In the first major piece of good news from the Indian subcontinent in what seems like an eternity, the Congress Party has won a decisive victory in the Indian national elections. It appears as if the Congress led United Progressive Alliance will win approximately 260 of the 543 parliamentary seats. Congress itself won 205 seats, the most any party has managed to capture in quarter of a centrury. (The New York Times' story and The Times of India's story are, respectively, here and here). The current prime minister, Manmohan Singh, is set for a second term; this marks the first time in almost fifty years that a prime minister was voted back into office after serving a full five year term.
The results are heartening for a few reasons. For starters, Singh has proved to be a relatively competent and sensible leader. What's more, the party he leads has long been under the control of the Nehru dynasty, from Jawaharlal Nehru himself to his much less loveable daughter, Indira. Now Indira's daughter-in-law Sonia, and Sonia's son Rahul, hold powerful positions in the party (Rahul's campaigning seems to have been a key asset for Congress). And while it appears likely that Rahul will one day take over, it is good (for both party and country) that the technocratic figure of Singh is showing signs of political life.
Analysts had recently been expecting Congress to barely eke out a victory, but the sense was that the close results would force Singh to form a very shaky coalition. Now, with this impressive win, Congress can form a government without the help of some of the more extreme left-wing parties. Singh has walked a fine line between concern for India's poor and necessary economic reforms. He should now be able to accomplish more of his goals.
The results also registered as a major defeat for the Hindu nationalist BJP party. This is a happy outcome for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the party is, shall we say, underwhelmed by the idea of a secular, multiethnic society. And, the BJP's attempt to make a political issue out of the ruling party's measured response to the Bombay attacks seems to have backfired. Surely this is news that will please Richard Holbrooke.