Manmohan Singh set to be PM again after UPA’s stunning win (Afternoon Lead)

May 16th, 2009 - 2:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, May 16 (IANS) India’s ruling Congress-led coalition Saturday won a spectacular victory in the staggered Lok Sabha election, puncturing a disparate opposition, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set to govern the world’s largest democracy for five more years.
In a performance that dealt crippling blows to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies as well as the Communist-led Third Front, the Congress tally in the 545-member Lok Sabha rose sharply from the 145 seats it won in 2004 to an enviable 185 now.

The Congress-led multi-party United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was poised to win up to 254 seats in the Lok Sabha, leaving it just 18 seats short of the halfway mark needed to form a government.

Four hours after the millions of votes polled in the April-May election began to be counted, the BJP reluctantly conceded defeat while the Congress said the people’s mandate was for a stable government.

Congress spokesperson and Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal said: “This is a vote for (party president) Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh’s leadership. People have voted for a stable government, they want a prime minister who thinks for the country.”

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar summed up the UPA mood saying: “There will be a stable government now. And the country needs that stability. It is an excellent verdict.”

“We concede defeat,” said a visibly disappointed Sushma Swaraj of BJP, which had launched an aggressive campaign targeting Manmohan Singh and his style of governnace and was supremely confident of returning to power after a five-year gap.

The BJP, which had won 138 seats five years ago, now dropped its tally to a disappointing 100. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was in the race to win 162 seats — less than the Congress’ individual strength.

The worst sufferer was the Third Front, made up primarily of the Communists and regional groups who had sought to topple the Manmohan Singh government last year over the India-US nuclear deal. The Third Front, which had expected to play a kingmaker’s role, would win just 84 seats.

The results sparked celebrations in the heart of the Indian capital as thousands of Congress supporters gathered outside the party headquarters and the nearby residence of Sonia Gandhi, shouting slogans hailing her and her son and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, her daughter Priyanka as well as Manmohan Singh.

They waved giant flags of the party, burst crackers, danced to drums and waved photographs of party leaders. A large posse of policemen had a tough time controlling the surging crowds.

The mood in the opposition camps was one of gloom.

The Communist Party of India (CPI), India’s second oldest party, was expected to win just three seats — its worst showing since the country’s first general elections of 1952. CPI’s D. Raja admitted: “We need to do some introspection.”

The Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which broke away from the Congress to fight the Lok Sabha election on their own, were routed in their bastions Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The highlights of the elections, which most pundits had expected to be a cliffhanger, included a dramatic Congress revival in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state it once lorded over before being reduced as an also ran over the past two decades. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which rules Uttar Pradesh, put up a poor showing, in contrast to earlier claims that it could win up as many as 50 of its 80 Lok Sabha seats.

The DMK, a key Congress ally, stunned everyone by coming on top in Tamil Nadu, which accounts for 39 valuable seats, proving wrong pundits who had predicted a rout for it. DMK leaders said voters had not been swayed by emotions raised over the war against the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.

The Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which only in March divorced the BJP after 11 long years, swept Orissa. In Andhra Pradesh, actor Chiranjeevi’s newly formed Praja Rajyam Party put up a strong showing, undercutting both the Congress and the main opposition Telugu Desam Party.

The Congress swept Uttarakhand, Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab in the northern belt besides Kerala in the deep south. It also had the upper hand in Maharashtra along with the NCP.

The BJP was on top in Karnataka and in Bihar with its ally the Janata Dal-United (JD-U). Its leaders admitted that it had failed to do well in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

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

Former central minister Maneka Gandhi of BJP was trailing in Aonla in Uttar Pradesh. Home Minister P. Chidamabaram was set to lose in Sivaganga in Tamil Nadu. MDMK leader Vaiko, a vocal supporter of the Tamil Tigers, was also on the losing track. So were Vinod Khanna and Navjot Singh Siddhu of BJP in Punjab.

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