Gandhi’s heir under fire asCongress flops in state polls

RAHUL Gandhi has flopped in a bid to deliver his Congress Party gains in state elections, casting fresh doubt on his capacity to become the next member of the powerful dynasty to lead India.

In elections for five states, Congress held only one, drew in another, lost two more and came in fourth in the big northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 200 million people.

“It has been a disaster for Congress, it’s an even bigger disaster for Rahul Gandhi and the Gandhi family,” political analyst Amulya Ganguli said as results came in. “They were banking on success in these elections, hoping to get at least four out of five states. It has gone the opposite way. It shows there is no charisma left in the Gandhi family.”

Congress sought to shield Mr Gandhi from blame, arguing it was up to local MPs to convert his electioneering into assembly seats. Later, addressing reporters outside the New Dehli residence of his mother Sonia, he said: “I accept responsibility for the fact that we did not perform well. After all, I was the main campaigner … Congress fought well, but the result is not good.”

Congress mostly disappointed in the other four states which voted over the past month. It was defeated in Punjab and Goa, and was neck-and-neck with a rival in Uttarakhand, where counting was still going on yesterday. In a small consolation, it won in the remote border state of Manipur.

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Scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has ruled India for most of its 65 years of independence, Mr Gandhi campaigned hard to revive his party in Uttar Pradesh, where it has not ruled for 22 years. He attended more than 200 rallies, slept in villagers’ huts and grew a beard to achieve a more rugged look as a “man of the people”.

His performance was widely seen as a test of his fitness to take the reins of the party from his ailing Italian-born mother and eventually to become prime minister if Congress and its allies retain power in national elections due in 2014.

However, the runaway winner in Uttar Pradesh was the socialist Samajwadi Party, which means former wrestler Mulayam Singh Yadav will become chief minister for a fourth term since 1989, defeating the lower-caste leader Mayawati. She drew criticism during her five-year rule for spending a fortune on public parks complete with giant statues of herself and party leaders.

The Samajwadi Party’s image was invigorated by the campaigning of Mr Yadav’s son, Akhilesh, who speaks English and Hindi, has a degree from Sydney university and won votes with promises of development.