Indian PM claims election victory

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has declared victory in India’s national elections, saying voters have given the Congress party-led coalition a “massive mandate”.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has declared victory in India’s national elections, saying voters have given the Congress party-led coalition a “massive mandate”.

Singh made the comments to reporters as results indicated his alliance had achieved a sweeping success in the month-long polls which will keep Singh in power for another term.

“I express my deep sense of gratitude to the people of the country for the massive mandate they have given” the alliance, he said today.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, the country's other main party, failed to convince voters to change the national leadership during a time of economic uncertainty and regional instability.

“We accept the people’s verdict,” said Arun Jaitley, a senior BJP official. “Certainly something did go wrong.”

News channels called the election in Congress’ favour based on more than 70% of votes counted.

The CNN-IBN channel said the Congress-led alliance could win 258 seats in the 543-seat Parliament, and the BJP-led alliance could take 162. It projected that the Congress party alone – without the support of its coalition allies – would take 198 seats, putting it far ahead of all other parties. Other channels predicted similar results in the massive vote – the largest in the democratic world – which for logistical and security reasons was held in five phases between April 16 and May 13.

If counting trends continued the same direction, it would be a clear victory for the Congress coalition – but would still leave it short of the 272 seats needed to govern alone and it would require the support of other parties. India has been ruled by coalition governments for most of the last two decades.

However, the results appeared far better for Congress than nearly everyone expected. For months, polls and political observers have predicted that neither of the country’s two main parties would emerge a clear winner, forcing an unstable and unwieldy coalition that could have conceivably included dozens of smaller parties.

Things now appear far clearer: Congress “seems to have the upper hand,” said Venkaiah Naidu, a BJP leader.

The “Third Front,” an alliance of communist, regional and caste-based parties that had banded together – and which for a time had been seen as a wild card that could emerge with immense power – appeared to have done poorly. Most news stations predicted they would win less than 80 seats.

As results came in, celebrations erupted outside the Congress party headquarters. Party workers set off fireworks and danced in the streets carrying posters of party leader Sonia Gandhi.

“We have won a thumping majority,” Congress activist Parag Jain said outside the party offices, in a leafy, elegant south New Delhi neighbourhood. “Successful rule begins and ends with Congress and the Gandhi family.”

The BJP’s office compound offered a sombre contrast, as supporters and party workers held quiet discussions inside the shuttered gates, decorated with the party symbol of a lotus flower.

The Congress party has long said that Singh, 76, an economist and technocrat who helped open India’s economy nearly 20 years ago, would return to power if it won. But the election appeared to also be a clear victory for Sonia Gandhi’s son, Rahul, who emerged as a key strategist during the campaign and became the party’s most visible face. While a relative political newcomer, he has been increasingly viewed as a future prime minister.

Rahul, 38, is a scion of India’s most powerful family – the son of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, grandson of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. The family was closely allied to the pacifist icon Mohandas Gandhi, though they are not related.

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