Ed Butt

Aam Aadmi supporters campaign ing on the streets (Image source)

The Financial Times reports that India's Bharatiya Janata, the party of incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was soundly defeated in the election for the regional assembly of capital city Delhi. Indian news organisations are somewhat dramatically saying the defeat undermines the Modi's reputation for political invincibility. A more down to earth assessment is that the shock result reflects widespread disenchantment with Bharatiya Janata among voters even though the party has only been in power for eight months.

The election was won by Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi (Common Man) party, (AAP) an anti - establishment party comparable in its appeal to UKIP in the UK, Front National in France, Syriza in Greece, Italy's Liga Nord and The Sweden Democrats. Though the parties differ widely in political philosophy, they have in common a willingness to address the concerns of ordinary people rather than representing only the interests of the managerial, professional and academic classes. Kejriwal and his party campaigned against corruption in India, their stance won 67 of Delhi’s 70 assembly seats, with the BJP winning only three.

AAP’s victory was a personal humiliation for Modi after he had thrown his weight behind the BJP’s campaign.

Indian business leaders and foreign investors, in particular the biotech Corporations trying to push GM seeds into India against strong grassroots opposition, remain solidly behind Mr Modi's agenda for developing the economy, even if they are as frustrated by the difficulties the BJP faces in pushing reformist legislation through the Indian parliament.

The middle-class voters of Delhi, however, have declared their preference for Mr Kejriwal and his promise of clean government.

“We are beginning to worry about a strong Modi, and Kejriwal is a low-cost local investment in opposition,” sociology professor Dipankar Gupta said. “For the so-called middle-class and above, some of them are beginning to think we do need some kind of opposition in politics.”

Mr Modi now faces the prospect of Mr Kejriwal emerging as a lightning rod for dissent, especially over controversial policies seen as favouring big business at the expense of ordinary people (our emphasis). The AAP, for example, has already criticised the BJP’s government’s recent land acquisition ordinance, which seeks to make it easier for businesses to acquire farmland for infrastructure and industry.

There is also widespread anger, particularly in rural areas, at the way Modi has cooperated with Monsanto in pushing the Genetically Modified BT Cotton on Indian farmers. Over quarter of a million small farmers have committed suicide since the introduction of GM cotton seed and many of these deaths have been linked to crop failure associated with Monsanto's product.

Others simply see the victory as a shift in power from the elite to the masses.

“You’ll have a party in power in Delhi which has the capacity to mobilise street protests right outside Race Course Road,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Centre for Policy Research, referring to Mr Modi’s official residence. “But it’s a weapon they’ll have to use extremely sparingly, with careful political judgment.”

“The people of Delhi have done something amazing. It’s a victory for honesty and truth,” Mr Kejriwal said while addressing cheering supporters as they celebrated the victory.