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A New Indian Government

L to R: Kanchan Chandra, Mira Kamdar, and Sanjay Ruparelia. (Asia Society)

L to R: Kanchan Chandra, Mira Kamdar, and Sanjay Ruparelia. (Asia Society)

NEW YORK, June 4, 2009 – After a month of voting and over 400 million eligible ballots cast, the Indian National Congress (INC) emerged as the winner in India's recent elections with the largest block in parliament. In the wake of the election, a panel of experts at the Asia Society's New York headquarters looked at how the Congress Party will interpret its new mandate, and whether it in fact has one.

Kanchan Chandra, associate professor in the Wilf Family Department of Politics at New York University, was optimistic that "politics has become a channel for upward mobility once again."

Chandra explained that given India's highly fragmented coalition environment, even the slightest change can dramatically alter the seats allocated. When asked how a fragmented government might affect India's stability, she said this "can paradoxically be a good thing."

Sanjay Ruparelia, assistant professor of politics at the New School for Social Research, pointed out that nine former chief ministers are in the current cabinet, which reflects the Congress Party's understanding "you need the political acumen of state-level figures who have the clout, the experience, and the knowledge."

Looking ahead to what the new government will mean for US-India relations, Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, senior editor of the Hindustan Times, participating via teleconference, said the key for this next stage will be "getting down to the nuts and bolts [of negotiations] so that the doors that have been opened [will] start to see things actually move back and forth between them."

He expected progress on several US-India agreements, including defense monitoring agreements, and increased foreign direct investment (FDI) in the insurance sector.

There were a number of questions about India's growth and whether or not Delhi will seize this opportunity to improve its infrastructure. Moderator Mira Kamdar, associate fellow at Asia Society, said she would like to see real investment in green and alternative energy solutions, instead of focusing on nuclear power and oil.

Finally, for India to achieve its ambitious growth goals the panel emphasized the importance of investing in "human infrastructure," which includes elevating the status and education of women.