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UPA trashes predictions, makes strong comeback

With the United Progressive Alliance trashing all predictions of a tight race, Manmohan Singh will take fresh oath this week, only the second Indian Prime Minister since Jawaharlal Nehru in 1962 to return to power after a full five-year term. With 206 seats — 61 more than 2004 — India’s grand old party ran up its best tally in 18 years, winning urban and rural seats from across the country, reports George Varghese. Five high points of Verdict 2009| Surprise losers | New kid on the block | See Special

india Updated: May 17, 2009 07:28 IST
George Varghese

With the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) trashing all predictions of a tight race, Manmohan Singh (76) will take fresh oath this week, only the second Indian Prime Minister since Jawaharlal Nehru in 1962 to return to power after a full five-year term.

With 206 seats — 61 more than 2004 — India’s grand old party ran up its best tally in 18 years, winning urban and rural seats from across the country.

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The victory also boosted the standing of party general secretary Rahul Gandhi (39) who led the charge into India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh — where the Congress won 21 seats, the highest in 25 years.

Latest results and leads indicate the UPA is around a dozen seats short of the halfway mark of 272 in a House of 543. The alliance will bridge the gap through independents and smaller outfits.

With 60 per cent of India now under 35 years of age, expect to see some younger MPs getting ministerial berths, as it happened in 1984 when Rajiv Gandhi led the Congress to 404 seats, its best showing ever. The party won 232 seats in 1991.

“People have appreciated the work done by us,” said Congress president Sonia Gandhi, beaming, as Singh stood stoically by her side.

“We worked for them with sincerity.”

As Sonia spoke to reporters at her 10, Janpath residence on Saturday, Congress workers across the country distributed sweets, burst crackers and danced in the streets.

With the Left and the BJP tally declining, the verdict is being seen as an approval of the UPA government’s policies, particularly the redistribution of wealth to India’s poorest through unprecedented welfare schemes that totalled nearly Rs 1,00,000 crore in rural development, agriculture, health and education.

The Prime Minister’s image — as an able and incorruptible administrator and reformer — coupled with urban makeovers, helped the party deliver all seven seats in Delhi and all six in Mumbai to the Congress.

For the BJP it was back to square one, plummeting from its 2004 figure of 138 to 116 on Saturday, close to its 1991 tally when it began its ascendancy to become India’s ruling party by 1998.

Its best performance was 182 seats in 1999.

The 15th Lok Sabha election also rejected the concept of a non-BJP, non-Congress third front pushed by the Left, particularly the CPM, which declined in its bastions of West Bengal and Kerala.

Sonia’s popularity grew over the last five years after she renounced the post of prime minister in 2004, and later when she resigned as a Parliament member when the BJP tried to build a campaign against her that she was holding an office of profit.