Panel analyzes India’s elections
Erin Flanagan | Thursday, November 20, 2014
On Wednesday, Saint Mary’s hosted a panel on the 2014 elections in India as part of International Education Week, sponsored by the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership (CWIL) and the department of political science. The panel was called “India 2014: Assessing the Elections and Beyond.”
Contributing to the panel were four presenters, including Srishti Agnihotri, a graduate student in International Human Rights Law at Notre Dame, Sonalini Sapra, assistant professor in political science at Saint Mary’s, Karie Cross, a Ph.D student in political science and peace studies at Notre Dame and Pradeep Narayanan, head of research and consultancies at Praxis Institute for Participatory Practices in India. Chair of political science at Saint Mary’s Marc Belanger helped to facilitate the discussion.
Agnihotri began the panel discussion as the first presenter, focusing on the context surrounding India’s 2014 elections. She spoke of India as a multi-party parliamentary system, with 543 available seats in the congress. The significance of this election was due to the fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the majority, holding 282 seats, which has not happened since 1984, Agnihotri said.
The reason the BJP was able to get so many seats was due to “changes that arose between the 2009 election and the 2014 election that diminished public opinion of the government,” which “was due to a series of a high-profile scandals,” she said.
“The public began to see the regime as corrupt, and what could have been defended by public policy, the government seemed to be completely mute,” Agnihotri said.
Agnihotri also brought up the reasons the leader of the BJP, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayeeas, was able to gain popularity.
“He was a self-made man, who had very good public speaking skills … but under his leadership, the BJP was able to channel the sense of dissatisfaction, due to corruption, inflation and the increase of rapings, into political action,” she said.
The second panelist presenter, Cross, changed the tone of the panel to focus on religion in India’s election, describing the significance of Hindu nationalism and how it had been utilized by politics in the past.
Cross discussed how there were two ideas about running the government in regards to Hindu nationalism.
“Hinduism is not just a religion, but it gives India its distinctive national identity … and that others do not have to convert but adapt and accept the sameness of the nation’s interest,” Cross said. “This was against the idea that all religions should have an equal pull in the state and focus on diversity and inclusion.
“There would be a problem because the minorities could lose their security to practice their own cultures” Cross said. “Incidents of religious tensions and riots in Gujarat that were possibly led by the new PM, Modi, reveal this loss of security. This was overshadowed by Modi’s focus on economic growth, which was largely accepted, and shows that the economy is being more valued than humanity.”
Cross also looked to different areas in India, such as the northeast, where there is an even larger diversity.
“Problems of sameness promoted by Hindu Nationalism reveals that the conditions of people in the northeast will degenerate,” she said.
Narayanan, who joined the discussion via Skype, spoke of the different influences effecting participation and voters in the 2014 Indian election.
“What is shaping elections today is a bit of danger, which comes from the Americanization of the Indian election … the rise of the power of money and how it is able to influence how politics are brought out into the public domain and change the narration of debates,” Narayanan said. “My main point is that in 2009, the government was not voted out by the people, because big corporate lobbies were in favor of the government.”
According to Narayanan, corruption within the system stems from inequity, which is the main problem.
“Because corruption is being addressed without looking at equity technical solutions being made cannot fix the situation,” he said.
The final presenter, Sapra, described the environmental policies in the post-election period.
“I want to emphasize that it is not just the modern government that has not taken environmental policy seriously, but previous governments as well did not fulfill any of their promises of environment sustainability,” Sapra said.
Sapra spoke of how the government’s focus on economic development overshadowed the environmental concerns.
“Businesses would more often support the focus of economic interest, but many critics would stress that it is hard to separate the environmental concerns from the needs of the Indian people,” she said. “Coal mining is increasing in India, which is affecting more people because it is by the process of strip mining.
“India has long maintained that it has not been largely responsible for emissions thus far and so should be able to industrialize,” she said.
However, Sapra spoke of positive initiatives to clean up India that can act as generative solutions to the environmental concerns.
“By 2019, the holy city of Varanasi is to be cleaned … it is interesting how initiatives are being taken up by local communities and religion,” she said.