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Current Indian Political Scenario—Problems That Take Priority

By CSVR Murthy, Tiruchirapalli, India, June 17, 2008

Protesting Indian Gujjar community members shout slogans during a demonstration in New Delhi on June 5. (Photo: Raveendran / AFP-Getty Images)

India currently faces three major problems that are stalling the bandwagon of its normal routine: inflation, the Gujjar agitation, and the Gorkha (Gurkha) agitation.

The ruling United Progressive Alliance government (a.k.a. the center or union government) is grappling with the problem of inflation, which is heading toward double digits—an alarming figure for any developing economy. The much-hyped "dream team" that consists of the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh—better known as an eminent economist—is expected to perform with élan in containing the dreaded problem of inflation.

Inflation can primarily be blamed on rising crude oil and food prices. Gasoline is sold at $4 per gallon in the United States and at 55 rupees per liter in India, and is becoming elusive to a common person's reach. The rise in food prices is attributed to the fall in the production of food commodities, which otherwise rests on the factor of agricultural lands being converted to the production of biofuels. If comments by President Bush are to be taken seriously, the Indians are to blame for rising food costs, as the food shortages are due to high Indian consumption, but any novice would shrug off the comment as very naïve.

The reservation issue is a favorite in India for the Congress Party and its allies. The Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan—the state ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party—reached a flash point when Gujjar community members resorted to a blockade of trains and expressed their unrest in various forms. (The agitation began on May 23.) The state government came down heavily on the Gujjar issue and a few members of the community (37 by one count) have lost their lives in clashes with the police. The matter took a serious turn when other members led by community leader Kirori Singh Bainsla refused to let a post mortem be conducted on the bodies.

Bainsla is currently in Jaipur to meet the Rajasthan chief minister and her cabinet members and to press for the coveted status of Scheduled Tribes for his community, which would provide much-desired privileges, such as government jobs and education benefits. Even after three rounds of talks with the state government, the issue remained a stalemate. The union government threw the ball on the state government saying that it was a state subject, whereas the state wanted the center government's intervention. Somehow, an amicable settlement over the issue is expected to put an end to the issue on both sides.

Joining the bandwagon of stalling India's normal routine is the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha party in Darjeeling, which has renewed its protest for a separate state for the Gorkhas. The Gorkhas have a prominent position in the Indian army to the extent that they have a Gorkha Regiment exclusively comprising a Gorkha force. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha decided to enter into an indefinite bandh (general strike) on Jun 16. Thanks to the leaders, they have excluded the tea gardens and schools from the bandh. However, the organization, led by Bimal Gurung, has endorsed the possession of arms to its cadres during the bandh period, which has become a cause of concern to the government.

The above problems need immediate attention by the government of India to prevent any further precipitation of the issues. The inflation needs to be controlled, the Gujjars need to be pacified, and the Gorkha demand for a separate homeland needs to be tackled.

The forthcoming parliament elections is an additional challenge that the ruling United Progressive Alliance has to face and the government will probably trudge carefully to arrive at a win-win situation, which of course may be very tough.

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