Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Samajwadi Party supporters celebrate their gains in five Indian state elections by burning firecrackers at their party office in New Delhi.
Samajwadi Party supporters celebrate their gains in five Indian state elections by burning firecrackers at their party office in New Delhi.

India elections: a setback for Congress, a snub to Gandhi

Voters reject scion of political dynasty as crucial state polls in five Indian states deal a crushing blow to the ruling Congress party.

NEW DELHI // Crucial state polls in five Indian states have dealt a crushing blow to the ruling Congress party and the hopes of its leader-in-waiting, Rahul Gandhi - the standard bearer of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has dominated the country since it was formed in 1947.

The party won just two states and came fourth in the barometer northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous.

In each of the five states - Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur - the lack of development and the corruption at local and national levels dominated for disillusioned voters.

Despite more than 200 speeches and campaigning from his charismatic sister, Priyanka, the heir to the powerful Nehru-Gandhi dynasty failed to capitalise on a dramatic loss of support for the incumbent, "Dalit Queen" Mayawati.

The five-year term of Mayawati, a member of the low cast once known as the untouchables, was marked by corruption scandals and a hubristic obsession with building statues of herself and other untouchable icons at the expense of economic development in one of the country's poorest states.

But Congress won just 28 seats in Uttar Pradesh's 403-seat assembly, plus another nine through a local ally, a minimal improvement over the 22 it won in 2007.

Congress lost in the family strongholds of Rai Bareilly and Amethi in the heartland of Jawaharlal Nehru, Mr Gandhi's great-grandfather and the man who presided over the handover of power from the British Raj.

"We have not done well," Mr Gandhi told reporters in the state capital of Lucknow, breaking with a party line that had tried to insulate him from blame.

"The responsibility is mine, since I was there leading the campaign. I take it in my stride. This is a good lesson for me."

Voters instead went with another young political scion, Akhilesh Singh Yadav, who led the Samajwadi Party to a thumping majority, with 224 seats.

Mr Yadav moved the party away from its thuggish reputation and Luddite aversion to computers and English-language education that it earned under his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, a three-time chief minister.

"Akhilesh combined a sense of modernity while still speaking to UP's rural population," said SS Rana, a former civil servant and regular political commentator in Lucknow. "He also had a humble disposition which people flocked around."

Despite his prominent role in the campaign, Akhilesh Yadav says the role of chief minister still belongs to his 72-year-old father.

The result may be a setback for Mr Gandhi, but it is unlikely to end his hopes of becoming prime minister.

In India's fractious, caste and religion-driven politics, national parties such as Congress often fare poorly in state elections, where voters are more concerned about local issues.

"The fact remains that there is no contest for the position within the party after [prime minister] Manmohan Singh," said Jatin Gandhi, author of a recent book on Mr Gandhi.

"The real question is whether the Congress is in a position to form the next government at the centre. If the elections were held today, the clear answer would be 'no' and if the Congress continues to perform in this fashion, both electorally and on governance issues, the scenario will not change in 2014."

That the party failed to wrest back control of Punjab may be an even bigger concern than the Uttar Pradesh results.

It is the first time a governing party in Punjab has returned to power, with the Shiromani Akali Dal taking 68 seats to Congress's 46 in the 117-seat assembly.

And that despite slowing economic growth and rampant corruption in the once-prosperous state, which has 800,000 unemployed college graduates.

Parkash Singh Badal, 84, will return as chief minister for the fifth time.

Congress also lost power in the tourist hot spot of Goa. Here it was local corruption - based around allegations that ministers were involved in a multi-million-dollar illegal mining industry - that helped the Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to victory.

In Uttarakhand, which borders China and Nepal, Congress squeaked through by a single seat over the BJP, but smaller parties and independents will decide who forms the next government.

This was a particularly unimpressive result for Congress given that the BJP chief minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, was forced to resign just six months ago over corruption allegations.

A more emphatic success for Congress came from the remote north-eastern state of Manipur.

The state has suffered decades of secessionist insurgency, a series of corrupt and ineffective governments and, in recent months, crippling road blockades by competing tribal groups.

But with a weak and fragmented opposition, the Congress romped back to victory, taking 42 seats in the 60-seat assembly.


twitterFollow The National on @TheNationalUAE Surya Bhattacharya on @SuryatapaB & Eric Randolph on @EricWRandolph

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 A view of a defaced portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an anti-North Korean rally on the 102nd birthday of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung in central Seoul. Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

Best photography from around the world, April 15

The National View's photo editors pick the best images of the day from around the world.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National