India ruling party faces state election mauling

India ruling party faces state election mauling

New Delhi (AFP) - India's ruling Congress party suffered an electoral humiliation Sunday at the hands of the main opposition and an anti-corruption movement, in the last major test before next year's national polls.

Initial tallies showed Congress, in power at national level for a decade, losing control of all four state assemblies up for grabs in Sunday's vote count, including in New Delhi where it was set to come a distant third.

Sheila Dikshit, chief minister of the capital for the last 15 years, acknowledged Congress had been toppled after only half a dozen of the 70 seats in Delhi had been declared.

"We accept our defeat and we will analyse what went wrong," said Dikshit, one of the country's most powerful politicians.

"We thank the people of Delhi for having supported the Congress for 15 years."

While the outcome is a boost for the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), analysts said the stunning support for an anti-graft party in the Delhi contest signalled a wider anger with mainstream politics.

Elections in the four states -- Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh -- have been held at different points over the last month but the counting had been postponed until Sunday.

Votes will be counted in the remote Congress-ruled state of Mizoram on Monday.

While the full results would not be announced until much later, the electoral commission and Indian television said early tallies indicated the BJP would win by a landslide in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and was running neck and neck with Congress in Chhattisgarh.

But the main focus was on New Delhi, where Congress was facing a wipeout.

The electoral commission said on its website that the BJP had either won or was in the lead in 31 of the 70 seats, making it the largest party.

But it predicted that the BJP would be deprived of an outright majority by the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party (Common People's Party), which had won or was ahead in counting in 29 seats despite only launching last year.

Congress was on course to win just eight seats, according to the commission.

Dikshit, India's longest-serving chief minister, was expected her to lose her seat to AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, a former civil servant.

"We have succeeded in altering the political discourse of the elections," Athishi Marlena, one of Kejriwal's top lieutenants, told the NDTV network.

"I think it's historic that a party that was formed just a year ago, a party which was written off till yesterday by the other two big parties, has made such a spectacular debut."

Triumphant Aam Aadmi supporters who had gathered at the party headquarters could be seen waving brooms -- the symbol of its pledge to clean up politics.

BJP activists celebrated in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, dancing to the beat of drums, bursting firecrackers and waving the party's lotus symbol.

Human Resources Development Minister Shashi Tharoor acknowledged the results were a wake-up call but questioned whether the corruption issue would be such a factor in the general election.

"Since we are looking forward to elections in five months' time in the entire country, I think there are legitimate questions whether this appeal can be replicated elsewhere," he said.

The assembly votes mark the last major test before Congress and the BJP, fielding hardliner Narendra Modi as its candidate for the premiership, face off in the general election due by May.

Analyst Amulya Ganguli said the chickens were coming home to roost for Congress after economic growth slowed to around five percent and following a series of corruption scandals.

"Had they managed to keep the economy buoyant, then that would have at least been a buffer against the numerous scams during their time," he said.

The elections are also a test for Modi, who is popular with middle-class voters but whose reputation was tarnished by deadly anti-Muslim riots that occurred on his watch as Gujarat chief minister in 2002.

Modi voiced delight on Twitter, congratulating the party's leaders in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan for their "wonderful performance" and "historic victory".

Modi, 63, will likely face Congress scion Rahul Gandhi, 43, whose family has given India three premiers, on the national campaign trail.