Margaret Scott

India’s Democratic Tempest

The unruly outcome of state-assembly elections in India on March 6 has fueled speculation that the national government might be in jeopardy – and has revived a sense that India may be suffering from too much democracy. But this is the India that Mahatma Gandhi fought to free, and its turbulent politics is well worth celebrating.

NEW DELHI – April might be the cruelest month, but, for India’s major political parties this year, March was fairly brutal. On March 6, following an American-style “Super Tuesday” of its own, India announced the results of five state assembly elections, which confounded pollsters, surprised pundits, and shook a complacent political establishment.

Nothing went according to script. The Congress party was expected to come to power in Punjab, where chronic “anti-incumbency” has traditionally precluded the re-election of any state government. Instead, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal won convincingly. By contrast, in the northeastern state of Manipur, Congress was expected to yield ground to critics of its long-serving chief minister, Okram Ibobi Singh, who instead pulled off an overwhelming victory.

In the tourist paradise of Goa, the Congress government expected to be re-elected, but was trounced by a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Meanwhile, the two parties found themselves neck-and-neck in the hill state of Uttarakhand, with neither claiming a majority, though Congress had been heavily favored in the polls.

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