Election will test parties' credibility
Results will reflect the people’s verdict on political corruption after the exposure of many scandals
Father Joe Antony
Some have called the ongoing state assembly elections in India a mini referendum on the United Progressive Alliance that rules the federal government.
Assam, in northeastern India, West Bengal in the east, Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the south and Puducherry (Pondicherry), a federally ruled territory adjacent to Tamil Nadu would elect their legislative assemblies during April-May.
The first phase began on April 4 in Assam.
Although local issues usually determine the outcome of the state elections, the performance of the Congress party that heads the federal coalition will be tested more in this election.
The results will reflect the people’s verdict on political corruption after the exposure of a series of scandals in the past few months.
International agencies that try to assess the level of corruption in countries have in recent years confirmed that India is one of the most corrupt in Asia.
A noted social activist, Anna Hazare, has undertaken a fast to death, demanding that the government should pass stricter laws to prevent corruption.
His campaign has won the support of people from all walks of life.
The federal government, led by the economist, Manmohan Singh of the Congress party, has had to face a great deal of embarrassment in the past year, as media exposes have revealed its complete lack of interest or intent to fight corruption.
Andimuthu Raja, a former federal minister who is now in jail for what is known as the 2G Spectrum case, belongs to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam (DMK, Progressive party of Dravidians), a federal ally that rules Tamil Nadu.
The scandal, said to have caused a loss of about US$44 billion to the government, is the most serious scam and scandal since India’s independence in 1947.
The DMK still insists Raja is innocent and has done nothing illegal.
The Congress party did nothing to prevent the scam. For nearly two years the media kept highlighting the unscrupulous loot and the Opposition demanded a joint parliamentary committee to probe the scam, but the government refused to act.
Finally it was the Supreme Court that forced the government and its chief investigating agency the Central Bureau of Investigation to act, insisting it will monitor the investigation and progress of the case.
A united opposition, by refusing to let the parliament conduct its affairs, forced the government to form the parliamentary probe committee.
What is there in these elections for the Church in India? Nothing much, really.
The Church has some say in only two states – Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
In Kerala, where Christians form 19 percent of 3.3 million people, the ruling Left Democratic Front angered the Church leaders repeatedly. Therefore they will be happy to see the LDF lose.
In Tamil Nadu, some Protestant groups have expressed support for the opposition leader Jayalalitha who, this time, with a strong coalition, is keen to come back to power.
A Hindu Brahmin who was educated in a prominent Catholic school in Chennai, the state capital, Jayalalitha is perceived to be ideologically close to the Hindu nationalist party, Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people’s party).
She enacted an anti-conversion law when she was in power but later withdrew it.
This makes some Christian leaders anxious, although they have many complaints against the present government headed by DMK’s Muthuvel Karunanidhi.
In Assam, the Church has played a key role in fostering peace among groups that have been waging an armed struggle against the state.
What favors the state’s ruling Congress is the fact that except one faction, all other groups of insurgents have agreed to participate in peace talks.
(Jesuit Father M.A. Joe Antony is the editor of Jivan (Jesuit monthly magazine) and director of Culture & Communication, Loyola College, Chennai.