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India's Pro-IT Political Leader Resigns - 2004-05-11

In India, a political leader who helped turn his state into a booming Information Technology hub has resigned after his party lost regional elections. Analysts say voters dumped the state government because the benefits of the new economy have failed to trickle down to the millions of rural poor who constitute the bulk of voters.

In his nine years as head of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu became known as one of India's most dynamic and progressive leaders.

He wooed high-technology companies to turn the state capital, Hyderabad, into a bustling information technology center. He expedited the building of roads, and ensured cheap land and enough power to house gleaming offices for companies like Microsoft. He also increased government efficiency and reduced the state's deficit.

Always seen with his laptop, the technologically-savvy Mr. Naidu was hailed as a model leader for a new India.

But all this was not enough to save him from being outsted in state elections that were held simultaneously with parliamentary elections in India. He resigned after his Telugu Desam Party lost to the opposition Congress party.

For many, the verdict in Andhra Pradesh, a large farming state, is a commentary on the situation in much of today's India.

Subhash Kashyap, a political analyst at New Delhi's independent Center for Policy Research, says the boom in Hyderabad, with its growing middle class, was never reflected in the state's poor villages, where millions of farmers grapple with drought, low produce prices and crippling debt.

"Chandrababu Naidu did excellent work in the field of infotech? He did excellent work in improving the conditions in the capital city, Hyderabad? But it seems he did not pay the same attention to the grassroots level, to the villages ... not enough electricity for the farmers, not enough subsidies," he said.

Exit polls suggest that the state government of India's other IT savvy state, Karnataka, may also struggle to retain power when votes are counted Thursday. The state's capital, Bangalore, is famous as India's Silicon Valley, and houses the offices of many global software companies.

But there, too, water and electricity are scarce in hundreds of villages. Farmers have taken huge economic losses from three years of drought. Indian media have carried reports of scores of farmers committing suicide in recent years after being driven into debt in both these southern states.

Mr. Naidu's defeat is also a huge setback to the governing coalition in the national elections. He was the largest ally in parliament of the dominant Bharatiya Janata Party.

Exit polls taken after India's five-phase election project that the BJP-led coalition is ahead, but will fall short of a majority in parliament, partly because the BJP's allies, like Mr. Naidu, are suffering losses in several states.