Congress loses in four Indian polls

MAULING::Initial results show the Bharatiya Janata Party winning outright in two states, while Congress won just eight of the 40 seats up for grabs in Delhi


Mon, Dec 09, 2013 - Page 5

India’s ruling Congress party yesterday suffered an electoral humiliation at the hands of the main opposition and an anti-corruption movement, in the last major test before next year’s national polls.

Initial tallies showed Congress, in power at national level for a decade, losing control of all four state assemblies up for grabs in yesterday’s vote count, including in Delhi, where it was set to come a distant third.

Sheila Dikshit, chief minister of the capital for the past 15 years, acknowledged Congress had been toppled after only half a dozen of the 70 seats in Delhi had been declared.

“We accept our defeat and we will analyze what went wrong,” Dikshit said. “We thank the people of Delhi for having supported the Congress for 15 years.”

While the outcome is a boost for the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), analysts said the stunning support for an anti-graft party in the Delhi contest signaled a wider anger with mainstream politics.

Elections in the four states — Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh — have been held at different points over the last month, but the counting had been postponed until yesterday.

Votes will be counted in the remote Congress-ruled state of Mizoram today.

While the full results would not be announced until much later, the electoral commission and Indian television said early tallies indicated the BJP would win by a landslide in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, and was running neck and neck with Congress in Chhattisgarh.

However, the main focus was on Delhi, where Congress was facing a wipeout. The electoral commission said on its Web site that the BJP had either won or was in the lead in 31 of the 70 seats, making it the largest party.

The commission predicted that the BJP would be deprived of an outright majority by the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party (Common People’s Party), which had won or was ahead in counting in 29 seats despite only launching last year.

Congress was on course to win just eight seats, the commission said.

Dikshit, India’s longest-serving chief minister, was expected to lose her seat to AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, a former civil servant.

“We have succeeded in altering the political discourse of the elections,” Athishi Marlena, one of Kejriwal’s top lieutenants, told the NDTV network. “I think it’s historic that a party that was formed just a year ago, a party which was written off till yesterday by the other two big parties, has made such a spectacular debut.”

Triumphant Aam Aadmi supporters who had gathered at the party headquarters could be seen waving brooms — the symbol of its pledge to clean up politics.

BJP activists celebrated in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, dancing to the beat of drums, bursting firecrackers and waving the party’s lotus symbol.

The assembly votes mark the last major test before Congress and the BJP, fielding hardliner Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as its candidate for prime minister, face off in the general election due by May.