Leading Article: A new chance for Indian democracy
Wednesday 21 April 1999
Congress, however, has only 139 MPs, well short of the 271 it needs to form a government. Its pool of future leaders is so uninspiring that the party has had to turn to Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born wife of the assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in the hope that her famous surname will give the party some electoral charisma.
But the increase of corruption and regionalism without ideology that has blighted Indian politics has not disappeared with the collapse of the BJP coalition. The BJP was defeated when it lost the support of the 18 MPs from a South Indian party run by Jayaram Jayalalitha. The film actress turned politician is famous not only for her collection of 10,500 saris and 350 pairs of shoes but also for bribes she is alleged to have taken while chief minister of the southern state of Tamil Nadu. She decided to pull out of the government coalition when the BJP refused to sack the present governor of Tamil Nadu, where she and her associates face 48 corruption charges.
The BJP's government was mainly, but not all, bad. It did little to prevent a wave of violence against Christians and continued with nuclear testing. However, it did manage to negotiate February's Lahore Accord with Pakistan, in which India and Pakistan agreed to give advance warning of missile tests. The BJP government brought a measure of stability to India and showed the Congress that it had a fight on its hands. The decision by Congress to pass the BJP's budget has buoyed up the Indian stock-market and gained plaudits for its responsibility. What it really proves is that the parties essentially agree on the economic management of the country.
None the less, it does matter who is in power. The insurance industry, roads and rail all need to be modernised if the economy is to grow. Improvements to India's ailing infrastructure cannot occur without government backing; government backing is impossible when policy is in the hands of short- lived, bickering coalitions.
India's bureaucrats and superb judiciary have saved the country from the army coups and hyper-inflation of South East Asia and South America. But while the economy is still largely run by bureaucrats, it is unable to fulfil its subcontinent-sized potential. India may need to change its political system to the French model - with its combination of president and prime minister - if Indian democracy is to pull out of its spiral of descent.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant