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Month-long Elections End With Congress Party Victory in India

After month-long elections ended in India this past weekend, the Congress Party learned that it would remain in power.

Marshall Bouton, the president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, discusses what the results mean for India and its relationship with the U.S.

DAN SAGALYN: After a month-long election in India — the world’s largest democracy — the results came in this past weekend. And the winner was the Congress Party, the party that had previously been in power.

So what is the significance of this election, and what does it mean for the United States? For that we turn to Marshall Bouton, the President of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and a longtime India watcher. How big a deal are the elections results in India with the Communist almost a majority or at least winning 10 seats less than the majority?

MARSHALL BOUTON: Well it’s a very big deal. In March an important shift in the pattern of national elections, the pattern over the last twenty years has been away from a single national party having such dominance in the Parliament, even, even part of a coalition as this one is.

It is very important too because it signals too a shift in the minds of the Indian electorate, away from a kind of general “throw the bums out-anti-incumbency” attitude in every election to a rewarding performance attitude. And finally it’s important because of the impact it will have on the reforms, on the ability of the government to push the reforms forwards, bring India back as a real driver of global growth and in its dealings with the situation in Pakistan.

DAN SAGALYN: Tell me more, what’s the impact on reforms? What are you talking about?

MARSHALL BOUTON: Well this government, the one that will be reconstituted under the UPA alliance, led by the Congress, but even more strongly led by the Congress, was hamstrung over the last couple years in pushing the economic reforms further and they really did need to be pushed further in a number of fronts: the financial sector, agriculture, retail, the areas where there was real potential for renewed growth.

Hamstrung by their alliance with the communists who kept putting the kibosh on further reforms. They will no longer depend on the left. It’s good news for all of us because India will resume its 8 or 9 percent growth, I think, sooner, rather than later as a result.

DAN SAGALYN: So what you can say about what impact, if any, this will have on US-India relations?

MARSHALL BOUTON: Well at a time when South Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan in particular, are arguably the most dangerous place in the world for U.S. interest to have a stable government, one with which the United States has enjoyed good, positive relations over the last five years, in power in Delhi is obviously going to be very important.

Furthermore, I think the Indian government will have, as a result of these elections, a confidence and flexibility and maneuverability in their dealings with us and in their responses to what’s going in Afghanistan and Pakistan that’s in our interest.

DAN SAGALYN: Will this election victory have an effect on the US war in Afghanistan?

MARSHALL BOUTON: Indirect, I think not immediate. India has it own long-term interests in the unfolding situation of Afghanistan. They certainly want to return to stability, they broadly support U.S. goals in Afghanistan. India has invested heavily in the rebuilding of Afghanistan has reestablished a number of its consulates there.

India can be a partner for us, a very important partner in Afghanistan. That however rubs against the sensitivities that the Pakistanis have about India’s operations, activities and Afghanistan. So we will have to have a very thoughtful, ongoing conversations with the Indians about that and this result will help make that happen.

DAN SAGALYN: What about the impact this election will have on the unstable situation in Pakistan? Will this election have any impact on what’s going on in Pakistan?

MARSHALL BOUTON: Well I think yes, because I think it will mean this government will have an ability to focus on the situation in Pakistan, to operate in a measured fashion. We saw how this government responded to the Mumbai attacks and was able to, to react in a very measured way, despite many calls internally in India for India to strike out militarily. That, among other things, this result will demonstrate the Congress party did not lose credibility with the Indian voter for choosing not to go down that route. I think it will be reassuring to Pakistan. So another demonstration of the viability and the sustainability of democracy in the subcontinent.

DAN SAGALYN: Marshall Bouton, of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, thanks a lot. For the online NewsHour, this is Dan Sagalyn.

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