The heat in Delhi is as oppressive as ever. The asphalt seems to melt with temperatures that reach 45 Celsius. Traffic jams are bad, with much road-work going on as the city gears up for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Once all the new Metro lines for the city's gleaming, latest-generation subway system are in place, traffic should be smoother, but for now, patience is mandatory.

Yet, there is a quiet, but perceptible optimism in the air. The recent elections that renewed the mandate for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his United Progressive Alliance (UPA) for another five years brought stability and continuity to a country that badly needs it. After the tragic terrorist attack in Mumbai on 26/11 last year, there is a sense of India being back on an even keel.

The re-election of PM Singh is the first for a second five-year term for any Indian PM since Jawaharlal Nehru. The Congress party won the highest number of seats (206) in 25 years. The UPA won sufficient seats for it not to depend on the left for its survival. Despite the crisis, according to some projections the Indian economy will grow 6.8 per cent this year.


The irruption of Rahul Gandhi has also injected some generational renewal into what is often described as a gerontocracy, in a country in which 40 per cent of the electorate is under 25 years old. The 38-year-old Cambridge graduate and son, grandson and great-grandson of Indian prime ministers, is one of the great winners of the 2009 elections.

He campaigned tirelessly around the country in his kurta and sandals, addressing over 100 rallies in 107 constituencies, covering 22 of India's 28 states. He focused especially on Uttar Pradesh (UP) India's largest, with a population similar to Brazil's. As a result, the Congress party increased the number of MPs elected for UP to 20. A whole new batch of young members of Parliament (MP) has come into the Indian Parliament on his coattails.

Former United Nations Under-Secretary General Shashi Tharoor, freshly elected from his home state of Kerala (and who has embraced Twitter with great passion), has been appointed minister of state for external affairs, raising many expectations in Africa and Latin America, regions he will be responsible for.

Much has been made of a supposed decline of the regional and caste-based parties in India's highly fragmented political system. The latter produces ruling coalitions of as many as 24 parties (the National Democratic Alliance, from 1999 to 2004), or of 14 (the UPA, from 2004 to 2009), but will now be reduced to a more manageable number of partners. Yet, as the National Election Survey undertaken by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies has shown, this is not the case. The regional parties received 29 per cent of the vote, pretty much the same as before.

The real change has been in the expansion of support for the Congress. It got 28 per cent of the vote, a two-per-cent swing from 2004, but sufficient to increase its number of MPs from 160 to 206. This is due both to the leadership exercised by PM Singh and Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi and to the policies they have applied.

Parliamentary System

When, in 2004, then-president, Abdul Kalam, offered the prime ministership to Sonia Gandhi, and she stepped aside to let Manmohan Singh take it instead, many were sceptical. The parliamentary system is predicated on the notion that it is the leader of the largest party or coalition that becomes the head of government.

Yet, PM Singh and Mrs Gandhi have made an effective team, splitting up the job of running the government and managing its politics.

In these five years, India has thrived, growing at eight per cent, tripling its exports to US$167 billion and attracting foreign-direct investments at levels never seen before. It has also changed the international division of labour.

Whatever can be conveyed electronically can often be produced cheaper, and as well in India as in North America and western Europe. India is now into its 'second phase'of outsourcing - so-called knowledge-process (KPO) - whereby financial, medical, accounting and legal services are provided from Bangalore and Bombay to places like Boston and Berlin.

Nor is this confined to information technology. India is also becoming a manufacturing power - in automobiles as well as car parts and components, in chemicals and pharmaceuticals, in textiles and garments. As General Motors goes broke, Indian-designed cars like the Tata Nano (the world's most affordable, at US$2,500, the 'one-lakh car' in Indian lingo) and the Mahindra Scorpio are taking the world by storm. Over a million cars are made in India today.

As the man who led India's economic reforms as finance minister in 1991, PM Singh is fully aware that he has much work to do to trim the bureaucratic underbrush that continues to stifle India. He was fiercely attacked in the pages of the international financial press for not applying the 'Washington Consensus' during the five-year term that has just ended.

Anti-reformist Agenda

Yet, he is also fully aware that the Indian elephant moves slowly, and that has been part of the reason for his success. One misreading of the Indian elections has been that of self-appointed India experts who have ascribed the drop in support for the Communist Party of India (CPI) - whose number of MPs fell from 60 to 24 - to the latter's alleged anti-reformist agenda.

In fact, it is just the opposite. The CPI was decimated in its bastion, West Bengal, (where it did very well three years ago in the state elections) because it was too pro-business, and tried to move too quickly to bring in Special Economic Zones and industry against the preferences of its rural base. There is a lesson there, for all those who want to see it and want to understand where India is heading and how it works.

Jorge Heine is professor of global governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and a distinguished fellow at The Centre for International Governance Innovation.

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.