When India grappled with political tensions within and beyond

India is witnessing developments that could affect the political future of the Vajpayee government, resulting in repercussions for the country as a whole. Politically, the most important developments centre on the state elections in which out of four states only Orissa and Haryana witnessed overwhelming victories by the government. These victories were largely due to the support of the administration’s local allies.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was narrowly defeated in Bihar, losing its majority by only one seat. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s verdict on the results was that they were below expectations.

These state elections were crucial – they were the first to be held since the government assumed office. They were an important test of the government’s popularity at a time when it faces sensitive issues such as relations with Pakistan and security problems in general.

Vajpayee has invited regional parties to work together as the elections revealed an uncomfortable rivalry between parties within the states. Another cause of anxiety has been the fundamentals underlying the national budget.

The problem revolves around the widening fiscal deficit for which the only obvious remedy seems to be a withdrawal of subsidies. But this could have serious political repercussions as subsidies are viewed as being sacrosanct in many parts of India.

Another unexpected development that affected the states was the assassination of a state minister by tribal guerrillas. The Forest Minister of Assam was killed along with a few others in a landmine explosion for which the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) has claimed responsibility.

This is the latest development in a 20-year-old war against insurgents who are claiming a separate tribal homeland in Assam. The insurgency has claimed over 10,000 lives in the state, which is the largest of the far-eastern states of India. It’s significant that in four of these states there have been ongoing insurgencies since 1947.

The assassination was followed by a dawn-to-dusk protest strike in the country although countermeasures have been taken against the insurgents with several reported to have been killed.

A problem has also arisen in India’s relations with Pakistan over a report about the massacre of 15 civilians by Indian troops in a raid on the Muslim-Hindu Himalayan region. General Pervez Musharraf has described the attack as an act of frustration aimed at stopping separatist activity in Muslim-majority Kashmir.

India denied the report and counter-attacked by shelling across the so-called ‘Line of Control.’ This action is a manifestation of the tense situation that prevails at the frontier where it seems both sides are engaged in sporadic attacks.

In a worsening situation, positions on both sides appear to be hardening their line on the Kashmir issue. High hopes were being entertained on possible mediation by President Bill Clinton during his visit to India but the Indian PM firmly ruled out such a move, stating: “We will not brook interference in our international affairs or allow others to meddle in our bilateral relations or problems.”

Nevertheless, Clinton’s visit to India suggested that the US acknowledged the two democracies had an enormous common interest in shaping
the future.

Another development in India is its military budget and armament plan. The defence minister announced that the defence budget would be increased to three percent of GDP. This is presumably to finance the armaments programme that includes a nuclear powered submarine,
an aircraft carrier and a new surface-to-air missile that is to be tested shortly.

According to army sources, these moves are intended to strengthen India’s deterrent capabilities.

Disquiet has been reported in Nepal that could affect its political stability as well, namely the stepping down of Prime Minister K. P. Bhattarai
to avoid a no-confidence motion that could have defeated his party. This is part of an agreement between him and his rival G. P. Koirala.

But it may not have solved the growing political crisis in Nepal – i.e. rivalry between the two Nepalese leaders.

There’s no certainty that Koirala can take over as the Prime Minister of Nepal. So the political future of the country at this juncture looks uncertain. This is a serious situation in view of other prevailing issues such as the threat of the Maoist party that has resorted to insurgent activity.

So political instability at this time is untimely and possible solutions to the multiple crises are unclear.

BY  The late Deshamanya  Dr. Vernon L. B. Mendis