News / Asia

West Bengal Vote Ends 34 Years of Communist Rule

Supporters of the Trinamool Congress party, an ally to India's the ruling Congress Party, hold election billboards featuring portraits of party leader Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata, India, May 13, 2011.
Supporters of the Trinamool Congress party, an ally to India's the ruling Congress Party, hold election billboards featuring portraits of party leader Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata, India, May 13, 2011.

India’s Congress Party, which heads the ruling coalition, has notched up some significant victories in a crucial round of regional elections. The results give a much-needed boost to the ruling party, whose image has been dented by massive corruption scandals.     

The governing Congress Party and a crucial ally fared well in three out of the five states which went to the polls recently to choose local governments.   

The Congress Party retained power in remote northeastern Assam state, and won a narrow victory over communist parties in the southern Kerala state. But it lost ground in the small southern state of Pondicherry.

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However the focus remained on two key regional allies, who play an important role in propping up the federal coalition.   

In West Bengal state, a Congress Party ally, the Trinamool Congress, swept to power after inflicting a crushing defeat on communist parties, thereby ending its three-decade reign.

But another important ally, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)suffered a huge reversal in southern Tamil Nadu state. The defeat is being attributed to anger among voters over a massive corruption scam involving a former federal minister from the DMK.

Political analysts say the results in Tamil Nadu should be a message to the Congress Party, whose image is also tainted by corruption scandals, that demands for clean governance are growing.

However, telecommunication minister and a senior leader of the Congress Party, Kapil Sibal, downplayed the impact of public anger over the issue of corruption.  

“These are regional elections and the issues are regional," Sibal said. "Corruption would be an issue, but it is far beyond corruption as well.”

Congress Party leaders said they are satisfied with the results because voters have reaffirmed their faith in the party.

The outcome will give a brief respite to the Congress Party, whose second term in office has been marked with growing protests by both opposition parties and the public demanding that the government do more to address issues of corruption and rising prices.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee called the elections a vote for stability.  

“For the last one year, efforts were made to destabilize, not only the government, but through the process of destabilizing the government, destabilize the system, and bring instability in the country," he said. "From that point of view this election has conveyed a very clear message.”

The reversal suffered by communist parties in their bastions of Kerala and West Bengal could also give the Congress-led government more leverage to press ahead with economic reforms.

With voters throwing out four of the five governments in the states which went to the polls, political analysts say the elections also underline the growing demands for better governance and development in India.

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