So this is a big week in Indian Politics.
1st February sees the Central (Federal) budget being released by the ruling BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party). This will be Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s 4th federal budget. Some are expecting there to be an announcement of a trial of Universal Basic Income — quite a challenge in a country like India for a number of reasons (lack of modern payment systems; currently the only thing approximating a social welfare safety net is the MGRENA which covers rural workers employment). The Budget week kicks off with an event this week called the Halwa ceremony, where the Finance Minister serves Halwa (a sweet) to the employees of the Ministry of Finance who will be under lockdown during the one week printing process. I reckon this is something we could mimic here in Australia — pre budget lamingtons.
5th February : Five states — Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Uttarkhand and Manipur — go to the polls. The big ones to look out for are Goa (for me personal reasons) as it could be one where the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) starts to take on a bigger role in the world’s largest democracy. By some accounts, there has been growing restlessness with the BJP in parts of the North of Goa. AAP are campaigning heavily on closing down the Casinos on Mandovi River — one of the few (two?) places in India where live gambling still occurs.
Politics in Uttar Pradesh (UP) has the flair of a dynastic drama, filled wiht family feuds and factions that have been created as a result. At the centre of this controversy is the Samajwadi party (SP) founder Mulayam Singh Yadav and son (and Chief Minster of UP) Akhilesh Yadav. The Indian Electoral Commission (EC) recently gave son Akhilesh Yadav the right to use the SP’s bicycle symbol as part of the party’s campaign after . However perhaps more intriguing is the Hail Mary coalition between the Indian National Congress and the Samajwadi Party almost guaranteeing them about 300 of the 403 seats in the Legislative Assembly. The SP currently holds 224 of 403 seats in the UP Legislative Assembly. UP is India’s most populous state and has the highest number of elected officials in parliament. As such the pundits are treating this state elections as a temperature check of how the Federal BJP is performing. UP BJP currently holds 47 seats.
The AAP has also been ramping up its efforts in the state of Punjab with Arvind Kejriwal, the party’s leader, making a number of appearances in the state’s campaign. Former Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh (Indian National Congress — INC) has been on the campaign trail launching the imaginatively (or hilariously, can’t decide yet)-named “Congress Manifesto” in his home state. Last week also saw the timely announcement of a former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu joining the INC.
Elsewhere in the Indian governance structure there is the role of the courts and the chaos that has ensued.
Late last year the Supreme Court ordered, in response to a public interest litigation, that it would be mandatory for moviegoers to stand during the playing of the national anthem. Almost un-enforceable, and with no punishments of any kind attached, there has been much furore about this decision leading some to ridicule it as forced patriotism and call for its repeal. This past week the Supreme court weighed in on Jalikattu, the Tamilian Sport where participants hold onto the hump of a running bull. Mostly celebrated in rural communities in Tamil Nadu, this incident has in some way taken on the flavour of a rural-urban divide argument where the elites on the outside seem out of touch with the wants of the rural (mostly agrarian) communities.The Supreme Court argued that it was in contravention of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and banned the Sport . This led to a week of protests in Tamil Nadu culminating in the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu legalising the practice.
And as a background to this, the demonetisation agenda has certainly made things harder for the BJP and while the worst of it seems over, it is not yet clear whether the Indian public has forgiven Modi and the BJP as this being a good idea badly sold and implemented or just a terrible idea with negligible impact on corruption and the Black Market.
To me, that covers the important stuff of the world’s largest and messiest democracy. Stay tuned.