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India's Elections Reveal New Trends

Posted by: Mehul Srivastava on May 16, 2009

After India’s colorful and chaotic election ended Saturday, where still-incomplete results saw the Congress party squeeze out spectacular gains to emerge as the largest single winner, the soul-searching and analysis will focus on a few specific themes that have emerged.

Looking at the results, a few trends are already revealing enough to pay attention to:

1) Rahul Gandhi’s emergence as a leader in his own right. Rahul is the son of assassinated ex-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his Italian wife, Sonia Gandhi, who now heads the Congress coalition. He’s seen in India as the Prime-minister in waiting (read this excellent profile on him by the Wall Street Journal. Subscription required if you are outside India), and if these elections were a test of his popularity, he just got an A+. In Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state by population and amongst its most impoverished, Rahul campaigned almost-non stop, won his ancestral seat and decimated the opposition. The Congress party picked up 21 out of the 80 seats, the latest results show, reversing its slide and surprising the two local parties which had campaigned on the basis of caste. His giant-slaying turn put an end to the dreams of Bahujan Samajwadi Party leader Naini Kumari Mayawati’s of laying a claim to national prominence – she had expected the BSP to win enough seats to be a key coalition ally. Instead, voters reduced her previous seat-count by nearly half. Mayawati is still the single-largest party in UP, but by just one seat.

2) Voter ambivalence towards reforms. Indian politicians who are reform friendly find it difficult to get rural voters to support them. Palaniappan Chidambaram, who in two turns as finance minister did perhaps the most to westernize India’s economy, might lose his seat. But Praful Patel, the reformist aviation minister, who energized India’s airlines industry and BusinessWeek profiled last week, will likely win his first Lok Sabha (House of the People) seat since 1999. Others, like G.R. Gopinath, who launched India’s first low-cost airline, lost his first bid, as did several other middle-class candidates, like an ABN AMRO banker.

3) The temporary end of the Left parties hold on national politics. With 60 seats in the last parliament, the left, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had been a key ally for the Congress coalition and the bane of business. They fought financial reforms, labor reforms and land reform. But in their stronghold of West Bengal, which has democratically elected communist parties to the state government from 1969 onwards, they were defeated in several seats by a Congress ally, the firebrand Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress, reducing their parliament seats to just about 25. “It is in fact, a very big dissapointment, a setback,” CPI (M) politburo member Sitaram Yechury told CNN-IBN television. “And I think this is a reflection of times.”
Banerjee, who has been in and out of national prominence, spent much of last year on the front pages of Indian newspapers for forcing Tata Motors to move its Nano plant out of West Bengal. Now, with 19 seats, she has emerged as a national leader and will likely receive a plum cabinet post.

4) The failure of the Bharatiya Janata Party to galvanize voters by focusing on a Hindu-focused concept of Indianness, and by attacking the current government over terrorism. It remains India’s second largest political party, but lost 17 seats. Party president LK Advani will likely quit, BJP spokesperson Arun Jaitley told television reporters. In the succession battle, Narendra Modi, who is currently chief minister, was thrust forward as the next leader of the BJP, and he campaigned nationally. The defeat puts his future in national politics in some doubt, but five years is a long time, and he is known to be politically savvy.

5) The vastly entertaining Indian political theater will mature in ways different from western politics. From elephants and film stars at rallies that can draw as many as 800,000 people, to the soundtrack from Slumdog Bollywood, which the Congress party blared out during its star-studded appearances, Indian politics are colorful in ways that confuse outsiders. A serious Indian television news channel played the catchy soundtrack to the hit film Singh Is Kinng as it became apparent that Manmohan Singh had been returned to power.
It can seem silly, but maybe that’s one of the reasons that India also has some of the highest voter turnouts globally – as many as 62% of the country’s 712 million voters got their forefingers stained by indelible ink at polling booths, waving their fingers at photographers as they walked out. In Gir Forest in central India, the election commission staffed a full polling station for the forest’s solitary resident; in New Delhi’s Jangpura neighborhood, several thousand voters waited patiently in the blazing heat to pick out a winner (Congress, as it turned out to be).

Reader Comments


May 16, 2009 1:12 PM

It's every five years (barring exceptions)


May 16, 2009 3:12 PM

good bye to


May 16, 2009 5:39 PM

Saffron not bad but hate not good. BJP's quite scary being that they are the Hindu taleban.


May 16, 2009 6:04 PM

Jo Bole So Nihal! Sat Sri Akal!

Major News

May 16, 2009 7:08 PM

Hello, the world's biggest democracy and a future come CNN, Fox News, Msnbc and all the other major US networks doesn't have it on their front page? Do Americans care?


May 16, 2009 8:06 PM

To see the revival of Congress as a national party is the best thing that happened in this election. I was moved to tears seeing the old glory of Congress slowly coming back.
Going back to late 1980, what VP Singh did with Mandal commision (however well intentioned his motives may be) has essentially pushed India down the slippery slope of caste based parties and fractured mandates based on religion/caste. I think India is slowly healing itself from this state. Kudos to our democracy, not the perfect but the greatest. Love India and its democracy inspite of all its imperfections is still overall the best best for our nation.


May 16, 2009 8:34 PM

It's good to see political stability in India when it's neighbors pakistan and sri lanka are having war & economy troubles. Hope Indian politicians put little focus on stabilizing neighboring areas as it's in it's own interest too.


May 16, 2009 9:44 PM

Jai Ho India! Good choice. You always continue to amaze me and inspire me.


May 16, 2009 10:17 PM

India has just shown one of the greatest demaocratic shows to the world.It was a gracefull execution of the democratic process with immense complexities which no poolster have been able to predict the results accurately for last few elections.Its still evolving and good thing is that it is in positive direction. It has shown that no matter how diverse and complex the demographic is but it is the democracy which unites people and bring there common expressions to the front.

ian werdo

May 16, 2009 10:24 PM

"Great points. Thanks for sharing that info. But really its goodbye to advani and good for us. And of course welcome to congress! yeah! federal tax lien search


May 16, 2009 10:40 PM

Manmohan is the right man for PM post. He is the only one who can improve Indian economy through some more bold reforms. Compared to China, India has long way to go in improving roads, education, power, jobs,infrastructure agriculture and drinking water.

S. Simon

May 16, 2009 11:12 PM

Let's hope that this becomes a worldwide trend - get rid of violent power hungry religious fanatics posing as politicians and vote in governments dedicated to caring about the secular needs of the masses such as employment, food, clothing, and shelter. We are all mortal beings.

Probal DasGupta

May 16, 2009 11:41 PM

A small correction: West Bengal has democratically elected Communist parties to power only since 1977, and not since the 60's. Congress was consistently in power, but Indira Gandhi's EMERGENCY put an end to that, and the Congress has never returned to power in the State ever since.


May 17, 2009 1:03 AM

The BJP has always been ahead of its times in its manifesto and campaign strategy. India is not ready for development based politics. Every great democracy needs alternatives so that the country can take giant leaps ahead with fresh perspective and strong leadership. For a country which does not have any debates on national television and where 80% of educated middle class do not vote it will always be a stable socialistic representative party which will get elected. The ideas on development and pride of selfless service that BJP cherishes are endearing...its time will come when India is Ready for thinking big. Just read their campaign manifesto...It is the right leadership and vision....just not for the current audience..


May 17, 2009 1:10 AM

Hats off to congress !! Welcome the congress to make INDIA as one of the developed country in the world...


May 17, 2009 1:34 AM

The Country men has simply given the verdict for Congress and its allies and fullfilled Indira Ji's dreams .
Now that Manmohan ji'has abundant respect and more are expected from his associates.
Ruling out poverty and development of infrastructure , security and stability , Poor man's justice in front of the rich.
Above all a full religious freedom and economical stability and improve quality of living and become a super power in 2020 as per president Abdul Kalams dreams.
Hope to achieve and prove in front of the world community we can live united among diversity ,
WE praise God for His mercy towards India and may His grace shall shower blessings to the people of India and , May His wisdom be given to the leaders and especially Ms.Sonia Ji ManMohan ji and Rahulji.
May I suggest it is time to Honour Priyanka Ji as her efforts too added the support to Rahul and Sonia when the opponents


May 17, 2009 2:13 AM

The congress won by using the basics of something called Game Theory. I will explain....Firstly to win next time the BJP needs to reinvent itself and position itself away from the right next to the centre over the next 5 years....reason being the Median Voter Theorem as studied in Political Science. The way to get the maximum votes is to position itself just next to the gradation to the right to differentiate itself from the congress...In GAME THEORY the strategy which remains after all the dominated strategies get eliminated because your opponent will always select the dominating strategy. This means in the case of a completely left wing party it will lose all the votes on the 'center and the right' and similarly the right wing will lose all the votes on the 'Left and the Center'. In a highly populated country like India the best strategy is to fight from the CENTER...GET THIS and YOU HAVE THE SECRET TO WINNING NEXT TIME...The masters of this political science have won this election...Next time you can get the chance to make the honest difference you have been waiting to make in this country's destiny.This is the SECRET.


May 17, 2009 2:33 AM

My father was an Indian civil servant. I have watched him and his colleagues for more than 20 years working as election officials. They all had their political choices but when it came to election duty they would forget all their personal leanings and work independently and honestly (even the corrupt ones) and that continues even today. Lowly paid lowly trained lowly motivated they were otherwise but when it comes to elections they were different and committed. Their role and contributions for the free and fair elections has not been recognised enough


May 17, 2009 3:39 AM

Rahul Gandhi is nothing but a flunker who never accomplished anything while partying away at college abroad. Now this overgrown fratboy is being groomed for power, like some kind of Prince-in-waiting. I'm completely disgusted with India's so-called "democracy", which certainly doesn't live up to the quality of international standards.

So much for "brand India"! Indians want to pretentiously pose as a "knowledge superpower" when they can't even get the fundamentals right, and throw off primitive nepotism and hereditary rule!
Certainly the greedy and corrupt Congress partymen prefer the safety and surety of hereditary succession, which gives them the job security and perks of power they crave!

By trying to promote hereditary succession, and spinning it as some kind of great achievement, spin-doctors like Mehul Srivastava are going way too far, and throwing their own credibility out the window. India was formed as a Republic, which means its governing institutions aren't supposed to be organized around a royal family or monarchy, and yet the sycophantic fawning over the Nehru-Gandhi hereditary line makes an absolute mockery of this. What a tool of the establishment Srivastava shows himself to be.

I'm so deeply embarrassed and ashamed that this is the best India could do. It's really an embarrassment to be an Indian these days.

kaliprasad panda

May 17, 2009 4:37 AM


Bhishma Varadarajan

May 17, 2009 5:46 AM

The Authors conclusions are shallow and in haste and not holistic - on the Results of this elections.
While Rahuls is emerging as a leader, level headed, stable and ofcourse well educated and has a sharp mind, It is well too early to declare him a Mass Indian leader and still lot more needed to be proved by him.
Its shortsighted to attribute a congress revival to him only by many including the author .
IN my view - The non-rural Indian voters already pissed off in this Recession , got quite annoyed at the emergence of a hyper active third front of small power hungry, selfish Regional groups getting mobilised by left and some - self mobilised (like lalu,Paswan,Mulayam)- scurried to find a national party which was in a best position to form a government.
At the start of the election, congress had most probability toemerge largest block and more scenarios to reach power after this elections than NDA….....and NDA was late in the contest.
There was neither a wave existed or invented towards NDA as Vajpayee had/did and nor a undercurrent of anti incumbency against congress.
Even if that existed mildly due to the Recession - got swiftly and subtly redirected against third front.
As Economic times mentioned, Farmers had a good bumper last 5 years due to monsoon and good price also for their produce due to inflationary times.
and labours and workers lately had more income to beat prices..mainly due to NGREGS schemes(now know why still congress manages AP,TN,WB??)
To Add to that- Advani - by choosing to pick up a fight against clean imaged MM singh, ended up highlighting MM Singh as a clean Hope for the Indians.
The Indians figured out "TINA" - There is no credible nationalistic alternative- to congress/MM singh.
Added to that is a strong Alliance partner like mamta who used the Karat sent oppurtunity to decimate Left.
In south- karnataka state still voted for the alternate National party BJP, while State of Tamil nadu did not have another option for a National party , than Congress- to vote for. Infact BJP's loss of its own seats where it was strong - is marginal .
In TN , as a matter of fact elections were so tightly contested , neck and results/margins of victory for NON-DMK won,NOn Vaiko seats show.
Only DMK managed very comfortable victory margins,in the constituencies it won- mainly because of its organisational ability at booth and ward level,strong Money power that it had. Infact more the money spent- more was the Margin - eg- M.K Azhagire - who indiscriminately spent and got a v v high victory margin among DMK candidates…Where as several congress ministers from TN lost - even the high profile P.Chidambaram won marginally.
TN was a state where there was some anti incumbency against DMK ,but had only a third front alternative to vote for centre, which voters did not...
ADMK though won some significant seats,it could not convert thatfully inits favour, in this National election….. because ..TINA ...
So the leader emerged from this elections is actually a Team (as Rahul himself said) - MM, Sonia, Rahul, Mamta, TINA ……not just Rahul.
Still Rahul has a lot to prove- more to do in non Cow Belt( even in cow belt - excl UP).
There is still this unreached south for him ( BUT for AP where anyway YSR is the King of this victory aided by -ofcourse - a Nationalist party image and his strong performance)
So - Its a Vote for Nationalistic party(in North South East west india) for stability and clear economic direction which was churned by "THE TEAM"
And BJP- always reads Indians wrong, despite its battery of suave, sophisticated leaders – who normally come up with a convincing analys why they lost… after the polls..on the hindsight….

ram Krishna

May 17, 2009 9:07 AM

To Sanjay;

I am sorry you feel so embarrassed to be Indian these days Sanjay. Why don't you do something about it?

I for one am absolutely loving being Indian again after spending 10 years in New York and coming back last year. I find Indians in some ways more open minded, assimilating, accommodating that my erstwhile neighbors in the US. I only find confused souls like you in the cities. In the villages and towns, they seem to be very happy with their identities and comfort levels of their citizenship.

Funny, you talk about International Standards. I am not sure what standards you talk about??..If there is any country which can set standards ideologically on what an accommodating and diverse democracy is in this world, then it is India. It took 200 odd years for America to elect a black man as a president..150 odd years to elect a catholic. I just hope it doesn't take another 150 years for my friends out in the US to elect a woman. I am really not sure if there is another country in this world where the same level of diversity can be matched, unless you organize an election for the entire continent of Asia may be.

Given what we are today, I am immensely proud of a transition of power that is smooth and swift. It only shows India's unshakably strong democratic ethos and the world should learn from us.

So your cribbing is noted. Now do something about it. Or you will end up embarrassing yourselves no matter what country's citizen you will end up being.


May 17, 2009 10:38 AM

Sanjay: "I'm so deeply embarrassed and ashamed that this is the best India could do. It's really an embarrassment to be an Indian these days."

Whom did you vote for Sanjay?


May 17, 2009 1:17 PM

India needs a non-left-wing news network. The US had horrendous biases in its media coverage too, until Rupert Murdoch came on the scene. Until India gets some balance in its news media, the playing field will continue to be tilted towards the Left, especially the over half-century old Congress establishment.


May 17, 2009 1:18 PM

It is inaccurate to say that Mr. Chidambaram found it difficult to get elected because rural voters did not vote for him.

In TamilNadu there were strong local reasons which led to the defeat of many Congress candidates. There was a targeted campaign against Congress candidates in TN because of the eelam issue. Mr. Chidambaram also had his constituency altered because of the recent delimitation.

So it is not right for the author to correlate the difficulties Mr. Chidambaram had with the electorate to reform friendliness. I don't think that is the reason at all.

There are many such inaccuracies in this article, and I would suggest the author to do his homework before drawing to conclusions.

Rahul Prasad

May 17, 2009 2:18 PM

Here are the major parties in India.
Congress - corrupt.
BJP - communalists.
Left parties(CPI, CPI(M)) - Obtuse and ideologically inflexible.

You just want to hope now that enough will get by the grabbing hands in Congress party to reach the common man.


May 17, 2009 4:27 PM

What new trends? I just saw the same old party and the same old Gandhi family


May 17, 2009 7:40 PM

If ur so embarrassed to be an Indian, go shoot urself in the head. Better still, become an American citizen and be proud of ur imperialistic heritage.
I abhor people like u, who speak of change from their couches at the same time deriding the person who will try. If u have such a problem with the Gandhi family, who dont u contest the elections urself and replace them with somebody better. The electorate has voted for economic and social prosperity. Be it a Gandhi or somebody else. Completely immaterial. U DO embarrass urself. But not in the way u think. Jai Hind.

Pink Floyd

May 17, 2009 8:06 PM

"Communalist" - a word invented by the commies. What does it mean? People have been fighting for their religion for thousands of years. Commies (and that too Indian commies) are basically cowards - they will never have the courage to call Bin Ladin - "Communalist".


May 17, 2009 8:24 PM

Congress won the elections,great congrats.
But We have to understand that Media is pro congress, if riots happen under congress rule nobody makes an issue of it,media is silent.Congress was ruling india when kashmiri pandits had to flee Their home, when sikhs were massacred in north, when riots happened in Hyderabad.No body from Congress gets arrested and infact they will be given clean chit.
If the same happens in BJP Rule media keeps the fire burning or the next 100 years and will work to convey the message that BJP has no other work than having communal india .
Hope BJP will start re organising their communication with people of india as BJP is still the Best party of india


May 17, 2009 9:53 PM

Ram Krishna,

What part of "overgrown fratboy" and "flunker" do you not understand the implications of? Rahul Gandhi is both, and worse.

Stop deluding yourself into believing that Indians elected a woman as PM ahead of the US because they're somehow ahead of the US in treatment of women. In a country with so many bride-burnings every year, you're just fooling yourself with delusions of grandeur.

Indians elected a woman as PM because she was part of "The Family" -- ie. she was part of the ugly hereditary succession line that defines the Congress Party. Had no other Nehru-Gandhi been alive at the time, the greedy partymen would have trotted out the family dog to put on the party throne.

In a country that was formed as a republic, so that its governing institutions were not to be based around a monarchy or royal family, this ugly behavior by the Congress Party is an absolute mockery of the values of a republic.

But what else is new from a people so used to putting on airs at every opportunity?

The same Congress Party that plays the "Jai Ho" song at its campaign rallies and celebrates "SlumDog Millionaire" as a "triumph of Indian culture" is not noticing that the child star's home got bulldozed while they were celebrating.
Do you not see the perverse stupidity in that?

Wake up and smell the dung, people.


May 17, 2009 10:51 PM


Here are the major parties in India:

Congress - corrupt kleptocracy
Media - completely in Congress' hip pocket
Vote Banks - communalists
Left Parties - barbarians, cavemen, desperate for vote banks, still worshipping Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro
Regional Parties - local banana republic strongmen
BJP - totally hostage to all the above


May 18, 2009 1:57 AM

One good outcome is that the "two-bit-nothings" a.k.a the "Third/Fourth/Nth front" have been consigned to irelevance for the next 5 years at least. But it is a bad portent for India to still tolerate the dynastic s..t that is the Congress. With upa in power, Armed Forces' morale will be eroded (OROP pending since long), terrorism will flourish (no going after and eliminating ISI modules), Hinduism will be vilified ("No existence of Ram"); unbridled "conversion" business, communalism will flourish (remember, "Muslims have the first right on the nation's resources" statement?), and of course, corruption will scale new heights (already the idiotic indian public have forgotten that a "spectrum allocation scandal" took place... not to forget that Mr. Quattrocchi was given a safe exit at the order of Mrs. G...) - and still people think that this Woman mohan sing will be a "strong PM".... quite funny how hope triumphs over experience...


May 18, 2009 4:34 AM

ha ha ha ha .......indeed its a big joke........Mr.Gandhi had canvassed for a candidate near the city of Hyderabad and that candidate had miserably performed coming 3rd in the list of votes polled.

Mr.Gandhi is not a representative of a democratic form of govt. rather an autocratic form of govt. where the dynastic people rule the landmass rather than an elected people in a democracy.

The so called congress will disintegrate the day the scions of the gandhi family are dead.

They still go to votes saying that my great grand father brought independence to india, my grand mother did that and my father did that..........rather than asking votes on what they did.

Its been 60 years since india got independence, 35 years since Mrs.Gandhi assassinated, 17 years since Mr.Rajiv gandhi gotassassinated.......still the congress party and its subjects still clamour in the by gone era.

The Nehru family had brought the nation by donating a house to the congress party.......they are still nostalgic about the accomplishments of their grand mother, great grand father like in autocracy rather than asking votes on the basis of their performance and what they intend to do in future.

Veerendra Jote

May 18, 2009 2:20 PM

Yes elections were conducted and i'm happy that only One party got the majority of the votes, so that the single party is held responsible. I personally don't like that congress came into power, but lets give them a chance and see what happens next. Since this decision of the people cannot be reversed till another 5 years, we need to make the best of whatever leadership we have.
India Seriuosly needs to come out of family throne mentality, this is supposed to be democracy and i'm ashamed that we Indians were not able to find someone capable from a party other than Congress.


May 18, 2009 2:23 PM

Sanjay, I agree with your views completely. Although, I do think that the BJP now needs to trasnsform into a more media-friendly and not media bashing party which is made out to be this Muslim killing party. The whole ganging up of parties like the Left and the Lalu's and the Paswan's makes it into this demonic party which it is surely not!!
And on the other hand, you have the savvy PR exercise which Rahul ji and Madam do..that completely mesmerises the Indian public..Good media management is what the BJP needs..asap!!

kirit shah

May 18, 2009 2:56 PM

to ram Krishna,
You are reading wrong messages from India as well as USA. If you look at USA's system, people who are corrupt get punished. USA system is problem solving system based on meritocracy. There is no dynastical rule. Overall in USA, people who are hard working, educate themselves have better life. At least people are able to have basic necessities and if not, government takes of them. It is congress which have ruled India
Most of time since independence. Fro most of the people, India is not changed since independence and poverty is same as in 1950. Blame that to Congress.


May 20, 2009 3:12 PM

sonia gandhi thinks only for development of india so it is good to see UPA party lead the india,future is other party(NDA)only play the political game a bad game.


May 27, 2009 11:12 AM

If you learn something from the British is how they broke the backbone of India.. By marketing their English... They promoted their culture and finally coquered India..

So to conquer TRUE DEMOCRACY one has to break the backbone of POLITICAL POWER...

How can you acheive that? Here is the receipe...

Demand laws in India which says that
1) PM should be elected by people
2) Demand laws which says that Police Commissioner should be elected by people
3) Demand law that say's politician cannot stand for ELECTIONS FROM TWO CITIES.. They should represent one single costituency in India
4) Demand law that says the same person cannot be PM or CM or Mayor more than twice
5) Demand law which says that judiciary should also be interpreted in local language
6) Demand law that holds the media accountable if they involve into false reporting or intentiomal misleding

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