INDIA Right-wing govt facing setbacks

NEW DELHI – Exit polls following India’s third round of voting on April 26 suggest that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vaypayee’s ruling right-wing party, the BJP, may lose its majority in Parliament.

An exit poll by New Delhi Television, a private news channel, predicted that Vajpayee’s governing alliance would win no more than 255 seats, short of the 272 it needs to rule outright. The BJP, founded around 1980 on a hard-line Hindu nationalist or “Hindutva” platform, currently controls the Parliament with 303 seats. The poll predicted that the Congress Party and its allies would win up to 210 seats, with independents getting the rest.

Another private television channel, Aaj Tak, predicted that the BJP would fall six seats short of a majority in Parliament, 36 less than it got in 1999. It showed the Congress Party of Sonia Gandhi posting gains. Such private polls need to be viewed with skepticism, observers warn.

“A lot of people who were bemused, confused, or apathetic have been galvanized by the Congress (Party) on issues such as unemployment and the growing disparities between rich and poor,” commentator Prem Shankar Jha told Reuters. “They have come out and voted.”

The five-phase voting process started on April 20 with elections to three state assemblies, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Orissa. A local election official told the World that about 175 million people voted, or 50-55 percent of the registered voters. Women voters reportedly turned out in greater numbers than usual. There were complaints in Andhra Pradesh that right-wing forces tried to block voters, including members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), from entering some polling stations, and left parties have lodged complaints to the election commission about such incidents.

Violence from right-wing elements and some ultra-left forces has taken place in several regions. As of April 27, at least 33 people had been killed in election-related incidents.

The final two rounds in the elections are May 5 and May 10, and the election results will be announced on May 13.

PWW freelance correspondent M.K.N. Moorthy contributed to this story.