Gandhi dynasty suffers blow
NEW DELHI INDIA’S ruling Congress party and its famed Gandhi political dynasty suffered a stinging election setback on Tuesday in crucial state polls.
Figures showed Congress, which runs the federal government in New Delhi, winning clearly in only one of five states and suffering a landslide defeat in Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s most populous and politically significant state.
The polls were a mid-term popularity test for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s scandal-tainted government ahead of 2014 elections, and were a first appraisal of Rahul Gandhi, the next in line in India’s top political family.
“I stood in front, so it is my responsibility,” 41-year-old Gandhi told reporters as he conceded defeat. “All of us in the Congress party fought. We fought well but the result which came was not so good.” Gandhi, a presumed prime-ministerin- waiting, led campaigning in Uttar Pradesh in a bid to revive Congress — his biggest challenge yet in a state where the party has a dismal record stretching back 22 years.
With all but a handful of results confirmed, Congress had won just 28 out of 403 seats, a trouncing that represented only a small increase on their miserly tally of 2007 despite Gandhi’s tireless work at public rallies.
The failure will likely feed doubts about his ability to lead the world’s biggest democracy and might rekindle interest in his sister Priyanka, whom some Gandhi loyalists still prefer.
“Certainly I expect to have victories along the way and I expect to have defeats,” Rahul added, explaining that revitalising Congress in UP was a longterm project. “This is one of the defeats so I take it in my stride.” The tragedy-plagued Nehru-Gandhi family has dominated politics in India since independence in 1947, providing three prime ministers, two of whom were assassinated. Rahul’s Italianborn mother Sonia is current Congress president.
“One thing is clear, the Nehru- Gandhi charisma is no longer a major factor in winning elections,” political analyst and commentator Parsa Venkateshwar Rao told AFP.
Even in the historic Gandhi family strongholds of Rae Bareli and Amethi, from where Sonia and Rahul are elected for the national parliament, non- Congress candidates claimed victories.
Prime Minister Singh, a 79-year-old former academic and economist, is also likely to face searching questions about his hands-off style of leadership and his stewardship of the government since his re-election in 2009.
A series of high-profile corruption scandals and a popular anti-graft campaign led by activist Anna Hazare last summer have badly tarnished Singh’s image and hurt the party in the state elections.
The results will have an uncertain impact on the centre-left government’s stalled pro-market reform agenda, which has struggled in the face of opposition from coalition partners and internal divisions in the party.