Ruling party loses power in Delhi amid public anger over widespread corruption, slowing growth and rising prices… Congress has led the central Government for two terms and is facing deep anger among voters over widespread corruption, slowing growth and soaring prices. A heavy defeat next year is widely predicted… Some analysts have contrasted Gandhi’s campaign, which highlighted the Congress Government’s massive expansion of welfare programmes, with Modi’s message, which targeted the aspirations of India’s youthful population. At least 120 million first-time voters are estimated to be eligible to take part in the next year’s national polls…
India’s ruling Congress party appears to have sustained a series of bruising defeats in local elections that analysts regard as a “semi-final” before a general election due next spring. Congress lost power in Delhi and the major States of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The big winners in the local elections were a new local party headed by a former tax inspector and a national opposition energised by India’s most controversial politician, Narendra Modi. “The lineup will be the same next year and it’s a meltdown for Congress,” Anil Padmanabhan, an analyst who writes for local newspaper Mint. Congress has led the central Government for two terms and is facing deep anger among voters over widespread corruption, slowing growth and soaring prices.
A heavy defeat next year is widely predicted with its main opponent, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), the clear winner in three big States that went to the polls, and neck-and-neck race in a fourth. In Delhi, it was the Aam Admi (Common Man) party that surprised many, with the new organisation winning 28 of the 70 seats in the local assembly, beating the Congress party, which led India’s struggle for independence, into third place with just 8 seats.
“I thought they would do well but never get this far,” said Padmanabhan. The party is led by Arvind Kejriwal, a 45-year-old former bureaucrat-turned-activist and amateur politician, who has capitalised on public anger at poor services, corruption and the complacency of India’s political elite. In a country where many are illiterate, political parties rely on a symbol for recognition – the AAP’s is a broom. “I voted for Kejriwal because all the others are thieves. They tell us they will help us when they want our votes and then we never hear or see them again. Now we will sweep them away,” said Mohan Lal, a 42-year-old cobbler in west Delhi. Supporters of the new party celebrated in the streets, waving brooms to symbolise sweeping out rotten politicians after several years of corruption scandals.
Party officials said they had national ambitions, though analysts believe it will have difficulties expanding beyond the capital. Congress politicians downplayed the significance of the defeats. Jyotiraditya Scindia, a Congress party Minister, told the local NDTV news channel State elections were “a mandate on State level issues … not a mandate on any persons leadership or for 2014”. Polls next year will see Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and Vice-president of the Congress party, pitted against Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat and the BJP’s declared Prime Ministerial candidates. Both campaigned at the recent polls.
Modi, three times Chief Minister of Gujarat, is a Hindu nationalist whose reputation has been tarnished by allegations that he failed to protect Muslims during sectarian rioting in Gujarat in 2002. However, the 63-year-old is popular with the business community and among many urban voters. Markets closely tracked the outcome of the elections. Bond, rupee and share prices rose last week after exit polls predicted a strong BJP performance. Analysts are split over how far Modi’s vigorous campaigning of recent months had contributed to the BJP’s strong showing.
“It’s impossible to quantify a Modi factor in State elections but it’s a very good result for the BJP and gives them a real springboard for the contest next spring,” said Swapan Dasgupta, a political analyst. Vinod Sharma, political editor of the Hindustan Times, said the defeats for Congress were “less to do with Modi” and more a display of local dissatisfaction with the national Congress-led coalition Government. The Congress party’s poor performance in the State assembly elections will lead to further questioning of the leadership abilities of 43-year-old Gandhi, heir to a political dynasty that began with his great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister.
Some analysts have contrasted Gandhi’s campaign, which highlighted the Congress Government’s massive expansion of welfare programmes, with Modi’s message, which targeted the aspirations of India’s youthful population. At least 120 million first-time voters are estimated to be eligible to take part in the next year’s national polls.
India’s fragmented political landscape makes national elections hard to predict. Historically, strong State results have not always translated into success in national elections. In three of the four State elections counted on Sunday, 8 December, the election was a two-way race between the BJP and Congress, rare in a country whose States are increasingly governed by powerful regional parties.
– The Guardian