India votes for stability, Manmohan PM again


New Delhi : India Saturday delivered a resounding verdict for stability giving the ruling Congress-led coalition five more years to rule the world’s largest democracy with economist Manmohan Singh at the helm. The margin of victory stunned pundits, although two exit polls Friday had predicted a large Congress victory that many disbelieved.

Support TwoCircles

As the Congress party was poised to win 206 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha, confounding all expert predictions, Manmohan Singh appealed to all political parties to support his “secular goverment”.

Even as the politically underrated Manmohan Singh, equanimous in victory, spoke at the 10 Janpath residence of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, thousands of frenzied supporters shouted slogans, danced and exploded firecrackers on the streets.

“We have an obligation to the people of India to provide a stable and secular government,” he added, underlining the two core themes that helped the Congress retain power in one of most fiercely fought electoral battles since independence 62 years ago.

Saturday’s thumping victory was widely credited to the unassuming Manmohan Singh, who only five years was propelled to the top post after the Italy-born Gandhi refused the prime minister’s job. With this, Manmohan Singh has achieved the distinction of becoming the first prime minister after Jawaharlal Nehru to be returned after completing a full term in office.

The Congress sweep surprised foes and friends. It shocked the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which had hoped to return to power after a five-year gap, and also the Communist-led Third Front and groups that had ditched the Congress at the eleventh hour.

At end of day, the BJP and its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) finished with 163 seats — far less than the Congress individual tally and also far below what they had won in 2004 and, as party general secretary Arun Jaitley said, “below our expectations”.

The Third Front, made up of the Communists and regional parties, was crushed, marginalising politicians who had till this morning nurtured fond hoped of dislodging the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

The verdict, which followed five rounds of elections in April-May involving over 420 million voters, gave the Congress an overwhelming say in the multi-party UPA, reducing many of its troublesome partners to virtual non-entities.

The Congress, India’s oldest political party, pulled off a spectacular revival in Uttar Pradesh, estimated to get 22 of its 80 Lok Sabha seats, three more than the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of Chief Minister Mayawati who found her national dreams dashed – at least for the moment.

The Samajwadi Party (SP) was slated to get 23 seats in a result that was seen to be influenced by the tireless efforts of Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi.

The Congress also improved dramatically in Kerala, where the party-led UDF had just one seat in 2004, by winning 16 seats and virtually decimating the Left Democratic Front.

The four Left parties, which managed only 24 seats overall, a sharp fall from its 2004 tally of 60-plus, also got a drubbing in West Bengal where the Trinamool Congress-Congress combine got 25 of the 42 seats.

In a dramatic turnaround for the Left parties, which till 24 hours earlier were expected to play a key role in government, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general secretary Prakash Karat admitted Saturday that it had suffered “a major setback”.

“The CPI-M and the Left parties have suffered a major setback in these elections,” he said, reading out a prepared statement. “This necessitates a serious examination of the reasons for the party’s poor performance.”

The Communist Party of India (CPI), India’s second oldest party, was expected to win just four seats — its worst showing since the country’s first general elections of 1952. CPI’s D. Raja admitted: “We need to do some introspection.”

The BJP was also forced to concede defeat. Its prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani, who won Gandhinagar in Gujarat by over 120,000 votes, called Manmohan Singh to congratulate him. There were reports that a humbled Advani was planning to quit politics and had offered to step down as Leader of Opposition.

“The UPA has come out as the biggest alliance, so the mandate is in their favour. The BJP accepts this mandate of the people with full respect,” Jaitley said, while refusing to point out the exact reasons behind the party’s poll debacle.

The DMK, a key Congress ally that was predicted to do badly because of its belated response to the Tamil humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka, did well to come on top

in Tamil Nadu, which accounts for 39 valuable seats. DMK leaders said voters had not been swayed by emotions raised over the war against the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.

The Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which only in March divorced the BJP after 11 long years, swept Orissa. In Andhra Pradesh, actor Chiranjeevi’s newly formed Praja Rajyam Party put up a strong showing, undercutting both the Congress and the main opposition Telugu Desam Party.

The Congress swept Uttarakhand, Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab in the north. It also had the upper hand in Maharashtra along with the NCP.

The BJP was on top in Karnataka and in Bihar with its ally the Janata Dal-United (JD-U).

Among the prominent candidates set to get elected to the 15th Lok Sabha were former UN under secretary General Shashi Tharoor, central ministers Kamal Nath and Pranab Mukherjee of the Congress, BJP president Rajnath Singh, Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee and Janata Dal-Secular leader and former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda.

Amongst those who lost were Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan, who was a union minister for steel, and fellow union ministers Mani Shankar Aiyar and Renuka Chowdhury.