Absorbed with events that threaten or discredit our way of life — raging jihadists seeking the hardware and software of Armageddon, epidemic infectious disease, the meltdown of industries, the debates over Gitmo and waterboarding, and rampant and loud anti-Americanism from friends and foes alike — it is easy to miss that there is actually some good news out there for democracy.
What has happened is that a dynasty without royals has spoken: India has engineered a dignified statement that democracy matters.
About 400 million Indians voted to maintain the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), a Congress Party-led coalition under the leadership of current Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. Further, Rahul Gandhi, son of Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi (President of the Congress Party also known as the Indian National Congress), grandson of Indira Gandhi, and great grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, is being positioned for the cabinet and a possible orderly succession when the popular and successful Mr. Singh, 76, retires from public life. While both Indira and Rajiv Gandhi were controversial in their own ways, Indian modern and ancient history contain examples of a fascination with the cult of personality.
Downplaying cries for vengeance against Pakistan from the Hindu right, a mature electorate turned out over a period of several weeks to acknowledge and maintain an economically liberal status quo that has put several hundred million people into the middle class in less than a generation. This voice of democracy at work sent the Mumbai stock exchange index up 17% in one day.
The rightist Bharatiya Janata Party has lost influence, as have the Communists in the lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, which has 543 seats. The Congress Party, while itself short of a majority, now has enough support to form and lead a robust alliance, without the need to seek support from the left to maintain its governing role.
This is good news for America and the West. It means an even more self-assured India, one that will continue to open its borders to trade and capital flows. It will continue the process of diluting the massively bureaucratic and regulatory role of the Government of India, a Leviathan of central planning that impeded economic development for more than four decades after independence in 1947.
India is in the front lines of the war against Islamist extremism. Stability at the Centre, as the Government of India is known, is essential for India’s support of the West’s efforts to prevail against global jihad. In view of its 150 million Muslims who are for the most part Indians first, India has some moral authority as a secular example of diversity and inclusiveness. With its armed forces ranking among the world’s top five in terms of size, India is emerging as an increasingly valuable military ally in the region, its maritime interests extending from the Strait of Malacca to the Persian Gulf — in some part, a strategic offset to China.
What is equally interesting is what has not happened in India. India has the forces of anger and despair that we see in the Islamic world, with huge, alienated youthful populations for whom there is nothing to do and nowhere to go. They are outside the measured agricultural, services, and industrial economy and by some estimates, about 750 million people live on less than $2.00 per day — and for them, globalization means only sad comparisons.
But to get elected, the Congress Party did not have to blame the West for India’s low per capita GDP. Nor did it invoke the names of God to manipulate passions and justify itself. Indian youth are not encouraged to commandeer the streets with AK-47s, and students do not recite anti-western teachings. And there is not much of an angry street to feed the 24/7 cameras of CNN.
To state that the challenges to absorb more people into the economic mainstream of India are enormous is a gross understatement. Some experts believe India needs a high single digit rate of growth to achieve more transformation. This is impossible to achieve under current world conditions — and difficult to sustain as in recent years. But we should take stock that amidst all the world’s tumult, occasionally the forces of reason and light can prevail.