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'Equivalent of a peasants' revolt'

H S Rao in London | May 14, 2004 16:53 IST

Leading British dailies today said the ouster of the Vajpayee government came as a surprise,  with one of them describing the defeat of the BJP-led NDA as "one of  the greatest election upsets of all time".

"For the past decade India's leaders have presented to the world a vision of a brave, new, 'shining' India. It is a high-tech country of mobile phones, gleaming glass call centers and double-digit economic growth," said The Daily Telegraph.  "The shock defeat of India's ruling coalition was the electoral equivalent of a peasants' revolt."

"The result came as a complete surprise to everyone but the people who matter in an Indian election. It was a massive vote of confidence in India's democratic system, a vote which swept aside declarations of a  surging economy, a bountiful monsoon, a foreign policy success in the start of a rapprochement with Pakistan, and a slick campaign by the outgoing government which played on the feel-good factor: 'India Shining'," said The Guardian in an editorial.

"India has always surprised the world, and especially when its unpredictable 660 million voters decide the country's future. The defeat of BJP Government, headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, must rank  as one of the greatest election upsets of all time, matched perhaps only by the defeat of (former British premier Winston)  Churchill in 1945 and (former US President Harry) Truman's  victory in 1948 in wrong footing almost every political  pundit," said The Times.

In its article, The Daily Telegraph said: "The vast Indian electorate has once again surprised us all. On the back of good monsoons, victories in three state polls at the end of last year, peace overtures to Pakistan and strong economic growth, Atal Bihari Vajpayee judged that the cards were stacked in his favour.

"The voters decided otherwise, driving his Bharatiya Janata Party from office, in favour of Congress under Sonia Gandhi. The Nehru dynasty, now in its fourth generation is back in power after a gap of 13 years."

The Times said "the Government that has, this past year, brought India back from the brink of nuclear war, opened up a spectacular new chapter in relations with Pakistan, fostered a record growth rate of almost 10 per cent and placed India squarely at the centre of global trade in services and high technology has been thrown out.

"Instead, voters have handed victory to a party that has appeared more and more a prisoner of its past, suffered  numerous regional defeats and squabbles among its barons and factions and has only grudgingly accepted the opening of India's markets and the end of old-fashioned socialism and state control."

Saying that "Gandhi name works magic on voters again",  it said the Congress party's shock election victory was built on the plight of rural poor.

"In a highly personalised contest between the notoriously awkward and taciturn Mrs Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the outgoing Prime Minister, a charismatic orator and published poet, Mrs Gandhi's sincere style appeared to have won support from many Indians who have grown cynical of professional politicians," it said. 

"Her victory marks a dazzling personal rejuvenation for Mrs Gandhi after six years of lacklustre leadership in Opposition. She has had to deal with whispered criticism from within Congress about her low-key approach, and endure savage personal attacks from her political enemies, as well as widespread unease about her foreign origins.

"Now she has presided over a triumphant return to power for the party which ruled India for 44 of its first 50 years after independence, but which many Indians had virtually  written off."

"From a small town in Tuscany to leader of one billion Indians: Gandhi dynasty rises again" wrote The Guardian. "Sonia Gandhi's rise from small-town, postwar Italy to the  whitewashed British Raj bungalows of Delhi is a story of love and death in India's political cauldron, culminating in the most sensational victory since India became independent in 1947."  

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