Syed Farooq Hasnat As a part of political continuity, peaceful transfer of power and above all a democratic requirement, India is holding its fifteenth national elections for Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Parliament). These elections are taking place in the backdrop of political stability, dating back to 1999. For last ten years India was ruled by two coalitions, first the BJP (1999-2004) and then Congress (2004-2009) - both completed their five years term. Given the size of the country and volume of the population, the elections are being held in extensive five phases, spreading from April 16 to May 13, in which 714 million people use their right to vote for 543 constituencies. The voters in the Indian occupied Kashmir boycotted the May 7 elections in the fourth phase. There was a two day shutdown and according to independent sources like BBC, on election day, there "were deserted streets amid an election boycott call..." as "the call was generally heeded." This is contrary to last year's state elections, where a reasonable number went to the polls. Three major groups with diverse visions and agendas are contesting these elections. First, the Congress leads the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The second coalition, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is headed by the orthodox Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). On March 12, claiming that India needs alternative leadership, as both the BJP and Congress have failed to fulfil the demands of the people, the Third Front was formed. It consists of the Left and regional parties. The General Secretary of the Communist Party - Marxist (CPM) Parkash Karat announced at the occasion that: "This is a historic get together of all democratic, secular and Left parties in the country to declare that we are coming together to constitute a third force in the country." In the past, at two occasions, "third front" coalitions were formed with disappointing results. V P Singh was prime minister for only two years. The other two H D Deve Gowda and Inder Kumar Gujral had even shorter tenures. Internal squabbling and different agendas could not keep the coalitions together. The communists had supported the Congress from 2004 to July 2008, as they fell apart on the US-India nuclear deal. According to some political pundits like Praful Bidwai: "Even if the Congress and the BJP end up winning less than half of Lok Sabha seats, the Third Front wins 120 to 130 seats, and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) joins it in a grand alliance, it's not inevitable that the Front will come to power and hold it for a length of time." Indian well read magazine Outlook in an article by Harsh V Pant describes these elections as 'The Great Indian Tamasha'. Pant argues that there are no serious issues involved in the debate and the arguments revolve around trivial matters and it's devoid of "innovative policy." The critics have further noted that because of the lack of serious debate on the main issues, "these elections might just turn out to be the one of the most banal exercises (India) has ever undertaken." No matter which coalition forms the next government, it has to deal with a variety of issues. Internally, India has to tackle with rising tensions amongst various factions of its society, both in religious and ethnic terms. Many ethnic and linguist groups are frustrated and there are nearly 25 insurgency movements going on in various parts of the country. Secondly, the rapid growth of the middle class has created a new socio-economic dichotomy, raising the anger of millions, living below poverty line. Thirdly, India's "tilt" towards the US to create a counter balance against the Chinese is seen by many Indians as unrealistic as well as playing a subordinate role to the American interests. In spite of numerous weaknesses in the Indian political method, its leaders and the caste ridden social structure, there are merits in the manner in which the Indian polity conforms. The answer to what makes India politically stable and economically advanced lies in its uninterrupted political process. India has a history of continuous electioneering and a peaceful transfer of power, which is unique when compared in the regional context - no coup d'tats, behind the scene military manoeuvring or civil-military conspiracies. In short, amongst the South Asian countries India has moved far ahead in terms of political process, economic development and maturity of various institutions. The other nations of the region, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and even Sri Lanka are still struggling to establish some kind of political acumen and structures, which can put things in order. All the South Asian countries including India experienced upheavals, and turmoil that challenged the development of strong institutions and systems. Those with stronger democratic political traditions were able to deal better than the others. Both India and Sri Lanka are good examples of this stipulation. For the rest, the obstructions in the establishment of viable political systems presented negative fallout and became a contributing factor for the malfunction of economic and social institutions. This is not to say that India is on the road to prosperity. A booming middle class cannot compensate for widespread poverty, disease, malnutrition and grave social injustices. A lot has to be done for the Indian society to become comparable with a vast number of developing countries like Malaysia, Brazil and Indonesia. Still, involvement of the people through democratic forums provides a chance for a brighter future. While the neighbouring countries struggled with ethnic tensions and other impediments for national integration, the Indian leadership is able to manage its diversions by strengthening its democratic system. The writer is a scholar at the Middle East Institute, Washington DC