India’s BJP sweeps three Hindi states

NEW DELHI: India's ruling Hindu nationalists swept the rival Congress party from power in three Hindi heartland states yesterday, but said the gains would not tempt them into an early national election. 

Defying opinion polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) easily won the three most important states, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, in races decided by local issues such as electricity and water. 

Partial results from Monday's elections showed Congress, the secular party that dominated politics in the world's largest democracy for decades from independence from Britain in 1947, holding only Delhi. 

Political analysts had said a strong win would strengthen the hand of a BJP faction pressing for an early federal election in February or March to cash in on a feel-good factor fed by low interest rates and bumper monsoon harvests. 

As hundreds of joyous supporters celebrated at BJP offices, Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani, who is also BJP deputy leader, said the results had certainly strengthened the party's position for the next general election. 

But he ruled out going to the polls before the ruling coalition's term ends in October next year.  

“We are not thinking of an early Lok Sabha poll,” he said, referring to the lower house of parliament. 

Counting continued yesterday, but Congress had already conceded Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and Election Commission figures gave the BJP a clear majority in Rajasthan. 

Congress, which leads the national opposition, ruled all four of states going into the elections. Opinion polls had forecast the BJP winning only the biggest, Madhya Pradesh. 

It was a tough blow to Congress, whose Italian-born leader, Sonia Gandhi, is struggling to win acceptance as an alternative prime minister, and who trails Vajpayee in opinion polls. 

“We did not gauge the extent of this defeat,” Congress leader Ambika Soni said. “It's important for us to ... pinpoint where we went wrong, why we were not able to gauge this kind of setback.” 

Analysts say the results highlight an emerging force – swinging voters choosing performance over traditional caste and other loyalties, who, though small, can still influence outcomes. 

“There's a major shift taking place in Indian voters, from traditionally inherited patterns of loyalty to performance oriented patterns of loyalty,” analyst and columnist Prem Shankar Jha said. 

Financial markets are likely to see the gains as a strong plus for the BJP, bolstering its economic reform programme. 

“The pro-reformists within the BJP will get the upper hand now,” said Sanjay Sachdev, of Principal Mutual Fund. – Reuters  

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