Thursday 27 March 2014

India’s election: Seasons of abundance

Nguồn tin:

LICK your lips: mangoes are coming into season in Andhra Pradesh, piled up on roadside fruit stalls. Hyderabadis claim theirs are the country’s sweetest. So too are the bribes paid by the state’s politicians to get people to vote. Since early March state police have seized more money from politicians aiming to buy votes—590m rupees ($10m)—than the rest of India combined. An excited local paper talks of “rampant cash movement”, reporting that police do not know where to store the bundles of notes, bags of gold and silver, cricket kits, saris and lorry-loads of booze.

Andhra Pradesh, India’s fifth most populous state, is due to hold an impressive series of polls in the next few weeks—municipal elections and then both state-assembly and national ones. Many politicians keep up old habits by paying voters, especially rural ones, to turn out. A villager can stand to pocket a handy 3,000 rupees per vote. Economists predict a mini-boom in consumer goods.

If this is the lamentable face of Indian politicking, the hopeful side is that, increasingly, skulduggery is being pursued. A worker with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Hyderabad says police looking for illicit cash stopped and searched her car five times in a single drive one day last week.

This may be because in Andhra Pradesh, unusually, politicians are not currently running the show. The state is under “president’s rule”, with bureaucrats in charge, ahead of its breaking into two on June 2nd. Then, a new state, Telangana, will emerge to become India’s 29th, covering much of the territory once ruled by the Nizams of Hyderabad, the fabulously wealthy Muslim dynasty whose reign India’s army ended in 1948. A rump coastal state gets to keep the name Andhra Pradesh. For a decade Hyderabad will serve as joint capital.

The split will have a bearing on the national election. In 2009 the ruling coalition, the United Progressive Alliance, led by Congress, returned to national office on the back of two whopping southern victories. Congress scooped 33 seats in Andhra Pradesh, more than in any other state. Its ally next door in Tamil Nadu, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), got 18 seats. Both now face heavy defeats. “The south’s biggest impact nationally will be negative, in not voting for Congress”, says K.C. Suri of Hyderabad University.

Congress’s misery in Andhra Pradesh is self-inflicted. The party got India’s president and parliament to approve Telangana’s statehood in the past month, after years of drama. Yet it has won little credit for its pains. Analysts in Hyderabad say that a rival group, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, will take more seats because, given the choice, people prefer a local party. Worse for Congress, the new state looks to be energising its national opponent, the BJP. That party’s tousle-haired state president, Kishan Reddy, talks of imminently becoming the chief opposition in Telangana and then, by appealing to non-Muslims, running the state in five years.

As for Andhra Pradesh’s eastern seaboard, known as Seemandhra, “Congress is…finished” there, says a politician once sympathetic to it. Inept at handling the rise of a young regional strongman, Jaganmohan Reddy, Congress has looked bereft of leadership. Its politicians are defecting daily. The area is known for caste power struggles, crooked businessmen-cum-politicians and film stars with luxuriant moustaches leaping into politics. Against them, Congress struggles with the script.

In Tamil Nadu the DMK will suffer, too, weakened by succession squabbles and scandals. It is the latest instance of an Indian party degenerating into a vehicle for a self-serving family dynasty. Nor can Congress expect to make good elsewhere. In Kerala, where it rules, it is lucky to face Communists in opposition, a party these days short of ideas and leaders. Even so, surveys show support there on the slide, and Congress is likely to lose some parliamentary seats.

Just possibly there is hope for the party in Karnataka. The state is the only southern one where both Congress and the BJP are strong. Last year Congress toppled the BJP in elections for the state assembly. Now the BJP has seemed to stumble over alliances with controversial local figures. On March 23rd the BJP reversed a decision made only hours earlier to induct the leader of a thuggish right-wing Hindu group into the party.

The BJP’s national leaders were also divided over tying up again with a former chief minister of Karnataka, B. S. Yeddyurappa. The party sacked him in 2011 after he was accused in a huge iron-ore mining scam. Now Narendra Modi, the BJP’s national leader, has brought him back, betting that he can deliver voters from the Lingayat Hindu sect. Other national figures, notably Sushma Swaraj, who is emerging as Mr Modi’s strongest rival in the BJP, opposed the move. Mr Yeddyurappa’s presence makes it hard for the party credibly to claim that it is serious about corruption.

Congress has similar issues with allies. But in the south at least it has a likeable torchbearer who is reckoned to be honest. Nandan Nilekani, a billionaire who founded a successful outsourcing company, Infosys, is campaigning for a seat in a wealthy corner of Bangalore, India’s main IT hub. Mr Nilekani describes his experience on the stump as “physically and emotionally punishing”. But he confidently says his tech-heavy campaign and 1,000-plus volunteers will help unseat the long-serving BJP incumbent. In fact, his chances are at best evens. And even a win for Mr Nilekani would probably be an exception to the general prognosis: his party looks like it will get a meagre share.

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