Rao the survivor settles for an April general election


New Delhi

India will hold general elections in April, according to the Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, who is likely to lead his ruling Congress party into what promises to be a fierce and closely-fought campaign.

Even within Congress, few had expected Mr Rao - a compromise candidate chosen hastily by a grief-stricken party after the 1991 assassination of Rajiv Gandhi - to complete his five-year term, let alone run for a second one. Often lampooned as dour, indecisive and aloof, Mr Rao,72, nevertheless is likely to emerge as the party's next leader.

The prospect of having Mr Rao champion the Congress's bid for re-election fills many of his party hopefuls with gloom. Pitted against the Congress party in the elections will be the formidable forces of the Hindu nationalists, the maverick regional parties, the leftists and those groups representing the lower castes in India's social hierarchy.

If elections were held tomorrow, opinion polls show, Congress might easily lose. Mr Rao's economic reforms have failed to trickle down fast enough to the masses, and some experts warn that many of these reforms may be derailed by Mr Rao's attempts to win votes by pushing through new government subsidies and populist measures. No dates in April have yet been fixed for the elections, a bureaucratic exercise of such staggering proportions in this country of 900 million people that it is usually spaced over several days.

The Congress party, which has dominated Indian politics since independence in 1947, may have no choice but to stick with the lacklustre Mr Rao and hope that their opponents self-destruct. A slight chance exists that this may indeed happen. The main party which tried to rally the lower-caste Hindus, the Bahujan Samaj Party, flopped when given the chance to govern Uttar Pradesh state, India's most populous, with more than 120 million people. With the failure of the lower-caste party, Congress is trying to coax back India's poor and downtrodden as well as the country's Muslims, alarmed by the rise of Hindu militancy.

Until several months ago, the main opposition group, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), seemed ready to steamroller Mr Rao. But the BJP, which prided itself on its discipline and honesty, has lately had its image tarnished by messy feuds in Gujarat and other states. The BJP's system of having three party chiefs instead of one has also led to unseemly wrangles, but these may be sorted out now that one of the trio, Atal Behari Vajpayee, has been selected as the BJP's candidate for prime minister.

Within the Congress party, Mr Rao has fixed it so that no contenders challenge him. Those who tried to defy him, such as Arjun Singh, the former minister for human resources, have been expelled. But Mr Rao may have gained his political survival at a high price: aloof, he has neglected the party small-timers in villages and towns. Without their support, Mr Rao cannot hope to win.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'