India in the 1990’s

India in the 1990’s

The end of the Eighties marked a profound turning point in the life of the country, with a progressive fragmentation of political representation and the consequent establishment of coalition governments. While the credibility of the INC (I) as guarantor of the secular state accused the repercussions induced by the explosion of violent conflicts between different communities, by the accentuation of separatist tendencies and by the emergence of terrorist groups, the following of regional parties grew and formations with strong ethnic and religious references, often bearers of fundamentalist visions. In particular, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) became one of the protagonists of the political scene, rooted in the states of the Hindu belt in the north of the country, especially in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state of the Union. and proponent of a program based on the affirmation of Hindu culture and caste representation.

The caste system was undermined by the very exercise of democracy which, by its nature, was progressively opening up spaces even to previously excluded sectors of the population: in many regions governments that expressed low castes came to power, while free-market economic transformations introduced further changes in social stratification, leading the lower castes and the ‘outcasts’ to demand new forms of participation. For India democracy and rights, please check The trend towards polarization of caste identities emerged clearly, for example, on the occasion of the reform (1990-92) of the quota system, which provided for an increase in the quota reserved in public employment for the rural lower castes and which aroused violent grievances from students, mostly belonging to the middle-upper castes and the urban bourgeoisie. The disintegration, however slow and partial, of such a complex social stratification obviously represented a vehicle of crisis and imbalance for the whole system. With the elections of November 1989 the government passed to the National Front, a heterogeneous coalition united only by the opposition to Gandhi’s party, formed by the Janata Dal, of social democratic tendency and expression of the lower castes, and by three powerful regional parties, with the support outside the BJP and the two communist parties. The coalition, led by Vishwanath Pratap Singh, minister in the previous legislature and then passed from INC (I) to Janata Dal, already divided originally, it split in November 1990. The fall of an ephemeral government, led by Chandra Shektar, leader of a splinter faction of the Janata Dal, with the external support of the INC (I) made it necessary to call early elections in June 1991. The election campaign was marked by new outbursts of violence, culminating on 21 May, when R. Gandhi was killed in a terrorist attack. The elections saw the defeat of the Janata Dal and a rise in both the BJP and INC (I), whose new leader Narasimha Rao formed a minority government. The Rao government was faced with the escalation of ethnic and religious conflicts already at the end of 1992, when in Ayodhya, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Hindu fundamentalists destroyed the Babur mosque, the center of bitter disputes. Clashes followed that shook almost the whole country, with more than 2000 dead, and rekindled ethnic and religious particularisms, even different from the traditional conflict between Hindus and Muslims. The government, uncertain and worried about losing consensus, then reacted by outlawing the oldest Hindu nationalist organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, “National Volunteer Corps”), and by dismissing, with a much discussed measure, some local governed administrations. from the BJP. Divided internally, the executive, however, was unable to accompany the repressive measures with other broader initiatives. On the other hand, the Rao administration demonstrated greater incisiveness, as well as in an active foreign policy, in the management of the economy, where the liberalizing choice, initiated from the very first measures launched by the executive and which had effectively dismantled the centralized system, it produced regular GDP growth, even if it greatly accentuated regional differences. Despite the successes reported internationally and the moderate results achieved in economic policy, the popularity of the government, involved more and more often in episodes of corruption and the path of increasingly strong internal conflicts, suffered a sharp decline, confirmed by the heavy defeat of the INC (I) in the regional elections held in the main states between the end of 1994 and the beginning of 1995.

The general political elections scheduled for the spring of 1996 were preceded by a new wave of corruption accusations, which affected both the executive, in the the person of the prime minister, and the main opposition figures. The consultations marked the defeat of the INC (I), increasingly compromised by scandals, the defection of numerous prominent personalities and the crisis of some important local federations, and recorded the affirmation of two opposing political forces: on the one hand the National Front-Left Front, a heterogeneous coalition comprising social democratic parties such as the Janata Dal, communist parties such as the ruling West Bengal, regional parties and other smaller forces; on the other hand, the BJP in alliance with other small groups. After an attempt by the BJP, whose government remained in office for only 13 days, the mandate was given to Haradanahalli Dodde Deve Gowda, who emerged, after arduous consultations, as candidate for prime minister of the United Front, a new name assumed by the coalition of 13 parties of center-left. A politician of regional stature, not from the upper castes – very unusual among national leaders – Deve Gowda started an executive with external support from the INC (I). Support fell short in the early months of 1997 following the redefinition of the internal balance of the INC (I), with the resignation of Rao from the leadership of the party and the entry of Sonia Maino Gandhi, widow of R. Gandhi. With the resignation of Deve Gowda, a minority government formed by the United Front and led by Inder Kumar Gujral, a senior and esteemed intellectual and political leader welcomed by the INC (I), took office, who continued to support him until, in late 1997, Gujral refused to grant the request to expel from the coalition a party involved in the investigation into the death of R. Gandhi for having had contact with the Tamil Tigers.

India democracy and rights

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