The most many Americans know about the election in India is the fact that they actually know nothing about it. While it is not hard to trump this lack of coverage, one political drama that is certainly getting more airtime across America is the world of Game of Thrones, which continues to break its own viewership records with each subsequent airing. May 11th’s episode had the most viewers yet: 7.16 million. Fortunately for America, the Indian election is eerily similar to the plots unfolding in Westeros. Because the plot of Game of Thrones is totally a simplification—not complicated at all—let’s break this down Ice and Fire style. I hope this doesn’t make things worse…
In 1947, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru swept through India on the backs of dragons and conquered it from the British. Gandhi was assassinated and Nehru became the first prime minister, bringing over 500 independent princely states and other entities into the fold of the Union of India with the help of the Hand of the King (Home Minister) Vallabhbhai Patel. India as our proverbial Seven Kingdoms was born. India also has a Wall in its north: the Line of Control between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir and the Line of Actual Control between Indian and Chinese Kashmir. In 1999, Pakistan tried to breach the Wall, triggering the Kargil War.
The Iron Throne was forged in Delhi, and Nehru became the head of a dynasty that has ruled India directly as Prime Ministers for 40 years and indirectly as head of the ruling party, the Congress, for 55 years (India has been independent for 67 years). The Nehru-Gandhi family took the Gandhi name when Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi (who was assassinated by her Queen’s Guard), married a man unrelated to the eponymous opposition leader. Currently, the Congress party rules India, but there is rebellion in the air. They are most definitely House Targaryen.
House Targaryen (Congress)
The brother-sister pair of Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, great-grandchildren of Nehru, are seen as the future of the party. Rahul Gandhi has been the face of the Congress during this campaign, but he is largely viewed as inept at governance and the coddled child of a broken line. His sister, Priyanka, has never entered politics herself and has been involved from the sidelines via managing the campaigns of her mother and brother at various times. She is married to Robert Vadra who, coincidentally, is the chief of a powerful tribe of horselords from the east. Sadly, no, but he has been a source of controversy for her as some of his business dealings have come under scrutiny. Late in the present election, Priyanka became much more involved and her powerful and relatively easy assumption of the limelight has many believing that she is, in fact, the only future for the family and the Congress party. Unfortunately for her, she has no dragons, just allegedly billions of dollars in offshore bank accounts. No pressure, Khaleesi.
House Lannister (The Bharatiya Janata Party)
In the sense that he may usurp Congress, Narendra Modi is Robert Baratheon, but the BJP leader has a political ambition that even Tywin Lannister would find threatening. He is cunning, ruthless, and viewed by many as heartless for his alleged role in communal riots in 2002. He compared the sadness of the event to running over a puppy with a car (over 1,000 people were killed), he refuses to apologize for letting it happen under his watch, and further says he did “absolutely the right thing” in how he handled the unrest. Yet, his critics remain skeptical while his supporters either point to the Supreme Court having cleared his name last year or say “Hakuna Matata,” roll their eyes, and affirm that he has “matured.”
Modi has created a fervor amongst his fans with alluring promises of development and strong governance but he has also pushed away other prominent noble houses. Several regional Indian parties have broken their alliance with his party, the BJP, because of his polarizing personality. His home state of Gujarat (Casterly Rock) is one of the richest states in India and is viewed as an enviable microcosm of development that many across India dream of for themselves. The validity of the statistics around this development, though, and Modi’s personal role in driving them has been questioned. And from a human development standpoint, Gujarat’s growth has been lackluster. Many whisper that these mythical “development gold mines” under Casterly Rock are merely a visage.
House Stark (Aam Aadmi Party)
The lovable underdogs (underwolves?). The leader of the Aam Aadmi Party is a young and fresh politician named Arvind Kejriwal (Robb Stark) who has no background in politics. He worked as a civil servant in the Indian Revenue Service before becoming involved in the 2011 Delhi protests to pass anti-corruption reform. That movement evolved into a political party with him as its leader after millions of people in Delhi started chanting “King of the North!”
So king he became.
In an enormous electoral upset, his neophyte party won 28 out of 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly elections this past December and he became Chief Minister of Delhi. After 49 days, he resigned in order to campaign in the national election where, in just a few months, he assembled his newly found bannermen and fielded candidates in 434 constituencies (there are 543 total in India). Personally, he decided to challenge the might of Narendra Modi (Tywin Lannister) directly in the district of Varanasi: wolf versus lion in one of the oldest cities in the world. Most predict Modi will win, but young Robb Stark has one smashing victory already under his belt. Can he pull off another or has he walked into a political Red Wedding?
House Greyjoy (Trinamool National Congress)
Mamata Banerjee split from Congress in 1997 and formed her own party, the Trinamool National Congress (TMC). Since then, she has formed alliances with both major houses, the Congress and the BJP, and has generally seized on opportunities to raid the mainland to assert her party’s independence as its own seat of power in West Bengal (Iron Islands) where the party hails from and maintains its throne with a 63% majority of seats in the state assembly. She also has a nephew named Theon (Abhishek, actually) who is ambitiously contesting in this election for the first time. To be fair, one could likely argue that any one of the larger regional parties in India could take the mantel of House Greyjoy, but I opted for TNC.
House Martell (The Third Front)
The Third Front is actually a union of several different political parties with a strong presence in the perpetually warm southern region of India. Until 2011, one of their constituent parties ruled Kerala, which has the highest Human Development Index in India, according to a report by the Government of India, and the highest literacy rate in India. A Third Front party rules the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu and is a significant opposition force in neighboring Karnataka. Like Dorne, southern Indian culture is very distinct from that of the Seven Kingdoms. The food and dress of South Indians are unique and Hindi, the predominant language in northern India, has more in common linguistically with English than it does with the southern Dravidian languages. Even the hero and foe of the Ramayana, one of India’s great epics, are viewed differently in the north and south. The Third Front was formed in opposition to the two major northern houses—they have never been outright loyal to Congress (Targaryen) and openly detest our Tywin Lannister, Narendra Modi. It should also be noted that the Third Front is significant in the northern states of Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
Suffice to say, there are enough strong personalities and ruling family dramas in India to make for very interesting entertainment even without dragons, beheadings, and zombie ice monsters.