The outcome of the general elections of the world’s largest democracy has proved most of the political pundits, astrologers and psephologists wrong. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) made a huge political miscalculation in calling the elections about six months ahead of the normal time. One thing the results have proved once again: the vibrancy of Indian democracy. The BJP seems to have paid the price of taking the common people for granted. Under its “Shining India” slogan, it had expected to win a re-election amid a bountiful monsoon, rising economic growth rates and a nascent peace process with Pakistan. But its economic reforms have been criticised on the ground that, under them, while urban India marched ahead, rural India, much larger in population, was left behind. Also, the minorities may have swung against the BJP-led alliance to tip the balance and the question of “secularism” versus “communalism” may have entered into the calculations of the voters.

The hung parliament seems to have come to stay in India’s national politics. Though the Congress emerged as the single largest party, the alliance it has led still falls short of an absolute parliamentary majority. However, it is virtually certain to get the support of other parties. And the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, by being elected unopposed, as expected, the parliamentary leader of the Congress, appears all set to be the next Indian prime minister, the fourth in the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. The Indian voters also brushed aside the controversy surrounding Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origins. However, except on “Hindu nationalism” and a couple of other issues, the BJP and the Congress do not seem to have fundamental ideological differences. Widespread allegations of human rights violations under the rule of both have been a matter of concern.

In a democracy the people are supreme. But, to India’s neighbours, while the state of its internal politics is of general interest, its foreign policy dimension becomes a matter of greater curiosity. Mrs Gandhi told the press the other day that peace with Pakistan was an idea the BJP had appropriated, indicating that the process would continue. J. N. Dixit, vice chairman of the Congress foreign policy think tank, says the next government would see to the continuation of all that is good for India. Its foreign policy is said to be based on “realism and calibration.” Though Indian foreign policy is unlikely to see a substantive shift, it may mark subtle variations, including, for example, a little less enthusiasm for the degree of the BJP’s perceived pro-American policy. Though some analysts in Nepal are reading much into the Indian change of guard, India’s Nepal policy is, however, unlikely to change in fundamentals, if the past is any guide.