BJP leader Advani resigns, Rahul Gandhi for Cabinet?
India may have the world’s longest election in terms of the schedule of official voting days, but with the electronic voting machines the results are out fairly quickly – within a few hours of counting commencing at 8am local time, the trends had become clear and the UPA/Congress had posted a comfortable seat lead over NDA/BJP that kept on growing.
The opinion polls that had the two big parties around 140 seats each were way off, and once again the exit polls were extremely inaccurate, as Congress ended up winning about 200 seats to just 120 for the BJP, with only two seats left to declare final results. In the battle of the big alliances, the Congress-led UPA has 256, just 16 short of an outright majority in the 543-seat Lok Sabha*, to 164 for the BJP-led NDA – a massive gain of 76 for the UPA who will have absolutely no problem in forming a government with the backing of smaller parties (eg the Samajwadi Party have said they are ready to support the UPA).
Not only have Congress secured their biggest haul of seats in almost two decades, but Manmohan Singh looks set to create Prime Ministerial history by becoming the first PM to be returned to power after a five-year term since Nehru. 81-year-old LK Advani has already announced his intention to quit as opposition leader, although the BJP parliamentary board stated that they wouldn’t accept this. However, although the results were a major diappointment for the BJP, they were only down 18 seats, and the big gains posted by Congress came at the expense of the Left and also the Fourth Front.
For the Left, the election was a disaster, as they plunged 36 seats to just 24. In their heartland state of West Bengal, their performance was the worst for 32 years, as the Communist Party of India (Marxist) alone lost 17 seats, and the Left also performed badly in Kerala, another traditionally strong state. Another component of the Third Front, the BSP of Mayawati, also had a disappointing election, increasing its tally by just one seat, although voters in its key state of Uttar Pradesh may not have been too impressed with statues of Mayawati being erected.
Aside from Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, the other undoubted big winner in the election was the other part of the Congress triumvirate, Rahul Gandhi. Not only did he increase his majority in Amethi up to a massive 331 thousand, but his energetic campaigning and strategy of targeting the largest state of Uttar Pradesh paid dividends, as Congress improved strongly on its anaemic position in UP, getting its best result there since 1984, at the expense of the Samajwadi Party who dropped 13 seats, and also prevented the BSP from repeating its state election result of 2007.
It was expected that a new government would take a while to put together, and would be an unstable and unwieldy coalition, but such has been the size of the UPA seat tally that a new government should be sworn in fairly quickly and without too much difficulty, and Congress has already indicated that it will have all the key portfolios in the new Cabinet. For India-watchers, the big question is whether Rahul Gandhi will get a place in the new administration – Singh has said that he would like him in, and Rahul has said it is for the PM to decide, so it now looks very likely. Not only that, but Rahul has now clearly cemented his position as the Congress heir-apparent, and given that Singh will be 81 by the time of the 2014 election, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rahul leading Congress into that election, and indeed he may even become Prime Minister before that.
Despite the often chaotic appearance of Indian politics, and the deaths on polling days, this seems to have been a relatively smooth election, and India’s stable democracy is in stark contrast to the next-door basket-case that is Pakistan. Indeed, the decisive election result (and a Congress re-election to boot) will have been warmly welcomed in the White House and Europe as some much-needed certainty in an unstable and dangerous region.
* Total seats in the Lok Sabha are 545, but two of these are reserved for members of the Anglo-Indian community. Also note that Manmohan Singh sits in the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House.
Japan – opposition DPJ chooses Hatoyama as new leader
Mike will be on Radio 4’s The Westminster Hour tonight from 10pm onwards
UPDATE: The Telegraph has uncovered emails that indicate the Fees Office colluded in the overpayment of MPs Additional Costs Allowance. If the Commons Authorities have knowingly supported the overpayment of expenses, I would suggest that even offering to step down at the next General Election might not save Michael Martin now – Morus