Indian General Elections 101

emblem_of_indiaCan you smell it in the air? Yes, the Indian general elections are just around the corner and the mud slinging between the political parties has just started.  Elections will be held in 5 phases from April 17 to May  16, 2009. This is my first general election and since I can’t vote in India, I’m using the opportunity to learn about the election process, the political landscape and how it differs from the US.

The general election will decide which candidates get elected to a 5 year term to the Lok Sabha which is the elected lower house of the Parliament of India. This is where all the action takes place, it would be similar to the US Senate.  There are a total of 543 seats up for election in the Lok Sahba.  Each one of those 543 seats are similar to a golden ticket from Willy Wonka, once elected you are set for life and decide what projects and how much of a “fee” you should receive for your district.

There are two main political parties in India, the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party aka the BJP.  There are also many other smaller groups that end up partnering with the bigger ones to create an alliance. The biggest of these smaller parties is the Samajwadi Party.  Once a political party has a majority in the Lok Sabha, that party can decide who will be the Prime Minister. Which means the general population does not vote for a Prime Minister.

Over the past several weeks each of the political parties have released their manifesto which details what they plan to do over the next 5 years. I like about the documents because it gives a true read of what the real issues are on a national level.  It’s also depressing because when you read them you soon realize the basics – food, water, electricity and security are top of mind issues. Both Congress and BJP have promised to provide 25-35kg of rice/wheat at Rs 2-3/kg to poor people – wow!  Now that’s pandering to the people and shows what the real issue is for most Indians – food.

Congress Party Manifesto
BJP Manifesto

Over the weekend the Samajwadi Party released their manifesto and a couple of their keys points: don’t use computers to replace jobs and ban english speaking schools.  They have back tracked on what they meant but the damage is done, it’s pretty clear they don’t want to see the country move forward, status quo is fine. They said they don’t want to ban english speaking schools but rather english speaking schools should not be mandatory since they are too expensive. Logically, they should figure out how to reduce the price of english speaking schools and make it affordable. As far as computers, how do you argue with an idiot.

On a more local front, I looked at the candidates that were running for the South Bombay district and who might actually impact my daily life.  There are a total of 14 people running, no one from the BJP Party but from the Congress Party is Milind Deora. Milind has held the position since the last election in 2004. The other notable candidate is an independent named Meera Sanyal, she is currently on sabbatical from ABN-Amro where she was the country head.

One thing I don’t hear anyone talk about is a debate between various candidates. I would think at least in the major metros the top candidates would use the debate to talk about their views and challenge the other candidates. However, I get the feeling no one truly wants to be put on the spot and rather trade sound bites via the media.

For up to the minute election news check out Google’s 2009 Lok Sabha election website.

City of Apathy

mumbai_trainsIf Calcutta is the City of Joy then Bombay is the City of Apathy. Today is Republic Day which marks the day when the Indian Constitution was adopted and it also happens to be the 2 month anniversary of the November terror attack. What has changed since November 26? Sadly not much. During the attacks everyone in India was calling it “their 9/11”, the comparison is a joke. During 9/11 the mindset of Americans changed within minutes of seeing planes being flown into the World Trade Center.

The local media that I so highly talked about during the attacks is now missing, they have moved onto the latest news story – The Satyam Scam. The foreign media is more concerned, CNN is running a special on a little girl named Moshe that was saved by her maid while her parents got slaughtered at Nariman House. All the candles that were lit in protest helped boost sales for the candle makers but did little else. The cops in Bombay are as unprepared as ever still wielding their government issued bamboo stick and whistle. You would think the incoming Chief Minister of Maharashtra would make a speech and lay out his plans to avoid another attack – wrong.

Here we sit two months later and many unanswered questions remain about the attack:

  • When is the trial of the only surviving terrorist Kasab?
  • What is India planning to do about Pakistan?
  • How is the state government going to provide better security?
  • The updated death and injury count

I believe it’s an economic issue as well. Since the Indian government is fairly inept, people don’t have the luxury to sit around and cry while waiting for the government to help. They have to get back to reality and pickup the pieces on their own. 9/11 is and always will be a defining moment for the US, for India the November attack was just another event to showcase how clueless the Indian government is.

2009 Mumbai Marathon

2009_mumbai_marathonLast weekend was the 2009 edition of the Mumbai Marathon. For the 3rd time I participated in the Mumbai half marathon (13.1 miles, 21.1km). I ran the half  in 2:07:14 which is a personal best for me, the previous 2 Mumbai half marathons I completed the run in 2:16. I ran over 200 miles practicing for the half marathon and expected to shave maybe 5 minutes off my time, but to shave over 9 minutes off my time felt pretty damn good.