Electoral rout following GM cotton disaster in India (12/5/2004)

Monsanto has claimed success with GM cotton in India for the last 2 years despite all the evidence to the country. Now its failure has helped rout a ruling pro-GM party in Andhra Pradesh.

EXCERPT: "Of the 4,000 farmers who are known to have committed suicide in the last few years, 3,000 were from Andhra Pradesh," Reddy said.

Mass suicides by farmers in the state, many of them cotton growers who had experimented disastrously with genetically modified seeds supplied by large multinationals, were frequently cited by Congress party workers to blunt the BJP's 'India Shining' motto during the election.

INDIA: Failed Economic Reforms May Cost Rightists the Poll
Ranjit Devraj

NEW DELHI, May 11 (IPS) - An electoral rout of the regional party that leads India's showpiece for economic reforms -- southern Andhra Pradesh state -- threatens to drag down with it Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's right-wing coalition in the just-concluded national elections.

The chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu, resigned Tuesday after his Telugu Desam Party (TDP) suffered a shock defeat at the hands of the Congress party in provincial polls held in the state alongside the four-phase parliamentary elections which ended Monday.

The TDP currently holds 36 seats in the lawmaking Lok Sabha or lower house of parliament. It is not expected to fare any better when the national-level ballots are counted on Thursday.

According to election analysts, the utter defeat of the TDP would make it that much more difficult for Vajpayee's right-wing and pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to cobble together a viable multi-party alliance that could take on any alliance that its arch rival for national power, the Congress party, can muster.

Exit polls and analyses were already giving the BJP and the Congress party even chances of forming the next central government when the shock defeat of the TDP in Andhra Pradesh became known.

The TDP and its allies could muster just 48 seats in the 294-seat Andhra Pradesh state assembly, against the 229 seats captured by the Congress party and its partners.

Other states where elections were held simultaneously included Karnataka and Orissa, which are adjacent to Andhra Pradesh, and also north-eastern Sikkim.

At a televised press conference in Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh, the man who is slated to succeed Naidu as chief minister, Y S R Reddy, said his rivals came to grief because of overemphasis on economic reforms and information technology that failed to benefit farmers and the rural masses.

Commenting on the TDP's defeat, the secretary general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Amit Mitra, said in an interview that the lesson to be drawn was that "economic initiatives in the IT and services sector should be extended to the rural areas and to such industries as food processing and rural industry".

World Bank documents describe Andhra Pradesh as one of the largest and poorest states in India. Its 80 million population that approaches the size of the Philippines, the 13th most populous country in the world.

The bank has noted that "even as its high-tech industries develop rapidly, Andhra Pradesh's overall literacy rate remains a modest 44 percent and one-third of the population lives in poverty".

Meantime, the Congress party is now poised to harvest a crop of parliamentary seats from Andhra Pradesh in its determined bid to lead or support a "secular, socialist" dispensation.

This, it hopes, would includes the Left Front parties which rule West Bengal state, the Rashtriya Janata Dal in eastern Bihar state and other "like-minded" regional formations.

"We expected to do well in Andhra Pradesh but we were pleasantly surprised by the actual outcome,'' said Anand Sharma, spokesman for the Congress party.

On Monday, the party announced that it was willing to sit together with its allies to decide on a prime ministerial candidate acceptable to all. It suggested that it would not insist that the coalition be led by Congress party chief, the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi.

Gandhi's foreign birth has been a major issue not only with the BJP but also with many allies of the Congress party, such as the regional National Congress Party in western Maharashtra state.

But going by the exit polls and the Andhra Pradesh results, voters were interested in more serious concerns such as exclusion from the benefits of reforms in places like Hyderabad, which counts among the global hubs for information technology and activities such as business process outsourcing (BPO).

In fact, Hyderabad is often called Cyberabad for the vast glass and chrome buildings there that vie for attention with mediaeval palaces and mosques from its past as an outpost of the Moghul empire.

Naidu styled himself as the chief executive officer of Andhra Pradesh. But while he impressed pro-reform visitors to the state -- ranging from Bill Clinton to Bill Gates -- with his skill at running the state out of a laptop, he failed to see the plight of farmers starved for steady supplies of power, water and timely farm credit.

India embarked on a policy of reforms under a Congress party government in 1992, but anger against it led to the defeat of the party in 1996. From that time on, it has remained out of power.

Its successor, the BJP, prided itself on its ultra-nationalism and its 'swadeshi' or self-reliance rhetoric. After gaining power, however, the BJP abandoned its stance to pursue reforms with greater vigour than ever before in a bid to make India a global economic power along the lines of its Asian neighbour, China.

But despite the unpopularity of economic liberalisation among India's rural masses, there is little likelihood of a policy reversal even if the Congress party returns to power in India's government.

In fact, the Congress party is already pushing the candidature of Manmohan Singh, a respected economist credited with introducing India's reforms, as the country's next prime minister. (END/2004)

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