In India elections, voters oust Communists in two states, reject graft-tainted party in Tamil Nadu
By Rama Lakshmi,
NEW DELHI — India’s beleaguered ruling coalition received a boost Friday as it notched up victories in three out of four key states when votes were counted after month-long state elections.
The state votes do not immediately affect the national coalition government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but many here view them as a collective referendum ahead of national elections expected in 2014.
Analysts said victories by the ruling Congress party, as well as the resounding defeat of one party tainted by corruption scandals, could give Singh more freedom to act against allies accused of serious financial wrongdoing.
The elections last month involved four of India’s 29 states and about 140 million of its 675 million voters. The tallying took place Friday in 839 heavily secured counting centers.
In the eastern state of West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress party won a landslide victory, ending 34 years of rule by a group of Communist parties. The Trinamool Congress party, which is allied with Singh’s party, began to gain momentum when angry farmers erupted in protest against the Communist government in 2007 and 2008 after it seized farmland to set up an automobile factory.
Similar land-related protests have engulfed several parts of India in recent months, delaying many infrastructure and industrial projects. Singh has promised a new law in July that will set guidelines for the purchase of land for industrial expansion.
“It is a victory of the people. They have finally got freedom,” said Mamata Banerjee, the frugal, flip-flop wearing chief of Trinamool Congress, who campaigned on the issue of land rights.
Singh’s Congress party won in the eastern state of Assam and narrowly defeated the ruling Communists in Kerala, in the south. But in Tamil Nadu, a southern state closely watched by anti-graft crusaders, and in the federally governed coastal city of Puducherry, an alliance between the Congress party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party was defeated, demonstrating a widespread public desire for reform.
Congress and the DMK have been battered in the past eight months by a string of corruption scandals that have prompted a middle-class uprising against graft. DMK member Andimuthu Raja, a former telecommunications minister in Singh’s government, was jailed on corruption charges for granting telecom spectrum licenses that cost India more than $39 billion. Another lawmaker from the party, M.K. Kanimozhi, faces charges for being Raja’s accomplice. A court is expected to decide Saturday whether Kanimozhi will also go to prison.
“The election verdict in Tamil Nadu confirms the rising public sentiment of no tolerance for corruption in politics. The recent groundswell against corruption, both in social and traditional media campaigns, has communicated this to the government,” said Saloni Puri, campaign director of Avaaz, an online site that mobilized more than 650,000 people to sign a petition calling for a stringent anti-graft law in India.
Jayanti Natarajan, a spokeswoman for the Congress party, said, “We accept the verdict” in Tamil Nadu. “We would introspect and try to win the next elections.”
On Thursday, Singh’s government ratified the U.N. Convention Against Corruption after six years. “The timing is not a coincidence — it is in response to the mass citizen protests and anti-corruption movement in India,” Puri said.
Under the convention, India must put in place a more transparent and accountable system of governance. Puri said that it also mandates an asset recovery law, which will help in repatriating billions of dollars stashed iollegally in overseas bank accounts, a hot-button issue in India.