June 13th 2009

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Beijing mocks Universal Declaration of Human Rights

EDITORIAL: Recession: end of the beginning ... or beginning of the end?

EUTHANASIA: Dr Death's travelling road show

POPULATION: Billionaire club seeks to curb world's population

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Is Barnaby Joyce a leader in the making?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Why Rudd's emissions trading scheme should be defeated

GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS: Fundamental change is needed, but probably won't happen

GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR: FBI foils new terrorist attack on New York

SRI LANKA: Mass carnage of Tamils in war without witnesses

INDIA: India's Congress alliance's strengthened mandate

CHINA: Growth slump worries Beijing leadership

ASIA-PACIFIC REGION: Japan set to expand its naval capabilities

OBITUARY: Jerzy Zubrzycki MBE CBE AO - A champion of human freedom and dignity

OPINION: Employee share ownership under threat

AS THE WORLD TURNS: The word is out/ Sharia law vs. prairie law

Housing affordability and land prices (letter)

Religious zeal (letter)

Fuddled logic (letter)

Contrarianism? (letter)

CINEMA: 'The Baader Meinhof Complex' - film whitewashes notorious terrorist gang

BOOKS: I AM MELBA: A Biography, by Ann Blainey

BOOKS: AN AWKWARD TRUTH: The Bombing of Darwin, February 1942, by Peter Grose

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India's Congress alliance's strengthened mandate

by Babette Francis

News Weekly, June 13, 2009
The Indian National Congress Party under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has returned to power with a larger share of the vote, reports Babette Francis.

With the bad news about North Korea's nuclear bomb and missile tests, and China's adventurism in the South China Sea, Australia needs some good news, and we have it in the results of the recent Indian elections.

After last November's US elections when 131 million Americans voted, volumes were written about the significance of African-American Barack Obama becoming the 44th US President. However, since 700 million Indians voted recently and re-elected the Congress Party to government, little has been said about why this is good news for Australia - and indeed for the world.

During the Cold War, when India was also ruled by the Congress Party, the country was aligned with the Soviet Union. This was partly because the United States was allied with India's rival, Pakistan, but also because of the "socialist" vision of India's then leaders, Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter, Mrs Indira Gandhi.

Irritant removed

The collapse of India's ally, the USSR, removed a major irritant between India and other democracies. But more significant than the political collapse of the Soviet Union was the highlighting of the economic failures of socialist central planning.

For India, the love affair with socialism was finally over; this led to the removal of stifling government restrictions on enterprise.

Manmohan Singh, formerly finance minister and now prime minister, and successive governments, whether the Indian National Congress or the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), opened up India to trade and enabled local industries to flourish.

Although the ideology of socialism has waned, the vision of India as a secular democracy has remained secure. This is no small achievement in a developing country with a large Hindu majority and the world's second-largest Muslim population.

Secularism is important to the Congress Party and was not completely rejected by the Hindu nationalist BJP at the federal level, although there have been serious persecutions of Christians in BJP-controlled states such as Orissa.

India now has strong links with the United States. Bill Clinton was the first US president to visit India in recent years. George W. Bush moved even further, cultivating closer ties with India and signing, and getting ratified, a nuclear co-operation treaty.

This is all in Australia's national interest, as we have much in common with India. Both countries are parliamentary democracies modelled on the Westminster system. Both have English common law traditions and, to some extent, a common language in English, which is a second official language in India.

Moreover, India, with other democracies such as South Korea and Japan, will be useful in containing China.

The election of the secularist Congress Party rather than the Hindu nationalist BJP will be reassuring to Pakistan as it needs to move more troops away from its border with India to deal with the Taliban in the Swat Valley and the North West Frontier province.

The Australian media focus was that, because of the Indian elections held over four weeks in April and May, sufficient security could not be provided for our Davis Cup tennis team for the tie in Chennai. As a result, Australia decided to forfeit and we have to pay a fine.

Although sport takes priority over politics in Australia, we need to realise how beneficial the Indian election result is for us. It would be nice if Kevin Rudd became as fluent in Hindi as he is in Mandarin.

The Congress Party has returned to power with a larger share of the vote than indicated by pre-election and exit polls. It will no longer need communists and left-wingers to form workable majorities in the Lok Sabha (House of the People). The BJP attacked Congress for being too close to the US; yet Indian voters decided this was not a minus but a plus.

Meanwhile, Christians and other minorities are celebrating the Congress Party victory because Congress supports a secular government and justice for minorities. Latest figures indicate that Congress has won 203 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, and the ruling coalition it leads (the United Progressive Alliance) holds 262 seats, up from 190 in the previous parliament. The opposition BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has 121 seats and the Left front 24.

An interesting sidelight is that a record number of women were elected to the Lok Sabha. Although the Women's Reservation Bill proposing 33 per cent reservation for women was not passed, the new Lok Sabha has the highest number of women MPs ever elected, holding 10 per cent of the seats.

This may seem modest compared to Sweden where female parliamentarians hold 47 per cent of the seats; but it has been achieved without the injustice of "affirmative action", and is not far off the percentages of women MPs in Ireland and France.

- Babette Francis was born in India and lived there until her marriage to an Australian.

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