Reading the tea leaves is difficult in South Asia where governments topple like nine pins and forces mutiny en masse. But it is also a region where rebels come over ground and join the peace process, governments are returned to power and militaries cooperate to bring down non state actors. The past few days provide a testimony of this truism.
The inflection point remains India, the largest country in the region, also what can be truly called as the greatest democracy today. With the return of the sober Dr. Manmohan Singh to power in New Delhi in overwhelming numbers the Indian electorate has decisively voted in favor of stability in the country.
As the Congress-led UPA emerged as the winner in the elections with overwhelming majority with Congress the single-largest party and UPA the top coalition, with 201 seats and UPA has 262 seats, hopes of a stable regime in New Delhi led to soaring of the Bombay Stock Exchange well past the 14,000 mark. While the Sensex may not be a fair indicator of the turn of events in the future, it surely indicates that people are willing to put their money where they did their votes.
The overwhelming victory is seen to have a number of spin off effects such as emergence of national parties and reduced impact of regional parties in national polity. The main gain would be that the Prime Minister Mr Manmohan Singh has returned to office largely unencumbered by demands and conditions that his former UPA partners had placed on him, leading to compromises that weren't in the best interest of the nation. Now it would be an unrestrained and relatively unhindered Congress Party which can surge ahead to take decisions in National interest particularly in terms of economic liberalization
At the national level, people believe that the Congress could provide a cohesive, balanced government without raising issues which were divisive and which did not promise peace and prosperity. Therefore it is this which has propelled the Congress overall where it is being seen as a party which can deliver on both fronts, communal harmony and development, two key challenges faced by any government in India.
The emergence of Mr Rahul Gandhi has two effects. The first is the slur of dynasty. Mr Gandhi would have to live with the same despite the excellent work done by him in UP to turn the tide for the Congress. The demand to place him as an influential minister would rise in the Congress party. More over the party is also known for a dynastic characteristic and trait and therefore there is a high degree of sycophancy. But on the whole, Mr Rahul Gandhi has done his hard work for attaining this distinction and cannot be denied a lead role any more. For India it spells that a decisive young leader is emerging albeit with the baggage of dynasty.
The Indian election exercise is also evidence of efficiency of the Indian state willing to function, when it wants to do so or is willing to do so. The virtually spotless elections are a result of massive preparations as well as experience which has been build up over the past sixty years. Thus identity cards for voters and electronic voting machines are a part of the flawless system. So are the thousands of khaki clad policemen in and around the election booths who are wanting to resist booth capturing.
Finally the people of India have got what they deserved the most, a stable and strong government with a progressive agenda of communal harmony and stability rather than divisiveness what ever be the other factors involved. And the people believe that the Congress despite its many failings would give it both.
On the foreign policy front with the Congress led UPA back in power stability of government would imply a strong India with better bargaining power internationally as well as regionally. The hesitation in greater engagement with the US and West that the UPA had in its first tenure would be greatly reduced. However this is negated by the less enthusiasm that President Obama seems to be having for India. Pakistan will be a continued challenge and Islamabad will now have to show results on the Mumbai Terror investigations as well as neutralize the terrorist groups operating thereof. China will not be able to bully its way through the region as a strong India would considerably shift the power balance towards New Delhi. Economic policy would be critical for the new government as with global slow down it would face a very difficult choices. Regionally a strong India would considerably lower the bargaining power of its neighbors.
In neighboring Sri Lanka, the civil war between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Armed Forces has come to an end with the death of a large number of hard core leaders of the LTTE including Mr Prabhakaran the confirmation of which has not come categorically. This brings hope to both the Tamils and the Sinhala in the country, with signs of at least one trouble spot in the region cooling off.
In Bangladesh, the Awami League is slowly assuming a firm grip on power after the rebellion by the BDR in February. Hopefully it would continue to rule on its strengths rather than antagonistic politics of the past.
Nepal is of course in a political swirl, but the Nepali politicians are known to balance their differences at the last minute when everything seems lost, that is the experience since 2006 and hopefully we will see the end to the present crisis of Army versus the Maoists soon.
Afghanistan and Pakistan will remain turbulent, but with other states in South Asia slowly showing stability, the ring of fire which had become so popular with Indian strategic community seems to be slowly reducing to a unstable West.
Yet these are the beginnings of some good tidings to a region which has the largest concentration of humanity in poverty in the World and should therefore cheer many.