Opposition Trounce Vajpayee Allies, Communists Retain Bastion

May 15, 2001
NEW DELHI India's opposition rejoiced Sunday after trampling key allies of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in last week's provincial polls in which more than 85 million people voted.

Results of elections held on May 10 in five Indian states saw a clear revival of political fortunes for Italian-born Sonia Gandhi who leads India's largest and main opposition party, the Congress.

The Congress is now poised to form local governments in three of the five states (Kerala, Assam, Pondicherry) and will be part of the ruling coalition in Tamil Nadu. The Communists retained power in West Bengal.

Clearly elated, Gandhi, 53, told reporters at her New Delhi residence Sunday that the results of these elections will "certainly" have an impact on the federal government, already shaken by an arms bribery scandal which surfaced in March.

"It is a reflection on the workings of the central government. Certain policies of theirs had impacted at the state level, like the plight of farmers and other issues," she said.

However, the ruling Hindu Nationalist BJP Party, which leads the federal coalition in New Delhi, was quick to downplay the impact on national politics.

"Vajpayee is as safe as he was ever," BJP President Jana Krishnamurthy told AFP. "We are very sorry that our ally (in Tamil Nadu) has lost but this in no way affects our numbers in Parliament."