A new Indian President will be elected on July 19. It used to be an important but a rather ritual occasion due to the fact the presidential functions were rather “ceremonial”. Now the situation has dramatically changed to influence the country’s life to great extent…
The presidential candidates struggle is taking place against the background of economic woes striking India. Normally the economic growth falling below 7% is seen as hard times for the country. It’s a strictly defined realistic guideline for the government and the opposition. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh thinks it’s a political minimum required for social life without visible conflicts. According to our 2012 forecasts based on the data of Reserve bank of India, various rating agencies and the International Monetary Fund, the predicted growth is to amount to 7-8%. Now it’s 6,5%, we don’t think the lacking one percent could be “gained”, if I may say so, till the end of the year.
Actually the falling growth is catastrophic for India because the elite of the country is accustomed to think in practical categories unlike the politicians of other countries. The crisis started quite a long ago. The particular role of India’s party system should be stressed here, because it has always shaped the social life of the country due to its flexibility. The Indian National Congress Party has a special role to play, the Indian society becomes more diversified while the party gets more fragmented. Pran Chopra, a well known Indian journalist and sociologist, has compared the social basis of the Indian National Congress with snow on a Russian branchy fir tree in calm weather: the snow slowly falls down and branches get bare. The branches have “become bare” now, and the Indian National Congress has appeared to be much weakened in its present form. To say a word, some political analysts predict it won’t get strong support in 2014, 25-26% perhaps, no more.
The Indian National Congress received a 28% support of those who came to vote in the last elections in 2009. Let me point out the both parties: the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, have weak positions across the Indian political specter. Anyway, the laws of any country based on a two factions or two parties political pattern envisage at least two thirds of overall support rendered to the dominating parties what is required to provide social stability. That’s what global experience says. If so, one can strike deals with allies, manipulate small and medium parties exerting corresponding effective influence on them.
Obviously the split up and diversification of India’s party system started since the 1967 elections, when the Indian National Congress suffered its first serious defeat but retained its hold on power. Ten years passed. Burdened by vicissitudes related to the state of emergency the Congress lost its monopoly on power for the first time. Further the split up process was somewhat spurred. In essence today we have the United Front, minority coalition government as in 1996. No agile political moves are able to stop the social and political fragmentation process. Actually we face the second and the third phases of shaping the new party system. In the case of India the trajectory of political balance reshuffle is much more complicated than in the “enlightened” Europe in its time.
At first everything appeared to go its way right following the “European” pattern. It’s a two blocks or two parties system that already exists or is taking place in Germany, Italy or Austria. The two poles system meets the requirements of the major part of the population. But there is a complex and contradictory situation taking shape in India deviating away from European “standards”.
The Indian National Congress returned to power in 2004. It remained a ruling force in 2009 to great extent due to the fact that the most active and decisive majority of middle class voters decided to vote according to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” saying. No matter a person of age Manmohan Singh is a competent politician, he knows better the needs of the Indian economy and, correspondingly, the voters. It was visible back then when the two party system was taking shape moving over a bumpy road. In 2009 it was already seen when the two biggest parties received overall less than 50% of the votes: 28% plus 18%. 28% for the Indian National Congress and 18% in case of Bharatiya Janata Party conditionally sticking to national-conservative course. At the same time the regional parties got 37% of votes in 2004. No matter quite different in principle they could politically come of accord and join together but only in some indefinite future. In any case the tendency of regional forces rise was corroborated in 2009, over a third of voters deprived the leading parties of their support because they no longer met their aspirations.
M.J. Akbar, a leading Indian writer, holds his own opinion. He’s a renowned intellectual raised from the ranks of the Indian National Congress influenced by Indira Gandhi back then. Right after the 2009 he suggested that the internal political situation shouldn’t be dramatized. According to the analyst’s view a ‘semi-final phase” of the party system’s development will come into force in 2014 moving to the phase of planned unfolding of events at the 2019 election. The two blocks system will reach its “logic” final starting to effectively function.
The logic of the party and political system development doesn’t define everything. The Indian voters’ demands are growing, especially in case of underclass that is all stratum and groups “under” the middle class according to social structure. The last thirty years they have gone through the process of political socialization, accelerated political development. They demand their share of the overall states’ resources. That’s exactly the main difficulty for Indian political circles. The Indian middle class makes up 300 million people, all others, about 500 million, are (except the poorest stratum) underclass going from passive stance to organized activities. The regional and subregional parties partially meet the interests of this organized part of society.
It’s not an easy task to forecast their social aspirations and political behavior. There have been glitches in the Indian political and administrative process lately. Russian companies, like MTS in particular, face the hurdles. Sometimes it seems that the decisions are impossible to take, the government wants to do things it promises but to no avail. The political control is paralyzed. To great extent the reason is the new process of political activization of Indian “lower stata” (around half a billion) people. It is acompanied by strengthening the presidency reflecting the will of influential forces to preserve unity and territorial integrity of the country and to cement from “above” the major institutes of state going through a transitional period.
As I see it we face a new social and political process. Evidently the process had started before the dramatic events of 1975 when Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed tried to avoid a new state of emergency. But Indira Gandhi’s will power, authority and even passionarity, if you will, did it. The President had to concede.
The second phase of presidency’s development as an institution started in 1987-1992 during the Ramaswamy Venkataraman’s “tenure”. Four prime ministers changed in five years: Rajiv Gandhi, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, Chandra Shekhar, Narasimha Rao. It was something unheard of in the country boasting a stable political party system. Naturally, he worked in the trade unions as much as he could and possessed the experience of matching different interests. Those days he tried to be a mediator between social-political forces and the parties representing them. Then some political scholars expressed an opinion the presidency was a factor of “social forces balance in the conditions of growing political fragmentation”.
A period of vigorous economic growth started at the beginning of the 1990s. The reforms implemented by Dr Manmohan Singh made it steady increasing up to 7-8% by the beginning of the 2000s, sometimes even reaching 9% a year. The vigorous economic growth froze the Indian society’s conflicts for some time. However, the diversification of private-property classes and contradictions of capitalist development, temporarily assuaged by economic growth (it’s not eternal even in Japan and China) are evident in India today.
It raises the question: why Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is adamant in pursuit of the figure 9% of economic growth? Because nine is seven plus two. And because according to estimates of many leading economists (politically secure) 7% a year is minimum for nations in transition (proven by Egypt before the 2011 revolution). Now Russia has come to the opinion the economic growth in the country is to be no lower than 6-7%. Academician Abel Aganbegyan has written recently in World Economy and International Relations magazine (2012) the index should be a political guideline for Russian powers that be. Otherwise the situation becomes dramatic and not in India only. The internal political crisis gets aggravated under the influence of the following factors:
First, a part of “higher ups” want to change the government laying the blame for contradictions brought about by economic development on someone else. It is taking place as a result of joining the world economy too rapidly (some critics on the Left say it’s even reckless). A lot of problems and contradictions that India has managed to overcome on its own now come into the open and take most dramatic forms, as renowned development strategy scholars Leo Reissner and Glery Shirokov anticipated.
Second, raising the issue of responsibilities divided between the president and the prime minister is inevitable. Will they overlap? How will it function in the conditions of prolonged economic slowdown? As I see it the absence of inertia of rapid economic growth makes impossible evolutionary approach to reforms at present. It should be understood that any reform adversely affects, at least initially, the interests of significant groups of population. Who among the Indian elites is ready to risk the political career at present before the election? That’s what defines the expectation. No surprise the Indian opposition leaders appear to be ready “to give” the presidency away to the Indian National Congress to make it responsible for future changes and inevitable social implications. Perhaps they’ll outperform Indian National Congress during the 2014 parliamentary election.
Third, whoever becomes the President of India it should be an experienced person having authority within the main social and political forces. No doubt the Indian political class will display the inherent common sense. The new candidate will match the new role of the presidency in society. The whole burden of responsibility for continuing reforms and preservation of the desired economic growth pattern (“seven plus two”) will fall on his shoulders.