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IN THE NEWS - India Elections - 2004-05-14

Broadcast: May 15, 2004

This is Steve Ember with In the News in VOA Special English.

India’s Congress Party has defeated the party of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in national parliamentary elections. The Congress Party and its allies won a majority of seats in the national legislature. Congress Party leaders will form a new coalition government and name a prime minister.

The elections were held for five days over a three-week period that ended on Monday. Mister Vajpayee officially resigned Thursday following the defeat of India’s ruling coalition, the National Democratic Alliance. The coalition, led by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, had been in power for five years.

Leaders from the prime minister’s B.J.P party and its allies expressed surprise at the election results. Mister Vajpayee and his alliance were expected to easily win another five-year term.

Mister Vajpayee had organized the election six months earlier than necessary after a series of political successes. His campaign noted the country’s eight percent growth rate, which made it one of the world’s fastest growing economies. He also won praise for his efforts to reduce tensions between India and Pakistan.

But experts say the B.J.P. campaign failed to win the support of millions of India’s poor people. India is the world’s largest democracy. But many Indians still live on less than one dollar a day. The Congress Party and its allies said they would help poor people if elected. They criticized the government for failing to provide citizens with jobs, clean water and electricity.

Congress Party officials said India’s new government would continue peace efforts with Pakistan begun by Mister Vajpayee. The two countries re-opened peace talks last year.

Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi could become India’s next prime minister. But Missus Ghandi is unpopular with some Indians because she was born in Italy. Missus Gandhi is the widow of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. He was murdered in a bombing attack in nineteen-ninety-one. Rajiv Gandhi was the son of former prime minister Indira Gandhi and grandson of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Indira Gandhi was India’s last female leader. She was murdered while in power in nineteen-eighty-four.

The Congress Party led by the Nehru-Gandhi family governed for almost fifty years after India gained independence from Britain in nineteen-forty-seven.

Sonia Gandhi took control of the Congress Party in nineteen-ninety-eight as the B.J.P. was becoming more popular. But a year later, she led her party to its worst-ever defeat in parliamentary elections. In recent months, however, she has worked to strengthen the Congress Party. She spoke at hundreds of campaign gatherings throughout the country. Her son Rahul won his own seat in the Indian parliament.

In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.