Mixed fortunes for Cong in state polls
Congress emerged on Friday as the single largest party after elections in Meghalaya in the country's remote northeast, but failed to dislodge their communist rivals in Tripura, officials said.
The troubled northeastern states of Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland normally lack political weight nationally, but, with a national poll due by early 2009 and speculation about an early election, the contests are being seen as a test of the ruling party's popularity.
The rival Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in the states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh defeated Congress last December.
The northeastern elections were marked by an unusually high voter turnout that analysts linked to increasing political awareness among women and young people.
"People saw a way to bring about changes by participating in democratic process and understood the futility of violence," said BG Verghese, a visiting professor with the New Delhi based Centre for Policy Research.
"The younger generations are aware that they can change things democratically and their large numbers in voters lists have added to a high polling percentage."
Congress emerged as the single largest party in Meghalaya, where it has headed a coalition over the past five years. It is expected to make another bid for power after sewing together an alliance.
In Tripura, Indian communists retained power for a fourth straight term. The communists shore up the Congress-led coalition at the centre, but the two are rivals at the state level.
Results from Nagaland are expected on Saturday.
India's northeast, encircled by China, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan, is home to more than 200 ethnic and tribal groups and has been beset by dozens of separatist and tribal insurgencies since India gained independence from Britain in 1947.
Tribespeople for years accused New Delhi of taking away the region's mineral resources, giving them nothing in return.
The disaffection has also been reflected in the local population's limited participation in elections.