With just two phases to go in India’s nine-phase, five-week marathon national election, time may well have run out for India’s ruling Congress Party to hold onto power and prevent the expected landslide victory by India’s conservative Bharatiya Janata Party lead by Narendra Modi.
The seventh phase of the world’s and history’s largest democratic elections took place last week in 89 of the country’s 543 constituencies. The eight and ninth phases take place on May 7 and May 12 respectively, with election authorities promising the announcement of official results on May 16. With more than 80% of the country’s ballots already cast, odds are now so poor for the Congress party to be called upon to form India’s next government that odds makers have stopped taking bets.
While it might be too soon to know the final results, it isn’t too soon for the long knives inside India’s ruling establishment to come out looking for scapegoats to slay. First among equals on that list of those being blamed for their expected trouncing is none other than India’s current leader Manmohan Singh, who has lead India as Prime Minister for nearly ten years. The vitriol to which the mild-mannered, soft-spoken economist-turned-politician is being subjected by his political opponents is not that unusual. What is unusual, however, is that the most risible ridicule and mockery is not coming from Manmohan Singh’s opponents; it is coming from his own camp.
A recent biography of India’s leader, supposedly written to help his former boss by a one-time press spokesman and well known national commentator, has done just the opposite. Reinforcing what many have long suspected, the title of Sanjaya Baru’s book says it all. The Accidental Prime Minister paints the picture of a competent but powerless figure forced to abdicate political authority and key decision-making power to Sonia Gandhi, head of the famous Indian ruling family and mother of Congress’s current party leader and Prime Ministerial candidate Rahul Gandhi.
Baru’s biography claims that one of India’s longest-serving prime ministers was unable to hire or fire members of his own cabinet without Sonia Gandhi’s approval and that Singh, India’s first non-Hindu Prime Minister, did little to nothing to assert the executive authority that India’s voters thought they had given him. Holding only three press conferences in ten years, Singh rarely spoke to the press and when he did had very little to communicate.
The Congress Party is thought to be held in such low esteem by so many Indians at present because the country’s rampant and debilitating public corruption is being blamed for slowing India’s economic growth, which has fallen to roughly 5% annual GDP growth the last two years from an average of more than 8% in Prime Minister Singh’s first eight years in office. Singh did little to confront corrupt politicians and did even less to address growing concerns that such corruption threatened not just the ability of India’s economy to grow, but threatened the very survival of Indian civil society and democracy.
Still, as The Economist notes, Manmohan’s time as India’s prime minister hardly constituted a “lost decade.” The economist-turned-politician did focus much energy on making the case for free markets and liberalization.
During his tenure, India’s GDP more than doubled from just over $2 trillion in purchasing power parity to more than $5.3 trillion per year. That statistic alone saw India leap frog over dozens of nations in the global rankings of economic powerhouses to narrowly best Japan as the world’s third largest economy. While The Economist gives Singh high marks for his country’s success in its relationship with Pakistan, its battle over AIDS, its improved and burgeoning relationship with the United States, it bestows special kudos on the outgoing leader for “embodying” India’s national tradition of tolerance and inclusion.
While he may have embodied India’s ethic of inclusion, India’s voters are on the verge of excluding him from power.