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Congress hails India poll victory

May 19, 2009

BBC
May 16, 2009

The leaders of India's Congress party have
thanked the people for returning them to power with a "massive mandate".

Congress President Sonia Gandhi said that they
had made the "right choice" and PM Manmohan Singh
vowed the party would "rise to the occasion".

Earlier the main opposition BJP and the Third Front conceded they had lost.

State television says Congress's alliance has won
or is ahead in 263 seats, compared with the BJP's
(154), the Third Front (60) and others (66).

Congress should now find it easier to form a stable government.

Mr Singh said: "I express my deep sense of
gratitude to the people for giving us this
massive mandate, for having reposed their faith in the party."

He said that he would try to persuade Rahul Gandhi to join the cabinet.

Sonia Gandhi said: "The people of India know
what's good for them and have made the right choice."

Party, told reporters it had not expected this
kind of result. "We will sit together later
today, once all the results are out, and analyse what happened," he said.

BJP leader LK Advani has telephoned Mr Singh and
Mrs Gandhi to offer his congratulations and the
full support of his party to strengthen India, the BJP's Arun Jaitley said.

Prakash Karat, the leader of the Communist Party
of India (Marxist), the key mover in the Third
Front, accepted Congress had won.

"The CPM and the Left parties have suffered a major setback," he said.

The BBC's Chris Morris in Delhi says that a small
crowd gathered early outside Congress
headquarters to celebrate, banging drums and
chanting slogans. There have been celebrations in Mumbai and elsewhere.

Our correspondent says several days of backroom
deals still lie ahead but the prospect of a very
weak and unstable government has receded.

There were earlier reports that Home Minister P
Chidambaram had lost his seat in Tamil Nadu, but
a recount has now been ordered there.

'People's verdict'

Counting began at 0800 local time (0230 GMT) and
with electronic voting machines being used the
first trends were quickly available.

Congress confounded predictions, particularly in
Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.

Left-wing parties appear to be suffering major
reverses in West Bengal and Kerala and the party
of Dalit leader Mayawati, also in the Third
Front, has underperformed in Uttar Pradesh.

Senior leftist leader Sitaram Yechury said: "It's the people's verdict."

One high-profile winner was former UN diplomat
Shashi Tharoor for Congress in Kerala's capital, Trivandrum.

Since polling ended on Wednesday, the two main
parties have been involved in a series of
political meetings, scrambling to gain pledges of
support in a predicted hung parliament.

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says there had
been suggestions that both the Congress and BJP
were losing relevance in India, ceding political
space to smaller, local parties.

But this defeat for the BJP's LK Advani should
certainly spell the end of his political career, he says.

The main thrust of the Congress manifesto has
been on economic recovery and boosting growth,
while the BJP focused on easing taxation and
recovering money illegally stashed abroad.

Security has been tight in a number of areas ahead of the results announcement.

Meetings of five or more people have been banned
across Rajasthan and victory processions barred in Uttar Pradesh.

Turnout for the election has been put at about 60%, compared with 58% in 2004.

Security has so far generally been considered a
success, although about 60 people lost their lives, mostly in Maoist violence.

India's new 543-seat parliament, with a new
government in place, is supposed to sit by 2 June.
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