What terrorist threat? In Indian elections, local issues dominate.
Voters head to the polls this week in staggered nationwide elections.
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These local-issue votes – pouring in from a 714 million person electorate spanning seven major religions and 20 official languages – are not expected to add up to an outright majority for one party. Though the ruling Congress Party may win a plurality of votes, it's not guaranteed to keep its top spot. The fractured electorate means many small parties and politicians could secure enough votes to become coalition kingmakers.Skip to next paragraph
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One possible kingmaker is Kumari Mayawati, who's added spice to the election in her outsider's bid to become the nation's first Dalit – or bottom-rung caste – prime minister.
Otherwise, the campaigns have failed to generate much excitement. Manmohan Singh and LK Advani – the elderly prime ministerial candidates from the ruling Congress party and the BJP, respectively – have spent decades on the Indian political scene.
"Other than that, what's happening? Nothing. Two very old people are battling it out," says Mr. Deshmukh.
He's not alone in his lack of enthusiasm. More Indians are expected to tune into an upcoming cricket championship than the election coverage, including the night that votes are counted on May 16, according to studies by two media buying companies.
Voters have even given low priority to terrorism and national security despite suffering an attack in Mumbai that some have called "India's 9/11."
Analysts point out that India has borne terrorist attacks for decades and tends not to see one party as more competent in responding. Fatigue with communal religious struggles also seems to be high, dampening the domestic aftershocks from Mumbai. Deshmukh suggests this had to do with the response of the Muslim community in Mumbai – it clearly denounced the attacks and refused to bury the terrorists in local Muslim cemeteries.
No 'Slumdog Millionaire' victory here
Attempts by the major parties to reach outside politics to galvanize voters haven't garnered much mileage, either. Congress have latched on to the child actors in the Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire, while the BJP churned out pen-holders in the shape of the Nano – the new $2,000 car that's the pride of India.
The weakness of top-down, imposed notions of what should bind the nation together doesn't bother Rajeev Bhargava, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in New Delhi. The fact that no single party can take charge and different coalitions must come together does reflect how India is becoming a "fractured society," he says. But that doesn't mean secession, just a more bottom-up approach to national participation.
"What we are witnessing is a change in the way that the whole nation is conceived," says Mr. Bhargava. "In the past it's something that's been largely imagined by a small group of people in the hope it will percolate downwards. What is happening now is a nationalism that is developing from multiple regions and multiple centers."