India’s Ruling Party Suffers Election Blow

Posted March 6th, 2012 at 6:00 pm (UTC-5)
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Early returns from India's state elections suggest the country's ruling Congress party and famed Gandhi-Nehru political dynasty have suffered a severe political blow.

Figures released Tuesday showed Congress winning clearly in only one of five states and facing a defeat in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. The clear winner in the state, the socialist Samajwadi Party, was set to oust the ruling low-caste party, the Bahujan Samaj Party.

The Congress Party also faced disappointment in other states. It retained power in northeastern Manipur state, but is likely to lose the tiny western Goa state to the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. Congress also failed to score a victory in the northern Punjab state and is in a tight race with the opposition BJP in Uttarakhand state.

Congress had hoped to make substantial gains following months of intensive campaigning by its emerging leader, Rahul Gandhi, the son of party chief Sonia Gandhi, expected to take the center stage of Indian politics.

The 41-year-old lawmaker acknowledged the results “were not good,” but that his work to strengthen the party will continue.

The elections are seen as a litmus test for the ruling party halfway through its second term. In the last two years, Congress has been tainted by a series of corruption scandals and has been battling high inflation.

Given the Congress party's poor showing, Rahul Gandhi is expected to face questions about whether he has what it takes to emerge as a national leader and possible future prime minister.

Analysts say that despite the disappointment the ruling party has suffered, the election results provide an opportunity for it to rework its strategy and revive its flagging fortunes ahead of national elections scheduled for 2014.

The elections in the five states were held in stages, for five weeks.