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Election Loss Will Not Damage Government, Says India Congress Party Leader

Sonia Gandhi, chief of India's ruling Congress party, addresses the media after attending a party meeting in New Delhi, March 7, 2012.
Sonia Gandhi, chief of India's ruling Congress party, addresses the media after attending a party meeting in New Delhi, March 7, 2012.

The powerful head of India's ruling Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, said Wednesday a major defeat in regional elections will not damage the federal government and promised changed as the party looks ahead to general elections in 2014.

A day after the Congress Party was trounced in the country’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, and scored few successes in other states, its leader said there were lessons to be learned from the dismal performance.

“We will have to sit down and look at the situation, at the result in every single state and then together work out a plan to correct the mistakes which we have made,” said Gandhi.

Sonia Gandhi, who rarely speaks to the media, says the Congress Party may have been hurt by wrong choices of candidates and by spiraling prices. She says her party’s organization in Uttar Pradesh, is weak.

But she denies voters were also angered by corruption scandals that have hit the Congress-led coalition government, saying her party had worked with sincerity to end graft.
Amid speculation a weakened federal government may have to call early polls, Gandhi says it is premature to talk about general elections that are due in 2014.

“I do not think the situation, the result, will damage the UPA government,” she said.

But political analysts say the coalition government is more vulnerable after the elections.
In particular, there are concerns the party’s poor showing will reduce the government’s leverage with regional parties. This will make it more difficult to persuade already rebellious allies to back its reform agenda, which it says is crucial for reviving a slowing economy.
In recent months, these allies have blocked efforts to open the retail and pension industries, and to establish a national counterterrorism center.

Gandhi admits lack of support from allies had been a problem.

“We have seen in the past that their position has been in some ways a little unhelpful. But, my view is that if we continuously and regularly keep in touch," she said. "I have every hope that on issues which are beneficial to the people of the country, they will understand and they will support.”

There were other losers in the regional polls. The powerful low-caste leader who ruled Uttar Pradesh for five years, Mayawati, resigned after her Bahujan Samaj Party was defeated by the rival Samajwadi Party.

The flamboyant leader, has been criticized for setting up sprawling public parks with huge statues of herself and not focusing sufficiently on development during her five year rule in the country’s poorest state.