India is gearing up for a general election that could see the ruling Congress party re-elected at the head of a weak coalition.
More than 700 million people are eligible to vote in this ballot which will be staggered over a month. More than a thousand parties are in the running with two in the lead. Many polls tip the governing centre-left National Congress, backed by the political heritage of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, as the winner. Its candidate is incumbent prime minister Manmohan Singh, a respected elder statesman who has steered a growing economy in the past four years despite a recent slowdown. Its rival is the main opposition centre-right Indian People’s Party led by Lal Krishna Advani, who is 81. But some analysts believe both his age and controversy over his support for some radical Hindu members could play against him. Regional parties, like in Uttar Pradesh – India’s most populous state – could also play a key role. However, some analysts feel none of the frontrunners are really addressing the country’s pressing issues: “Sadly though, there is no party that really is talking about basic issues like education, health, energy, housing, employment. Or even thinking in terms of regenerating our economy. Which, as you know, has fallen to rather bad times,” said university professor Dipankar Gupta. Victory will likely depend on the support of an unstable coalition of regional governments, fuelling fears among some analysts of a weak executive or even a hung parliament, at a time when many believe India is need of quick and efficient reform.