- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
The biggest election this week was not Russia’s presidential contest or tonight’s Super Tuesday vote in the United States, it was India’s state elections, particularly the contest in Uttar Pradesh which, with 200 million residents, would be the world’s fifth largest country — slightly larger than Brazil — if it were independent.
There are two big storylines coming out of the elections. The first was the setback dealt to India’s ruling Congress Party, and possible future prime minister Rahul Gandhi:
Political analysts said the Congress Party’s poor showing in Uttar Pradesh raised doubts about its ability to win re-election at the federal level in 2014 as well as Mr. Gandhi’s prospects as a future prime minister. In New Delhi, Congress governs with the support of several regional parties, at least one of which has publicly threatened to withdraw its support over policy differences.
“Congress needs more coalition partners to retain power in 2014,” said C.P. Bhambhi, a professor and the former dean of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. “It will be difficult for Congress to repeat the 2009 election performance.”
The firebrand chief minister of Uttar Pradesh was set to lose office after her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) fell to a projected 86 seats in the 403-seat state assembly after winning 206 in the previous election.
Mayawati, 56, who only uses one name, rose from a community of "untouchables" (now known as Dalits) at the bottom of the Hindu caste structure to rule over Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India with a population of 200 million.
The likely next chief minister of UP will be Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi party, an aging former wrestler and onetime defence minister of India who has held the chief minister job twice before, trading back and forth with his arch-rival Mayawati since 1991. Though as the New York Times notes, he may just be keeping the seat warm for his son:
Mr. Varshney and other analysts said the big winner in Uttar Pradesh was Akhilesh Singh Yadav, who like Mr. Gandhi is the relatively young heir of a political family.
Mr. Yadav, 39, transformed the image of the Samajwadi Party, which his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, founded and still leads, from thuggish and backward to progressive. In the recent campaign, the younger Mr. Yadav promised free tablet and laptop computers to high school and college students; in earlier elections, the party had pledged to remove computers from government offices to create more jobs.
Mayawati’s defeat is being touted by some as a defeat for caste-based politics — though it would be a mistake to caste a perrenial comeback-artist like Mayawati out for good.