In recent weeks India and South Africa have gone to the polls the outcomes similar in that they were widely expected but different in what they say about the progression of their democratic paths.
In South Africa the African National Congress (ANC), despite serious questions about their ability to create jobs, deliver services and endemic corruption won comfortably with more than 60% of the votes cast.
In India the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won the elections locking in an absolute majority in parliament, done for the first time in 30 years by any party in India and relegating the dynastic Congress Party to a miserly 44 seats in the house.
The BJP, pummelled before the poling day as everything from dangerously nationalistic to a sectarian party, benefited from the record of its leader Narendra Modi, who as governor of the Gujarat state has the most enviable development record of all his peers. His record suggests that he can jumpstart the stuttering economy of the world’s largest democracy and raise the everyday man’s collective lot.
Modi beat to the post Rahul Ghandi, scion of a political dynasty that was at the heart of the con try’s independence struggle and given India three prime ministers. By relegating the Congress Party to a bit player in Indian politics – they lost 162 seats they previously held, for the first time since independence in 1947, the BJP may have changed the complexion of the Indian politics for good.
So in India’s case it was the end of an era – the electorate feels less and less beholden to the Congress Party for its central role in the independence struggle, while in South Africa, the momentum from the anti-apartheid struggle that ended 20 years ago, remains strong. While they may have shed a percentage point or two observers believe it will be a while – a long while, before any other party will put up a credible challenge to the ANC’s stranglehold on the politics of Africa’s second largest economy.
The ejection of the Congress Party from the centre of politics in India provides useful pointers as to the eventual trajectory of politics in South Africa and by extension Uganda.
The Congress party’s stranglehold on the country’s politics – it has led the country for 49 of the 67 years of an independent India, has with time been eroded by the increasing dysfunctionality of its governments, which have become increasingly mired in bureaucratic red tape and corruption, powerless to effect any meaningful change for the majority of Indians who look across the border to China where Beijing is lifting tens of millions out of poverty every year.
The inertia is an inevitable consequence of longevity. With every passing year ruling parties have to make unpalatable concessions and accommodate unsavory types, who bog down the system as they in turn, seek to guard their own interests to the detriment of the many.
While the ANC’s planners are in jubilant mode the Congress Party’s fate must weigh on their mind. Thousands of housing units have been built, school enrollments are up, the roll out of health facilities to the poor has been breath taking but the legacy of apartheid will not be wished away in a few years or even a generation.
It does not help that a black super-rich class, leveraging their connections in high places, has arisen to create their own unjustifiable wealth divide within the black community that is making some question whether the struggle against apartheid was meant to replace one overlord class with another.
It might take the ANC considerably less than 67 years to pay for their continued failure to meet post-apartheid expectations.
The emergence of the BJP as a counter force to the Congress party in 1980 may serve too as an indication of what kind of counter force ruling parties may encounter in later years.
A party that galvanises the disadvantaged, which counter to economic liberalism espouses some brand of socialism and which can appeal to majority groups who have grown disenchanted with the ruling elite is the probable complexion of the party that will give the ANC planners sleepless nights.
In the BJP case they went a step further, taking control of regional governments, making them work and delivering tangible results for the everyday man.
The BJP in its current form came into being 33 years after independence suggesting that the issues around which they have rallied had not matured yet or the leadership to consolidate these issues into a winning platform had not emerged.
The BJP’s success is raising interesting questions about geopolitical alignments internationally. But for us, Indian politics and the developments in South Africa can provide useful lessons when overlaid on our own local politics.