May 14, 2011


Mamata Banerjee wins crushing victory over communists in West Bengal, while Jayalalithaa triumphs in Tamil Nadu

Indian politicians Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa have
won control of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu respectively.
Photograph: Chowdhury/Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images

Her victory came as results from a string of state elections across India consolidated female politicians in some of the country's most prominent positions.

Mamata Banerjee spent Friday morning listening to classical music while finishing an oil painting. By the evening she was in charge of state with a population of 90 million, after winning a crushing victory over the Indian Communist party and putting an end to three decades of leftwing rule in West Bengal.
In the vast southern state of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa, a former movie star who goes by one name, swept aside the incumbent government in an acrimonious fight fuelled by corruption allegations.

Ramachandra Guha, a political historian and analyst, said the results were unprecedented. "You don't want to go too far as huge problems of gender inequality, foeticide, oppression and discrimination against women remain in India but it is still exceptional to have so many very powerful women at one time," Guha said.

Sonia Gandhi, the president of the Congress party, remains the most influential single politician in the country. Other prominent female politicians include Sheila Dikshit, the chief minister of the capital, Delhi, and Mayawati, who runs the vast state of Uttar Pradesh. The president of India, a largely ceremonial position, is also a woman, Pratibha Patil.
The victory of Banerjee's All India Trinamool Congress had been widely predicted. The Communist party in West Bengal has seen its once powerful support base weakened by corruption, poor administration, a series of land protests and a failure to bring any serious economic growth.
Vinod Mehta, editor of Outlook news magazine, said the party had lost power because of "more than three decades of misgovernment and dogma".
Banerjee said hers was a victory "of hapless people who have faced exploitation, violence and discrimination". But some analysts have reservations about her ability to deal with the problems facing West Bengal, where poverty in many areas is equal to that in sub-Saharan Africa.
Elsewhere in India, about 142 million people's votes were counted in four states and one city, Puducherry. More than 800 counting stations were set up, protected by nearly 20,000 security personnel.
In the southern coastal state of Kerala, communists also lost – though by a slim margin – to the Congress party, who lead a governing coalition at national level.
But in Tamil Nadu, the governing party's local allies were ousted in what is seen as a win for anti-corruption campaigners. The DMK party was deeply implicated in the biggest graft scandal to hit India for decades: the allegedly fraudulent sale of telecoms licences which has been calculated to have cost the nation £25bn.
Jayalalithaa won despite allegations that her opponents handed out free televisions, laptops, saris and other gifts including cash in return for support, and her victory was seen as a reflection of growing outrage over political graft.
"It's a hugely important development. It shows that concern about corruption is not just confined to the urban educated elite as many of the politicians have been saying," said Mehta, of Outlook. "It's very good news for democracy in India."
But it is Banerjee, a law and history graduate from a lower-middle-class family who wears a traditional sari with bathroom slippers and lives with her mother, who is the main focus of attention. In a country where politics is increasingly dominated by dynasties, she is an outsider. 

Banerjee, whose austere lifestyle is in stark contrast with that of some of India's senior politicians, said on Friday that gender was not an issue. "It is not me, it is the people of Bengal. That I am a woman is not the issue. Without my sisters I cannot do my job but not without my brothers too," she told the NDTV television channel.
·          @  The Guardian 


Losses for left in West Bengal and Kerala give strength to Congress in pursuing pro-market reforms

 The Trinamool Congress leader, Mamata Banerjee, addresses
supporters in Kolkata as her party overturns communist
rule in West Bengal. Photograph: Strdel/AFP/Getty Images
A fiery opposition leader has won a sweeping victory against the communists who had controlled the Indian state of West Bengal for more than three decades, in one of two major losses for the left in state elections.
Mamata Banerjee's victory came as votes were being counted in four other state elections across India. Her allies in the Congress party, which rules India in a national coalition, expressed confidence that the coalition would emerge from the polls relatively unscathed despite a string of corruption scandals and protests against food price inflation.

The communists also lost narrowly in southern Kerala, the only other state they had controlled, suggesting they may have trouble in the next general elections in 2014. The results are a vindication of the pro-market reforms of Congress and its allies, which drew vocal opposition from the communists.
Opponents have been trying to unseat the communists in West Bengal since 1977, and Banerjee's Trinamool Congress succeeded in a landslide.
Banerjee said the Bengal results reflected a 34-year "freedom struggle" and a "victory for the people". She had asked her supporters to abstain from alcohol and victory rallies to help maintain calm in the volatile state. Security was tight against possible violence by communist supporters.
"We want to dedicate our victory to our people and motherland," said Banerjee, who is expected to quit as national railways minister to be West Bengal's chief minister. "We will give good governance and good administration, not autocracy."
Trinamool and Congress had led an aggressive campaign in the mostly rural state, hammering the communist-led government for economic stagnation, corruption, agricultural malaise and industrial decline.
"West Bengal was once the pride of India. The communists have ruined it," the Congress leader, Sonia Gandhi, told 10,000 villagers packed into a recent schoolyard rally in the agricultural Murshidabad district.
West Bengal's outgoing chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, conceded defeat while thanking those who had supported the communist-led alliance over the years.
Partial results from north-eastern Assam, where Congress has been holding peace talks with secessionist militants, showed Congress and its allies to have a wide lead over a fractured opposition.
The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, congratulated Banerjee as well as Assam's incumbent chief minister, Tarun Gogoi.
Voters had "reaffirmed their faith in the Congress government" after it had reached out to the militants and helped calm the violent region, Gogoi said.
But in Tamil Nadu, Congress and regional ally Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam – which ruled the southern state – appeared to be heading for a major beating. The DMK was deeply implicated in a mobile phone licensing scandal that cost the nation an estimated tens of billions of dollars and forced one of the party's leaders to resign as national telecoms minister before being charged with conspiracy and fraud.
Analysts said, however, that the defeat could end up benefiting Congress nationally by allowing it to divorce itself from its scandal-plagued partner.
Political analyst Mahesh Rangaranjan said it would now be "very difficult to say corruption doesn't matter".
Congress has also come under fire for alleged mismanagement and corruption tied to the staging of last year's Commonwealth Games and to the takeover of valuable Mumbai apartments intended for poor war widows by powerful bureaucrats and politicians' relatives. 

The tiny state of Pondicherry also voted..       
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