India's government concedes defeat

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The Independent Online

India's ruling Hindu nationalist party conceded electoral defeat today, opening the way for Sonia Gandhi to become India's first foreign-born leader and restoring her family's dynasty to power in a dramatic political upset in the world's largest democracy.

India's ruling Hindu nationalist party conceded electoral defeat today, opening the way for Sonia Gandhi to become India's first foreign-born leader and restoring her family's dynasty to power in a dramatic political upset in the world's largest democracy.

Unofficial results indicated that millions of rural poor people abandoned Prime

Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, believing they had been left behind by the country's economic boom and rejecting his Hindus-first message in favour of the secularism of Gandhi's Congress party.

Vajpayee was expected to resign later today. His decision to call the election six months early was a devastating miscalculation.

"We have not got the mandate of the people," said Venkaiah Naidu, president of Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party, adding that the decision to concede defeat was taken at a 90-minute meeting of the BJP and its allied party leaders.

The opposition Congress party and its allies had earlier claimed victory and declared that Sonia Gandhi, who was born in Italy and is the widow of assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, would be the next leader.

Before the five-phased elections, which began on April 20, Vajpayee and his 11-member National Democratic 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 Vajpayee's Hindu nationalist-led government, which had called elections ahead of time, confident of increasing its majority in Parliament, based on a fast-growing 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 Vajpayee's coalition said the results were "totally against our expectations."

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 today.

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.

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