Where else in the world could you have a clear general election result within three hours of vote counting starting! India did that this morning with its electronic voting and counting system.
Based on both actual results and leads by the end of the day, the UPA coalition led by the Congress Party is back in power.
It looks like getting an amazing total of 262 seats, almost at the half-way mark of 272 needed for a majority in the 543 Lok Sabha (lower house) elected seats with extra allies.
The BJP has conceded defeat, with its NDA grouping getting only 157 seats. L.K.Advani, 81, has said he wants to resign as the party leader. .
Congress alone looks like getting 206 seats, which is its best result since 1991. It is a stunningly better result anyone expected – around 180 was the most that even the most optimistic Congress leaders hoped for.
This significantly reduces the power of regional parties, which had hoped to be able to have a big influence on the new government’s formation and policies.
Congress will now be able to:
1. Form a much more stable government than it has had for the past five years – and enormously more stable that had been forecast by election pundits.
2. Appoint a much better quality cabinet, without having to accept as many highly corrupt ministers from regional parties as Manmohan Singh had in the last government – especially in lucrative infrastructure and transport ministries.
3. Implement economic policies without being held back by the communist-led Left, as it has been for most of the past five years – the election result will pull in foreign and domestic investment and help the economy to ride the current international crisis.
The Left is doing very badly in both West Bengal and Kerala, its two major power centres, and elsewhere. It looks like winning only 24 seats overall compared with 59 last time and will not be a significant force in the new parliament.
Manmohan Singh is the first Indian prime minister since Jawaharlal Nehru to be returned to power in a consecutive government after serving a full five year term.
Even though he has had little real authority, with Sonia Gandhi, leader of both Congress and the NPA, being in overall charge, his air of respectable stability has contributed to the election result.
The result also shows that Congress is re-emerging as a real national party. Credit for that will go mainly to Rahul Gandhi, Sonia’s son and heir apparent for the party leadership and prime minister’s job, as well as to Manmohan Singh.
Rahul was specially influential in Congress’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh (UP), the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty’s traditional political base. Congress is winning in some 21 seats in UP, its best result for 25 years in a state where it had been virtually written off.
That has contributed to the failure of Mayawati, the Dalit (“untouchable” in the caste system) chief minister of UP, to emerge with her BSP political party as a significant country-wide politician and potential prime minister.
The Indian and international media have vastly over-hyped the national importance of this egocentric politician, but the voters have thought differently – her party is winning only in 20 seats compared with ambitions for 30-40 or more.
The regional Trinamool Congress, linked with Congress, is doing historically well in West Bengal, taking more than half the parliamentary seats from the CPI(M)-led Left Front that has imposed its rule – often a rule of terror – throughout the state for over 30 years.
As was clear when I went walking round West Bengal villages with Dinesh Trivedi, the Trinamool candidate in Barrackpur, people are no longer scared to come out and criticise the CPI(M). And that could well lead to the Left losing its 32-year long rule of the state assembly in 2011.
In Orissa, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) party led by Naveen Patnaik is doing well, comfortably beating its rivals both for control of the State assembly and its MPs.
It looked after the polls as if Patnaik was not doing as well as it had appeared when I visited the constituency. But his BJD is winning comfortably – being rewarded for a good image, especially of caring for the poor, even if his state government achieved little in real terms.
It’s been a dramatic day of unexpected election results – with three major trends:
– the re-emergence of a self-confident Congress, especially in UP;
– a major reversal in fortunes for the Communist Left, marking the end of its 32-year iron grip on West Bengal;
– Rahul Gandhi proving himself as a national politician, earning a role at the top.
An earlier version of this post is on www.ft.com/world/asiapacific/india
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