India’s governing Congress party was routed in three state elections for which votes were counted on Sunday and looked set to lose narrowly in the fourth, giving the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party renewed hope of victory in next year’s general election.
Voters in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh overwhelmingly supported the BJP, the Hindu nationalist party headed by prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
In the capital Delhi, Congress under its chief minister Sheila Dikshit suffered a crushing defeat after 15 years in power in the city at the hands of the BJP and a new, anti-corruption group called the Aam Aadmi (Ordinary People) Party. AAP leader Arvinder Kejriwal resoundingly defeated Ms Dikshit in her own New Delhi constituency.
Partial results in Delhi gave the BJP 31 of the 70 seats in the state assembly, closely followed by the AAP with 28. Congress won only eight.
“Who are we? We are the common man,” said the AAP’s Mr Kejriwal, who wants to spread the party’s influence across the country. “For the first time elections were fought on the plank of honesty and intelligence.”
Chhattisgarh, where early results gave the BJP had an advantage over Congress of only a few seats, was the only state where Congress performed creditably. Between them the four states contested have a population of more than 170m, a seventh of India’s total.
The results were seen in India as a humiliating setback for Congress and its leaders, Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul, as well as for Manmohan Singh, the 81-year-old economist who has headed the Congress-led coalition government for the past decade after Ms Gandhi chose him as prime minister.
“This result calls for deep introspection,” said Ms Gandhi, Congress party leader. “We will rectify our mistakes.”
Millions of young, urban voters, as well as the country’s tycoons, have bemoaned the halving of annual economic growth to less than 5 per cent over the past two years and expressed disappointment at the failure of Congress to create jobs or attract investment – something the BJP’s Mr Modi has promised to do.
Vasundhara Raje, BJP leader in Rajasthan, attributed the party’s victory there to weariness with the outgoing Congress government in the state and to enthusiasm for Mr Modi, who is chief minister of neighbouring Gujarat.
“People of Rajasthan are tired of the incumbent government,” she told NDTV television news. “Narendra Modi is a big factor too – Modi has shown what he can do in Gujarat. People believe in him, they believe that Rajasthan can also become Gujarat.”
Shashi Tharoor, government minister and Congress member of parliament, said the party took the results very seriously but blamed the defeats in the state elections on “local factors” and said they should not be seen as part of the broader political battle to be fought at the general election in April or May. “We do not accept that this is a semi-final,” he said. “This is a very different race.”
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