Congress claims victory as UPA tops India’s battle for power (Second Lead)

May 16th, 2009 - 12:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party New Delhi, May 16 (IANS) India’s ruling Congress party claimed victory Saturday as its United Progressive Alliance (UPA) inched towards near majority in the 545-seat Lok Sabha, dealing blows to a divided opposition and proving pundits wrong.
Celebrations erupted outside the Congress headquarters in the heart of the capital as counting of the millions of the votes polled in the April-May election showed that the multi-party UPA could end up with up to 250 MPs - just 22 seats short of the halfway mark needed to form a government.

In a major blow to its ambitions, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had waited for five long years to return to power, and its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) suffered reverses in many places and failed to sweep some of the states they had expected.

The Third Front, made up of the Communists and regional parties, took massive blows across the country, particularly in the Marxist strongholds of Kerala and West Bengal, a development that could drop the Left strength in the Lok Sabha dramatically.

Science and Technology Minister and Congress spokesperson Kapil Sibal described the expected victory of the UPA as a mandate for party president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s leadership.

“People want a stable government, they want a prime minister who thinks for the country,” he told reporters here.

Election Commission officials said UPA candidates were in the lead in 232 of the 519 Lok Sabha seats and those of NDA in 156 constituencies. The Third Front was on the winning track in 82 seats while the Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which split from the Congress ahead of the elections, were ahead only in 31 places.

Going beyond even what optimistic exit polls had predicted, the Congress and its allies took the upper hand in the northern belt of Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Uttarakhand and exceeded expectations in the populous and politically crucial Uttar Pradesh and Maharahstra. Their showing was also impressive in West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Hundreds of Congress activists beat drums, danced and burst crackers outside the party headquarters and the nearby 10 Janpath residence of Sonia Gandhi here, shouting slogans hailing her, her son and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, her daughter Priyanka Gandhi and Manmohan Singh.

In a sign that the BJP was conceding defeat, one of its senior leaders, Balbir Punj, told IANS: “Whatever be the verdict, we will accept it.”

“The results are not on expected lines. The initial trend shows that Congress and UPA is leading over us… Definitely, we miss Vajpayee,” he later told reporters.

Communist Party of India’s D. Raja admitted: “We need to do some introspection.”

In a dramatic change of fortunes, the Congress was picking up an unprecedented number of seats in Uttar Pradesh, once its stronghold and where it had been reduced to an also ran for two decades before its general secretary Rahul Gandhi decided it was time to get aggressive in the most populous state.

The best showing for the BJP and its allies came from Karnataka in the south and Bihar, which is ruled by the Janata Dal-United. The BJP was also poised to sweep all four seats in Himachal Pradesh. And although it led in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the Congress managed to grab some of the seats in both seats, denting the BJP’s overall tally.

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which had expected at one time to win as many as 50 of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh which it rules, was faring poorly, officials said.

Among the prominent candidates set to get elected to the 15th Lok Sabha were central ministers Kamal Nath and Renuka Chowdhury of the Congress, BJP president Rajnath Singh and Janata Dal-Secular leader and former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda.

Samajwadi Party’s Jaya Prada, a former actor, was trailing in Rampur in Uttar Pradesh while union Home Minister P. Chidamabaram was set to lose in Sivaganga in Tamil Nadu. MDMK leader Vaiko, a strong supporter of Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers, was also on the losing track.

Political pundits had predicted a badly fractured 545-member Lok Sabha, warning that the Congress would find it difficult to take power without major help from others.

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