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India's ruling party takes drubbing in state elections

NEW DELHI — India’s ruling Congress party took a drubbing Sunday when it was defeated in four state elections, a morale boost for the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party in advance of national elections expected by May.

While Bharatiya Janata maintained control of the governments in central Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh states, as expected, it also tossed out the Congress party in western Rajasthan state and the capital of Delhi.

This doesn’t bode well for the ruling party in upcoming national elections, analysts said. “These election results have been mind-boggling,” said Satish Jacob, a journalist and political analyst. “No one can accurately predict what will happen in the general elections, but it looks clear to me that Congress will be wiped out.”

The biggest story in the closely watched Delhi race was the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party created less than a year ago and headed by reformer Arvind Kejriwal, which campaigned against corruption and insider politics. Few predicted such a strong showing for the upstart in a nation where political dynasties are often the rule.

“These are historic results,” said Kejriwal, 45, a bureaucrat-turned-politician amid loud cheers from supporters at the party’s crowded office. “This is not a victory of Aam Aadmi Party. It is a victory of the people.”

Aam Aadmi’s second-place showing pushed Congress into a humiliating third place in the capital. “In Delhi, we accept the verdict and will examine the results,” said Congress leader Jayanthi Natarajan. “We will find out what has gone wrong.”

Analysts say the new party’s strong showing is a reaction to years of national Congress rule marked by massive corruption scandals, weak policies and economic downturn.

Congress officials countered that the results only reflected local concerns. The Congress party has been in power for 15 years in Delhi, which is treated as a state for political purposes.

In a potentially bad omen for both major national parties, the Aam Aadmi party has pledged to run in national elections.

Some, however, questioned how great the party’s appeal might be beyond the capital. “The party strikes a chord with the public,” said Ashok Malik, a Delhi-based political journalist. “I doubt they can create a dent in the national circle, but they could surely win some urban seats.”

In Delhi, the Bharatiya Janata Party won 32 of the Assembly’s 70 seats, compared with 28 for Aam Aadmi and eight for Congress. In Rajasthan, it won 162 of the assembly’s 199 seats. In Madhya Pradesh, it won 165 of 230 seats. And in Chhattisgarh it won 49 of the 90 constituencies.

“The anti-corruption wave is strong, all parties will be more alert now with the entire corruption issue,” said Jacob. “Congress has six months. They could do some damage control, but they are running late now.”

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Mark.Magnier@latimes.com

Sharma is a special correspondent.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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