Those Left Behind Turned Indian Vote
Many people here earn their living by farming. Some, like Vashisht, own their land, but others aren't so lucky. Raj, the farmhand, said he got by on whatever jobs he could find and counted himself lucky if he earned $1.50 for eight hours of work. In the long stretches between jobs, the family survives on the money they make by selling milk from their single buffalo, which brings in about 80 cents per day.
"Congress has always spoken for the poor," said Raj, explaining why he switched his vote this time. In addition, he said, he was offended by the BJP's relentless charges that the leader of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, was unfit to lead India because she was born in Italy. Gandhi is the widow of prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1991, and the daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi, the prime minister who was assassinated in 1984. Indira Gandhi's father, Jawaharlal Nehru, was prime minister from 1947 to 1964.
"I did not like the fact that they were calling her a foreigner," he said. "She's the daughter-in-law of this country."
While some villagers have taken menial jobs in Gurgaon, higher-paying positions -- as at call centers that perform back-office tasks for foreign clients -- are generally out of reach because they require college degrees and fluency in English.
Radha Bharadwaji, the wife of a retired paramilitary soldier who estimates her age at between 40 and 44, said she voted for Congress because she thinks the party will help find a government job for her 18-year-old son, who just completed high school.
"My husband says we've always eaten Congress bread and we'll continue to eat Congress bread," said Bharadwaji, a cheerful woman with a gold stud in her nose and enameled red bangles on her wrist.
Ravinder Vashisht, a neighbor, sounded a rare note of support for the BJP. The son of a high-level government clerk, he is pursuing a master's degree in mathematics at a nearby state university and also takes English lessons. Last summer he worked at a call center in Gurgaon, managing an employee car service.
"Vajpayee brought foreign companies to India," said Vashisht, 21, who wants to teach math or start his own taxi company. "New technologies. People can talk on their laptops, anywhere, anytime. The things that India couldn't do for the last 20 years, it's suddenly doing."
But others remain skeptical. "We don't think India is shining -- it's hogwash," said Kuldeep Raghav, who runs a small computer training institute on the second floor of a grubby office building in a neighboring town. Raghav, 25, said that in the last several years, his business has dropped off sharply because he could not make good on assurances that those who enrolled in his classes would find work.
"People have realized that even after doing this they're not getting jobs, so they're losing interest," he said. "All the jobs demand college graduates."
Such disappointments appear to have played a role in the outcome of the local parliamentary contest in the latest round of elections, which started on April 20 and stretched over three weeks before results were announced on Thursday. After a hard-fought campaign, the race was won by the Congress Party candidate who had been unseated in the last election.
"This village wanted change," said Mangat Vashisht, the village council leader. "They all felt we had given the BJP a chance."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Sant Raj, 29, switched his vote because the governing party had changed nothing in four years: "I labored to eat then, and I labor to eat now."
(Photos John Lancaster -- The Washington Post)
Audio Report: The Post's John Lancaster discusses the outcome of India's parliamentary elections.
_____India's New Parliament_____
Graphic: Votes were counted for 539 seats in the 545-member lower house.
_____Return of a Dynasty_____
Graphic: With the surprise election results, India's Congress Party and its allies have the opportunity to return the Nehru-Gandhi family dynasty to power.