“the world’s largest election”: 930,000 polling stations

India (from the South Asia Daily) Ana Swanson‘s media round up: April 2013 044

Voting begins in Indian general election

Voting began in the Indian general election on Monday, with millions in the country’s remote northeast going to the polls (NYTNDTVGuardianTelegraph). Five voting districts in upper Assam and one in the neighboring state of Tripura launched the opening stage of the nine-phase Indian election. An estimated 8,000 polling stations in the region were expected to receive up to 7.5 million voters. By 3 p.m. on Monday, nearly 60% of voters in the five constituencies of Assam had exercised their votes (Times of India).

India’s major newspapers ran sections on Monday to celebrate the world’s biggest democratic event (Times of India,Hindustan Times). Polling will be conducted on nine separate days until May 12, with national results released on May 16. Some 815 million Indians are eligible to vote at 930,000 polling stations in the coming weeks. Polls suggest the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party is set to win its largest number of seats ever in India’s lower house of parliament, or Lok Sabha, and that the ruling Congress party could end up with the lowest share of the popular vote since India’s independence (FT). The Congress party has governed India for all but 13 years since the country won independence from Britain in 1947.

The Telugu Desam Party in southern India has joined the BJP-led coalition, a partnership that could propel the BJP closer to the 272 seats it needs to form the next national government, reports said (Times of IndiaNDTV). According to the seat-sharing arrangement reached by the two parties, the BJP will contest five parliamentary seats and 15 assembly seats in Seemandhra (Andhra Pradesh) and eight Lok Sabha seats and 47 assembly segments in Telangana. Four sitting parliament members, a powerful regional governor from Rajasthan, and two men named as Congress parliamentary candidates have all defected to the BJP in recent months.

BJP releases election manifesto

The BJP released its national manifesto on Monday, promising to tackle the key issues of corruption, illegal money, inflation, and policy paralysis if elected (NYTFTWSJBBCNDTVMintEconomic Times). The 52-page document was repeatedly delayed, leaving some analysts to speculate about divisions over economic policy within the party.

Among other goals, the BJP promised to create a “non adversarial” tax environment and simplify the country’s complicated tax laws, “strictly implement fiscal discipline,” set aside a third of the seats in state assemblies and Parliament for women, and introduce a comprehensive national policy for energy conservation. The BJP also promised to roll back measures by the Congress party to open the multibrand retail sector to foreign direct investment, though it said it would open other sectors to foreign cash. The party promised faster infrastructure development, a massive low-cost housing program, job creation, and measures to control inflation, including a price-stabilization fund and special courts to prosecute hoarders and black marketers. It pledged “zero tolerance” toward internal and external security threats and promised to maintain a credible minimum deterrent in its nuclear weapons program (Economic Times).

The manifesto also made several controversial promises, including pledging to explore “within the constitutional framework” the construction of the Ram temple at a site where Hindu activists tore down the 16th century Babri mosque in December 1992 (NDTV). The manifesto reaffirmed the BJP’s commitment to Hindu nationalism, pledging that India “shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus.” The BJP also mentioned two other controversial promises – the removal of Article 370, which gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and a Uniform Civil Code, which would unify the various laws that govern Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and Parsis. Narendra Modi, the party’s prime ministerial candidate, has steered clear of these topics while campaigning, although they have always been among the party’s key poll pledges.

The ruling Congress Party released its election manifesto in late March, which promised to expand health care, housing, and other benefits for the poor and disadvantaged. The Aam Aadmi, or “Common Man,” party, released its manifesto last week, promising tough action against corruption, a citizen’s charter to punish slow or incompetent officials, radical devolution of power to the village level, and wide-ranging reform of the police (Guardian).

India’s Sun Pharma buys troubled Ranbaxy

India’s Sun Pharmaceutical Industries has agreed to purchase Ranbaxy, an Indian generic drugmaker that has been repeatedly barred from importing to the United States over safety concerns, for $3.2 billion in stock (FTWSJBBCTimes of India). The deal will create India’s biggest pharmaceutical group and the world’s fifth largest specialty generics company. Daiichi Sankyo, Japan’s number two drugmaker and the controlling shareholder of Ranbaxy, will retain a 9 percent stake and a seat on the board. The agreement still requires shareholder and regulatory approvals.

Daiichi bought a 63.4 percent stake in Ranbaxy in 2008 for $4.7 billion. Barely six months later, Daiichi took a $3.7 billion writedown as the US Food and Drug Administration began a series of regulatory actions against the company.

The FDA has barred imports from four out of five of Ranbaxy’s India factories because of safety concerns. Before the ban, the US market accounted for around 40% of Ranbaxy’s revenues. Sun Pharma has also faced regulatory action from the U.S.: Last month, the FDA banned imports from one of its Indian plants after regulators found that the factory was not “operating in conformity with good manufacturing practices.”

— Ana Swanson

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