BJP Stuns in Election Outcome, Congress Party in Disarray

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By Edward Barbour-Lacey

Dec. 11 – India’s governing Congress party has suffered heavy losses in three state elections and has narrowly lost in a fourth. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was the clear winner across all the elections; however, the newly formed anti-corruption group Aam Aadmi (Ordinary People) Party (AAP) also saw large gains.

The elections held in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh were clearly won by the BJP. In Delhi, the capital of India, the Congress Party suffered a massive defeat.  After 15 years in power it appears that voters desperately wanted a change.  The BJP won 31 of the 70 seats, the AAP won 28, and the Congress Party was reduced to holding only 8 seats.

The only election where the Congress Party performed comparatively well was in Chhattisgarh, where the party lost to the BJP by only a few seats.

When taken together, the four states in which elections were held have a total population of more than 170 million, roughly a seventh of India’s total.

Election Fallout

The election results were seen as an embarrassing loss for the Congress Party and many analysts see the outcome as a sign of what is to come as the largest democracy in the world holds its upcoming national elections next year.

A front page article in The Indian Express newspaper proclaimed “If there is a message that binds Sunday’s set of four assembly poll verdicts, it is that of the voter’s alienation from the Congress, her growing anger with the party.”

The Times of India added “The take-out for all political parties must be that in modern, aspirational India populism can no longer substitute for governance and wise economic management.” The Congress Party in particular traditionally relied upon customary promises and welfare programs in order to boost its popularity at the polls.

In referring to the surprising success of the newcomer AAP, the DNA Newspaper stated that the anti-corruption party “has injected a new idea into the country’s fractured polity, an idea likely to sprout in the 2014 general election and blossom thereafter.”

Sonia Gandhi, one of the leading voices of the Congress Party, was quoted as saying “This result calls for deep introspection…We will rectify our mistakes.”

The Congress Party has suffered as India continues to struggle through its economic woes.  Annual economic growth over the past two years has been reduced by half, to fewer than 5 percent.  Many of the young, urban voters have expressed frustration with the Congress Party’s failure to create jobs and attract investment.  The BJP has promised to rectify this situation.

Additional issues that have raised the ire of the country’s voters included corruption, high food prices, inflation and violence against women.

The BJP Steams Forward

The BJP has surged in popularity as India’s voters tire of failed government policies and the struggling economy.  One of rising stars in the BJP, Narendra Modi, has seen a vast increase in his popularity and this has been credited with helping the BJP in the recent elections.

Modi is the current Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat and is the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance for the 2014 general elections. He and the BJP are largely seen as being pro-business and for increasing development and governmental efficiency within India.

A number of analysts have viewed the increasing popularity of the BJP as being very positive for India.  Last month, in a controversial research paper titled ‘Modi-fying our view: raise India to Marketweight’ (a play on Narendra Modi’s name), Goldman Sachs cited six key reasons for upgrading its outlook on India.  These included “optimism over political change, led by BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Mr. Modi.”

The report continued: “A BJP-led government may be beneficial for the investment demand pick-up, in our view. Currently the macro challenges that India faces in terms of external fiscal imbalances, high inflation, and tight monetary policy are being dominated by expectations of political change, specifically that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) could prevail in the next parliamentary elections that are due by May 2014.”

In reaction to exit polls predicting a clear BJP victory in the election, bonds, rupee and share prices all rose higher.

Rahul Gandhi, who ran the Congress Party election campaigns and is the heir-apparent for its leadership, was often seen to be hitting a number of false notes and failing to connect with voters when it came to discussing the issues that were important to them.  Mr. Gandhi is rumored to be the Congress Party’s choice to run for prime minister in the next election.

But not so fast

While the recent results certainly auger well for the BJP in the upcoming general elections, it should be remembered that the elections that have just finished were held primarily in the north of the country where the BJP has had a history of strong support.  Analysts point out that in the national general elections the BJP will have to compete in areas where it is comparatively weak, i.e. the south and northeast regions.

Further complicating the outcome of the general elections is the news that the AAP has pledged to field a prime ministerial candidate.  Analysts agree that if the AAP’s popularity can extend outside of Delhi then this could result in negative consequences for both the Congress Party and the BJP.

But surely any movement that pushes for less corruption and greater accountability must be good for the Indian voters at large.

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