India's national elections set for April
NEW DELHI - India, the world's largest democracy, will begin five-phase national elections in April, the Election Commission said yesterday, as the two main parties struggle to hold their own in a political system increasingly fractured by India's complex social class structure.
The elections are being held on schedule, at the end of the ruling Congress party's five-year term. But Congress's prospects for reelection are uncertain. Its major accomplishment, India's soaring economic growth over the last few years, has been hit hard by the global downturn.
It has also faced severe criticism for the bungled handling of the Mumbai terror attack in November, when 10 gunmen rampaged through the city.
Elected in 2004, Congress headed a broad coalition of parties, but relied on outside support from India's communist parties for their majority. Congress has since lost their support over a landmark civilian nuclear deal signed with the United States.
However, the main opposition, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, is also in disarray. Its leadership is aging and fragmented and its tough antiterror line was criticized for being too harsh following the Mumbai attacks, and they failed to capitalize in state elections. The two national parties have seen their support eroded by regional parties focused on local issues or politics dominated by caste - the country's complex Hindu social system.
This has fueled beliefs that a third alliance, headed by a powerful low-caste politician, could mount a meaningful challenge.