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India's Ruling Party Suffers Losses in Key State Elections - 2002-02-25


India's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has suffered a string of humiliating losses in key state elections held in the country recently. The losses will have no direct impact on the federal government, but have dented the credibility of the Bharatiya Janata Party which leads the national coalition.

It was bad news for the Bharatiya Janata Party or the BJP from all four states that went to the polls this month to choose regional governments.

It suffered its greatest setback in Uttar Pradesh, the country's most populous state, and a crucial power base for the party. The state has failed to choose a clear winner but The BJP has lost almost half its existing seats, losing to regional parties.

The Hindu nationalists were toppled from power by the main opposition Congress party in two other states, Uttaranchal and Punjab, where it shared power with a regional party. They also trailed the Congress party in the northeastern state of Manipur.

The party's performance is worse than expected. The Indian Express newspaper said "halfway into its term at the center, the BJP is now a party in decline."

The party will now rule only four of India's 28 states.

Independent political commentator Inder Malhotra says the party performed poorly because the BJP has failed to address issues of concern to people such as local development, jobs and corruption.

On the other hand the party had focussed on issues such as the fight against terrorism and national security. But, Mr. Malhotra says these failed to impress voters, particularly muslims in Uttar Pradesh. The state is home to India's largest muslim population. "UP (Uttar Pradesh) is the key where the drubbing to the BJP has been very sharp and it has been because of a combination of factors including the way in which they made national security, terrorism, the law against terrorism called POTO (Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance) as key issues was done in a manner which very, very clearly showed a kind of anti-muslim bias," Mr. Malhotra said.

The results will not directly impact the stability of the BJP-led coalition in New Delhi . But the electoral setback comes at a crucial time for the government, when it is locked in a military standoff with Pakistan, and needs to boost the economy through key reforms.

The setback is unlikely to have any influence on the government's tough stand against Pakistan.

But Mr. Malhotra says the losses will undermine the party's efforts to usher in unpopular economic reforms. "I doubt very much if it (BJP) is in a position any more to carry out the promised labor reforms, the second generation economic reforms and other hard decisions that it had announced with a fanfare the other day," Mr. Malhotra said.

Bad news for the Hindu nationalists has been good news for the main opposition Congress party which has gained substantially in three states. Analysts say this could be a signal that the party, whose electoral fortunes have been declining in the last decade, is finally on the road to recovery.

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