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India’s governing party loses pivotal state poll

Performance during rest of term may be hindered

Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi walks to meet the media in New Delhi Tuesday. India's ruling Congress party trailed far behind its rivals in early returns from a key state election Tuesday. (Associated Press)
Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi walks to meet the media in New Delhi Tuesday. India's ruling Congress party trailed far behind its rivals in early returns from a key state election Tuesday. (Associated Press)
Biswajeet Banerjee Associated Press

LUCKNOW, India – India’s governing Congress party was badly beaten in a key state election Tuesday, a sharp rebuke that could cripple the already embattled national government over the final two years of its term.

With early returns showing Congress coming in fourth place in the Uttar Pradesh polls, party icon Rahul Gandhi admitted defeat. Gandhi, seen as his party’s likely next prime ministerial candidate, had put his reputation on the line by campaigning relentlessly across India’s most populous state.

“I led this campaign and I was the person in front. The responsibility is mine,” Gandhi said, adding that his party had poor organization in the state.

Mayawati, the bottom-caste dalit leader who is the state’s incumbent chief minister, also suffered a crushing defeat as the socialist Samajwadi Party’s victory was strong enough to allow it to form a government on its own.

“People have risen above caste and religion to vote for the Samajwadi Party, and that is why it’s clear that we are headed toward a majority,” said Akhilesh Yadav, a top party leader, while votes were being counted Tuesday. The party secured 224 of the state’s 403 seats and was leading for one more, according to the Election Commission’s tally from all but one district early today.

Mayawati’s party took a major hit, winning only 79 seats, while the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, took 47 and Congress just 28 – a marginal increase from the 22 it held before the vote.

Mayawati, who uses one name, drew criticism during her five-year rule for spending a fortune on public parks complete with gigantic statues of herself and other party leaders instead of reforming the health and education systems.

“She did not work the way she should have. The millions that were wasted on the statues, if that had been utilized properly, I think Uttar Pradesh would have benefited greatly,” Yadav told New Delhi Television News.

Ajit Kumar Singh, director of the Giri Institute of Development Studies in the state capital, Lucknow, said voters saw the Samajwadi Party as their best chance of ousting their mercurial chief minister.

“People were fed up with the dictatorial attitude of Mayawati,” he said.

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