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Election Prompts Power Shift in Influential Indian State

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A political party with socialist leanings has regained power in India's most politically influential state. VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi on a state election that is likely have implications for Indian national politics.

A political party committed to ending oppression of the downtrodden by upper castes has taken an absolute majority of state legislative seats in Uttar Pradesh.

Supporters of the Bahujan Samaj Party, known as the BSP, celebrated their victory Friday as it became clear their party had made huge gains and is returning to power.

BSP leader Mayawati gave credit for the victory to support from beyond the party's traditional base among those at the bottom of India's caste system.

Mayawati says this time, the party enjoyed support across the spectrum, including upper castes and Muslims.

The results are a significant setback for the country's two largest political parties.

The Congress Party - intertwined with the Gandhi family dynasty - traditionally enjoyed deep support in India's most populous state. But this time it captured only about 20 of the 402 seats up for grabs, despite high-profile campaigning by party leader Sonia Gandhi and her son and heir apparent, Rahul Gandhi.

A Congress spokeswoman, Jayanti Natarajan, told reporters her party is already looking to the next round of nationwide elections.

"We've not done as well as we would have hoped to do. But 2009 is still ahead of us," said Natarajan. "We will work better, we will work harder and we will always be very important and relevant."

The main national opposition group, the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP, fared better than Congress. But it also lost seats, dashing its hopes that the results in Uttar Pradesh would spark a nationwide revival.

Both the BJP and Congress were bested by the (Samajwadi) Socialist Party, known as SP, whose core supporters are other lower castes and Muslims.

However, the SP also saw support plunge, forcing it to relinquish control of the state government back to its rival after three and a half years in power.

The political shift in Uttar Pradesh will have ramifications for the nationwide political landscape.

The SP is a nominal supporter of the Congress-led central government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Uttar Pradesh, home to 170 million people, has more members of parliament than any other state, and half of the country's prime ministers have come from there.

Mayawati will again become chief minister of Uttar Pradesh - her fourth time heading the state. During a previous stint she prompted outrage from conservationists when she proposed building a shopping complex and amusement park next to the Taj Mahal. The project was eventually scrapped.

 


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.
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