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Poll losses a blow to Singh's reform agenda and Rahul's run for PM

A Congress Party drubbing raises questions about its scion.
India congress party rahul gandhi 2012 3 6Enlarge
India's ruling Congress party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi speaks to the press outside his residence in New Delhi on Mar. 6, 2012. Rahul Gandhi, the Congress party politician seen as India's prime-minister-in-waiting, accepted responsibility for poor results in state elections in which he had led campaigning. (Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images)

Congress Party scion Rahul Gandhi took the blame for a sound drubbing in pivotal state elections in Uttar Pradesh on Tuesday, in what may be seen as a serious blow to the party's plans to make him its next candidate for prime minister.

"I fought, so it is my responsibility [for what happened]," Gandhi told reporters, as it became clear that the Samajwadi Party was poised to take power in UP, the Times of India reported. 

Gandhi had campaigned tirelessly in UP, India's most populous state, hoping to restore the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty's luster there. But while he blamed the poll results on weak organization in the state, the vote was supposed to be a referendum on his viability as a campaigner, and as such marks a serious failure. The Congress candidates even lost in Sonia Gandhi's home constituency of Rae Bareli.

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According to Reuters, with counting nearly over the Congress party was trailing in fourth place in UP (or effectively last, behind even the Bharatiya Janata Party). The Congress appeared likely to win only about 27 of the state assembly's 403 seats, a far cry from the 100-plus tally it had projected Gandhi's presence on the ground would deliver.

It's not too promising for standing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, either.

Instead of the four out of five states it was hoping to win — and thus retake the initiative at the central level — Congress looks likely to win only in Manipur. It is heading for losses in Punjab, Goa and possibly Uttarakhand, said Reuters. The winner in UP was the Samajwadi Party, which will displace the low-caste Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati, who has been chief minister for the past five years. The BJP won an outright majority in Goa. The regional Akali Dal won in Punjab.

Though all the results are significant setbacks for the Congress, UP drew the most attention because of Gandhi's focus there and because the populous state is seen as a primary mover in national politics.

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Prior to the counting of votes, India's Business Standard newspaper had reported that the Congress was confident it would gain ground in the five state elections. As a result, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) expected to get the required support from its allies to push through “a slew of important policy decisions,” the paper said.

Foremost among those policies would have been the decision to allow foreign players to own majority stakes in multibrand retail stores like Walmart and Carrefour and wholly owned single-brand stores.

Earlier this year, those measures were approved by the prime minister's cabinet, but blocked by various parties, including both the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and the Trinamool Congress (a UPA member). 

Now, it looks as though those moves — and perhaps the rest of the party's agenda of economic reforms — will have to remain in the current deep freeze.

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