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India’s Decade of Decay

NEW DELHI – Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has been in office since 2004, recently held what was only the second press conference of his current five-year term, which is rapidly approaching an inglorious end. Betraying his yearning for approval, Singh told the assembled journalists that he hoped that history would judge his tenure more kindly than his political adversaries do.

That outcome seems unlikely, at best. On the contrary, Singh’s once-great Congress party is now at a political impasse, from which it can escape only if it frees itself from its destructive dynastic leadership. After more than a half-century in government – much of India’s modern life as an independent country – the era of Congress dominance appears to be over.

Perhaps the clearest indication of the party’s decline occurred in December, when it suffered crushing defeats in four key state-assembly elections. In Rajasthan, Congress won only 21 seats, while India’s second-largest political force, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won 162. This represents a massive shift from the 2008 election, when Congress gained 96 seats, compared to the BJP’s 78.

Likewise, in Delhi, Congress was reduced to just eight of 70 seats after 15 years in power, with even Sheila Dikshit, Delhi’s longest-serving Chief Minister, losing her seat to a political newcomer. Only in the small northeastern state of Mizoram did Congress retain its majority.