India: why Uttar Pradesh elections matter

Forbes India, unlike its American parent, is slowly emerging as a must-read magazine for more than just business news. Witness this week's cover story on the ongoing Uttar Pradesh elections, “The Battle for UP and its impact on the Indian economy.”

As India's most populous state, UP accounts for 80 out of 544 seats in the lower house of the parliament (or Lok Sabha), so a change in the political wind there can presage a change in the central government.

Moreover, because the legislators in the upper house (or Rajya Sabha) are selected by the members of the state assemblies, and their numbers based on population, the UP election could immediately change the balance of power there.

Think that doesn't matter?

Consider that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was able to push through its version of the Lokpal Bill in the lower house, where it holds a majority. But the bill to establish a national anti-corruption ombudsman was stopped in the upper house, where the Opposition holds sway.

But the UP elections could mean more than simple political mathematics, as Forbes describes.

Congress Party scion Rahul Gandhi has staked virtually his entire political future on the state, where he has worked tirelessly over the past two or three years to revive his party's flagging fortunes.


Gandhi has hitched the fortunes of the Congress Party and the government led by it at the Center to his own political future. A loss of face in UP would nail the party to the ground nationally, perhaps even forcing a general election much before 2014. A good performance would cement Gandhi's position in the party and Parliament, giving his voice more weight. It would also embolden the Congress to swat down its cavilling allies and the obstructive Opposition.

You'll have to wait until Feb. 3 to read the whole text online, unless you can get yourself to a newstand in India. But here's another teaser:

Forbes suggests three scenarios for the outcome, and what it will mean for India's stalled economic reforms.

Scenario 1

High probability: The Congress wins 70+ seats and the Samajwadi Party (SP) wins 130-140.

Result: The UPA regains confidence at the central level, the Congress strengthens its position in the Rajya Sabha, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) falters further and infighting increases, and the UPA pushes through some much awaited economic reforms.

Scenario 2

Art of the possible: Mayawati's low-caste Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) wins 150-170 seats, the BJP wins 80+, the SP wins 100+ and the Congress stalls out.

Result: The BSP forms the UP government with the support of the BJP, the UPA grows weaker at the central level, the vote is interpreted as a people's vote against corruption, the BJP takes an even more obstructive role in the parliament, and progress on economic reforms grinds to a halt.

Scenario 3

Chaos theory: the BSP wins 120-130 seats, the SP gets 110+, the BJP gets 60+ and the Congress 50+.

Result: Independents ally with the BSP to form a shaky government that won't last out a 5 year term, the UPA limps along at the central level, Rahul Gandhi's political future takes a hit, BJP infighting intensifies, and only those economic reforms where the Congress can build a national consensus (read: none) go forward.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.