Indian Expats Stunned By Election Outcome

RIYADH/DAMMAM/JEDDAH, 14 May 2004 — India’s parliamentary election results yesterday stunned Indian expatriates across the Kingdom, who nonetheless welcomed the verdict in favor of Congress.

More than one expat said the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government’s divisive communal politics cost it dearly, as did anger among the millions of rural poor who felt left behind by the country’s economic boom.

“The economic benefits have failed to reach the hundreds of millions living in crushing poverty in rural India, where electricity, jobs and clean water are still luxuries,” one of them said.

Congress, led by Sonia Gandhi and her children, Rahul and Priyanka, could take power by next week for the first time since 1996.

In Riyadh, expats were positively jubilant over the defeat of the National Democratic Alliance government and with it what they see as a victory for secularism.

“The BJP policy against Muslim and other minorities are what’s prompted voters to once again put their faith in the Congress,” said Riyas Rahman, system support engineer.

Shaikh Nizamuddin, a business coordinator, concurs: “What cost the BJP leadership was its shameless support to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi despite charges of genocide against Muslims and thus making a mockery of the judiciary,” he said.

But Branch Manager Chandran Kutty was more conciliatory. “We cannot deny that the Vajpayee government brought a lot of changes and improvement in terms of fiscal policies and international relations, especially in promoting peace with Pakistan,” he said.

In the Eastern Province, some expats supporting the Congress-led secular front were as surprised by the results as those at the opposite end of the spectrum. The general expectation among Indians prior to the election results was that of a hung Parliament, but a complete rout of the BJP and its allies came as a shock.

The community represents the entire spectrum from pro-BJP to anti-BJP to pro-Left and Democratic Front (LDF) elements — though of course non-resident Indians cannot vote. In areas like Subaikha, Thuqba, King Fahd Street in Alkhobar and Tobaishi, Jalawiyah in Dammam there were scenes of jubilation and celebration as well as despondency.

“It’s a victory of secular forces over the naked, shameless communal forces in the country,” said Hasan Kazmi, company executive. “The Indian electorate have shown that they cannot be taken for a ride. Indians, irrespective of their religious beliefs are essentially secular and progressive people.”

“The BJP has paid the price for its arrogance,” said Atmanand Pandey from Delhi. “The leadership was and ignored some very basic issues like agriculture, starvation deaths, power shortage and unemployment.”

Rajiv Shukla of Lucknow disagreed. “Branding the BJP a communal outfit is not correct. In terms of economic reforms, it was the most progressive party,” he said. “I hope the economic reforms the NDA set on course won’t be derailed by the Congress.”

Muhammad Ahmad Chishti, a project manager, sounded a note of caution. “The Congress-led alliance will have difficult tasks ahead. People should be on guard, because the BJP is going to play the communal card again.”

In Jeddah, S. Nihal, a marketing manager, was glad of “a welcome change”. “I hope the new Congress-led government will learn from past mistakes.”

The overwhelming interpretation was that a blow has been struck for communalism.

“The verdict shows voters do not want to see riots in Gujarat to happen again,” said Syed Aftab Mohsin, a sales executive.

“BJP leaders were not sincere,” agreed Abdul Aleem, an advertising executive. “They ignored, and mistreated not only Muslims but all minorities.”

Housewife Jayanti Verma also had a warning for the future. “Those who indulge in divisive and destructive politics will meet the same fate,” she predicted.

One factor united all Indians here: Irrespective of their political affiliations, they want the country to give them the right to vote from abroad.

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