Early returns in India's state elections indicated today that the ruling People's Party is on its way to consolidating the victory it won in the March national elections that toppled Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Party president Chandra Shekar told reporters in New Delhi that the tallies so far "indicate the trend that the people have supported the (People's) Party once again."
Ten of India's 22 states and two union territories (a status similar to that of the District of Columbia) went to the polls starting last Friday to elect new state legislatures. Balloting ended today and final results are not expected until Thursday. In all, 2,298 seats are to be filled.
The importance of the state assembly elections is twofold.
First, the winning party will be in a position to elect a national president of its choice in August. Under the Indian political system, the state assemblies play a key role in the election of the president.
Second, the vote must be seen as an early indicator of whether the people of India still support the People's Party, which they supported so massively three months ago in rejecting Gandhi's national emergency and ending 30 years of rule by her Congress.
The People's Party was formed in haste by five opposition parties early this year when Gandhi called the election. Two key questions have been its cohesion and the degree to which the March vote was an expression of opposition to Gandhi and the emergency rather than one of support for the People's Party.
In very partial early returns, the ruling party was making its weakest showing in Tamil Nadu, a southern state where it was defeated in the March general election, and in West Bengal, a normally radical state where the Communist Party of India (Marxist), in conjunction with other leftist parties, was far ahead.
Just as predictably, the People's Party was leading in the populous northern states that were particularly hard-hit by the repressive measures of the 20-month Gandhi emergency.