Cooperation agreement with the United States helps to return the United Progressive Alliance to power.
Indian voters have defied polling predictions and returned the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to power with a larger majority. Analysts say that the outcome confirms people's support for the 2005 deal between the United States and India on civilian nuclear cooperation.
The results of the month-long elections, announced on 16 May, see the UPA set to rule the country for another five years with Manmohan Singh remaining as prime minister. The UPA, led by the Indian National Congress Party, secured 262 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, the Indian Parliament's lower house. With the backing of many independents, the UPA no longer needs support from the Communists — who together lost 38 seats — to form a government.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Third Front, made up of left-wing and regional parties, also lost seats.
A pre-poll survey by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in New Delhi found that the Indo-US nuclear deal was one of the main issues in the elections — along with terrorism and price rises of fuel and food.
The BJP and left-wing parties had opposed the nuclear deal, vowing to review it if they came to power. The BJP may also have damaged its election prospects with a number of statements including the promise by its leader Lal Krishna Advani to conduct a nuclear test — a move that would have scuttled the deal.
Continuity will definitely help. C. N. R. Rao , Chairman, Scientific Advisory Council
The return of UPA rule means that implementation of the nuclear deal can move forwards fast, says Valangiman Ramamurthy, former science secretary. However, Indian officials say that some diplomatic, commercial and legislative work still remains before US companies can actually commence nuclear trade with India.
With the larger majority, Singh will have more freedom to decide on the latest overture of the administration of US President Barack Obama to get India to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Any such move would, however, be fiercely opposed by other parties.
Benefits of continuity
"What happened is a very good thing. Continuity will definitely help," says C. N. R. Rao, chairman of Singh's Scientific Advisory Council (SAC). "I have worked with six prime ministers and as far as science and technology and higher education is concerned it is only in the last four years that more investment has come and more decisions have been taken."
With Singh staying at the helm, it will be easier to continue with UPA commitments such as raising science spending to 2% of gross domestic product by 2012 from the current 0.9%, says Rao. It should also be easier to push through other SAC recommendations such as freeing all government scientific institutions from "stifling bureaucracy", and establishing of a National Science Engineering Research Board with an annual budget of US$250 million for funding basic science.
There are also plans to establish a national knowledge network that would connect nearly 1,000 research and educational institutions in India through a 'gigabytes-per-second' bandwidth grid. "This is going to revolutionize education," says Rajagopala Chidambaram, who has served as principal government science adviser both under NDA and UPA rule.
The parties had few differences on scientific issues apart from on the nuclear deal. Science always gets support, says Chidambaram, and the science agenda should move on without much disruption.
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Jayaraman, K. Nuclear deal influences Indian election results. Nature (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/news.2009.487