Opposition wins stunning upset in Indian elections
New Delhi — The ruling party of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee conceded defeat Thursday in parliamentary elections, opening the way for Sonia Gandhi to become India's prime minister in one of the most dramatic political upsets since independence.
Unofficial results indicate that millions of rural poor people abandoned Mr. Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata party believing they had been left behind by the country's economic boom.
"We have not got the mandate of the people," said BJP President Venkaiah Naidu, adding that the decision was taken at a 90-minute meeting of the party and its coalition partners.
The opposition Congress party and its allies had earlier claimed victory and declared that party leader Sonia Gandhi would be the next prime minister, after early results showed the party and its allies were ahead of Mr. Vajpayee's 11-member National Democratic Alliance.
Before the five-phased elections, which began April 20, Mr. Vajpayee and his alliance had been expected to win enough seats to eventually form a government and rule the country for another five years.
It was an embarrassing defeat for Mr. Vajpayee's Hindu nationalist-led government, which had called elections six months early because it felt confident of winning an even bigger majority in Parliament, based on a booming economy and prospects of peace with Pakistan.
But Congress focused its campaign on the country's 300 million people who still live on less than a dollar a day. It hammered away at the lack of even basic infrastructure, electricity and potable water for millions of rural poor.
A leader in Mr. Vajpayee's coalition said the results were "totally against our expectations."
Ms. Gandhi has pushed for a secular India in contrast to the BJP's Hindu nationalist message. Her two children, Rahul and Priyanka, are up-and-coming politicians and Rahul expects to be elected to parliament on Thursday.
The Gandhi dynasty dominated Indian politics since independence from British colonial rule in 1947. Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, headed the country from independence until his 1964 death. He was followed by his daughter, Indira Gandhi, who was killed by her own bodyguards in 1984.
Rajiv, her son and Sonia's husband, took power and ruled until 1989. Two years later, he too was assassinated.