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    Hindu Alliance Wins Power (ACTUAL HEADLINE IN TODAY'S TIMES)

    Hindu Alliance Wins Power

    By David Orr

    The Times UK
    October 8 1999

    Hindu alliance wins power


    THE Indian Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, swept back to power after his Hindu nationalists and their allies won the country's general election last night.
    The alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has secured a clear majority. Late last night the BJP and its allies were on the way to winning 300 out of the 538 seats being contested. Whether India has secured a stable government, however, remains to be seen.

    The opposition Congress party and its allies stalled after having won just 134 seats. Two of those were taken by Sonia Gandhi, Congress's Italian-born president, who contested one constituency in the north of the country and one in the south. She must now decide which one she will represent. The remaining seats in the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) were taken by the Left Front and by other parties.

    In a statement conceding defeat, Mrs Gandhi admitted that the election result had not come up to the party's expectations. "The result calls for introspection, frank assessment and determined action. We will attend to this in the coming days. In the meantime, we accept unhesitatingly the verdict of the people," she said.

    It was a disappointing result for Congress, which must come to terms with its third successive election defeat and its worst performance since independence from Britain in 1947. In its heyday Congress was synonymous with Indian politics. Though still led by a member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, it is now looking decidedly worn out.

    Mid-way through the two-day vote count Congress supporters were all smiles as the party made surprise gains in a number of states. But by yesterday morning Congress fortunes took a downturn and the photo-finish that commentators had been predicting failed to materialise.

    The BJP drive towards a majority yesterday gained increasing momentum and, well before the counting of votes had been finished, the outcome was clear. As predicted by exit polls and surveys during the five-week-long election, Mr Vajpayee's BJP-led alliance won comfortably. However, the 24-party National Democratic Alliance (NDA) might prove to be an unwieldy monster in government. This was the third successive general election in three years and most Indians have had one issue uppermost in their minds: the need for stable government.

    There remain doubts about the viability of such a fragmented coalition. The BJP will be the single largest party in parliament. But it has been brought to power by its regional allies. Commentators say it is only a matter of time before they start demanding a payback.

    There were many surprises in this general election and little overall pattern to the results that emerged. The BJP suffered a major setback in the traditional Hindi heartland of Uttar Pradesh. Had it done better in this key northern state, as expected, its majority would have been stronger.

    But despite its gains in Uttar Pradesh, the northern state of Punjab, and in southwestern Karnataka, Congress performed poorly, particularly in Maharashtra in the west. A dispute within Congress over Mrs Gandhi's foreign origin led to a factional breakaway that weakened the party in Bombay and its hinterland.

    There was talk of "deep introspection" in Congress party salons last night. There is certain to be much agonising about curing the malaise of the party which has been on the decline since the middle of the decade. Mrs Gandhi secured her personal triumphs in Bellary constituency in Karnataka and in Amethi in Uttar Pradesh. Amethi was formerly represented by her late husband, Rajiv, killed by a suicide bomber in 1991.

    One of yesterday's biggest upsets was the downfall of Laloo Prasad Yadav, the de facto Chief Minister of northeastern Bihar, the country's poorest state. Congress formed an alliance with him, despite his being tainted by allegations of corruption.

    NDA chiefs are to meet today formally to choose Mr Vajpayee, 72, as leader. The new Government - the sixth since 1996 - is due to be sworn in next week.

    In Islamabad last night, Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani Prime Minister, welcomed the victory by Mr Vajpayee's alliance and said he hoped that stalled peace talks over Kashmir would resume.

    Copyright 1999 Times Newspapers Ltd.

    I hoped that Sonia leads congress to better performance this time. It is only congress that can boast to have presence in entire India, from Arunachal to Gujrat and from Kashmir to Kerala. It is only Congress that can save from problem of pleathora of parties.

    Sonia has no brain. 'meri mang ka sindoor'. 'mera suhaag', 'mujhe yahiin jin aur marana hain.' and other bollywood dialogues are not of much use outside Amethi. The 29 seat deficit can be easily explained by Maharashtra. But what was need to expel Pawar so hastily. Indira would have cut him to size slowly and not taken a drastic step of removing him.

    Congress should get in hands of young leaders like Sushilkumar Shinde and Rajesh Pilot. These Arjun Singh (who can easily get the role of crooks and vilain in bollywood given his looks, as an alternate career), and meira kumars and rk dhavans should be thrown in dustbin before it is too late.

    Last time Narasimharao took cong. to 143. Then they shouted and brought him down. The charismatic Sitaram Kesri could could lead congress to 141 despite Sonia's campaigning. Then spin-doctors in Congress told us 'without sonia it would be worse. Now sonia replaces kesri and we have 112 seats. Spin doctors are busy telling without sonia, it would be worse.

    Every elections congress shrinks and we are told 'without sonia, priyanka, robert vadra and other great leaders, it could be worse'. It is like believing in god. If something good happens, it is due to him, and if bad happens, things could be worse.

    I hope sense prevails in congress now.