NEW DELHI:The ruling Congress party was defeated in polls in the states of Punjab and Uttarakhand on 27 February, in elections reflecting wider voter anger about inflation and economic reforms.
Though the results are not expected to destabilise the national coalition, the electoral losses may curb Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s ability to push through controversial reforms, analysts said.
Singh brushed aside suggestions that the results reflected wider problems with his government but admitted inflation was a “problem”.“There is no question of a referendum against the central government,” Singh told reporters.
“Our challenge is to tackle inflation without hurting the growth of the agricultural and industrial economy of our country and it’s not easy,” he said.
Congress lost power in Punjab as well as Uttarakhand to the main opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and allied parties.It has remained the biggest party in Manipur, and may hang on to power there with the help of smaller parties.
At 4 p.m., the NDTV news channel showed the BJP and its ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal, winning or leading in 68 seats in the 117-seat Punjab assembly, against the Congress’s 43 wins or leads.
In Uttarakhand, the BJP had won or was ahead in at least 35 seats for the 70-member assembly, with the Congress way behind.
Fuelled by rising food costs, inflation hit a two-year high in early February at an annual 6.73%, angering voters.“The price of food items has risen so much across the country ... which persuaded people to rebel against the Congress,” senior BJP spokesman Arun Jaitley said.
Analysts say the results are a big boost for the BJP, after its surprise defeat to Congress in the 2004 national polls.“This signals the revival of BJP after being down in the dumps for a long time,” said political analyst Kuldip Nayar.The Congress government has also taken flak for moves to set up Special Economic Zones (SEZs) by acquiring farmland and to open the retail sector further to foreign players.
The BJP has stepped up attacks on Singh and the ruling party’s Italian-born chief, Sonia Gandhi, and forced both houses of parliament to be adjourned on 27 February.The latest focus of BJP anger is the freeing in Argentina of Quattrocchi who is wanted in an arms scandal that broke out in India in the late 1980s.
The BJP accuses the government of dragging its feet over requesting the extradition of Ottavio Quattrocchi,the key accused in the Bofors scandal and a friend of Sonia Gandhi.But Singh denied any wrongdoing, adding: “The law of the land will be allowed to prevail fully.”