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India's First Dalit Prime Minister?

February 2009
India's First Dalit Prime Minister?

Political predictions can be on target if the pundits making them are brilliant/lucky (take your pick). And not infrequently, the predictions can be totally off the mark. An example of the latter was the failure to anticipate BJP’s fall from power in the 2004 general election. That, of course, doesn’t stop the media from making bold statements about India’s upcoming election this year. The Economist magazine declares in a special issue (“The World in 2009”) that Mayawati Kumari, who heads the socialist Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), has an outside chance of becoming the first Indian Dalit prime minister.

Here’s a prediction that one can safely make: the 2009 election will result in another coalition government. But how will Mayawati become the next prime minister, given that BSP is a regional party based in Uttar Pradesh? One possibility is that the current front-runners (Congress and BJP) will lose further support, according to the magazine, even as India’s regional parties gain in strength and pave the way for a realigned coalition government, with BSP as the leader. A more likely scenario is that India will have another coalition government led by Congress or BJP. Congress has a better chance, not least because L. K. Advani (BJP’s candidate for prime minister) remains a highly polarizing figure. Also working in Congress’s favor, oddly enough, is the anti-incumbency factor in important BJP-led states, although it’s true that Congress faces the same challenge at the national level.

“Whatever the outcome, the resulting government will be beset by policy differences and personality clashes,” adds The Economist. “High inflation and falling (if still respectable) growth will sour the new government’s ‘honeymoon.’” Incidentally, India has already had a Dalit president, K. R. Narayanan, who served from 1997 to 2002 and died in 2005.

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