Early Election Returns Spur Celebrations In India Supporters of India's ruling Congress party and their allies are celebrating on the streets Saturday after a resounding victory in the general elections. The vote count is still going on, but it's clear that they've done much better than expected. It means Manmohan Singh is set for a second term as India's prime minister.
NPR logo

Early Election Returns Spur Celebrations In India

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/104211892/104211855" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Early Election Returns Spur Celebrations In India

Early Election Returns Spur Celebrations In India

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/104211892/104211855" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up: check in on a couple that's struggling in this poor economy, but first…

(Soundbite of fireworks)

SIMON: Supporters of India's ruling Congress Party and their allies are celebrating today after a resounding victory in the general elections. Now, the vote count is still going on but it seems clear that they've done much better than expected. And that means that Manmohan Singh is set for a second term as prime minister of India.

NPR's Philip Reeves joins us from New Delhi.

Philip, thanks for being with us.

PHILIP REEVES: You're welcome.

SIMON: And help us appreciate how big a win this is for the Congress-led coalition.

REEVES: It's a huge win. The coalition is only a handful of votes away from an outright majority in parliament. No one expected it, not the pundits, not the pollsters. The big worry, in fact, was that they would fall far short of that majority and then have to cobble together a coalition from all sorts of small parties which would have demands of their own, and that would make it a weak government.

SIMON: What's your estimation, Philip, right now as to why Congress did so well?

REEVES: There are going to be lots of reasons. There are always are with Indian politics. It's a very diverse country and the regions differ greatly one from another, and personalities play a large part. But one big reason is that their main opponents, the Hindu nationalist BJP, played their hand very badly, and they made the mistake of targeting Manmohan Singh.

You know, Singh is respected even by his enemies. He's this mild-mannered guy. He's an economist. He's a technocrat who is not corrupt. He's always, in fact, portrayed himself as aloof from the grimy business of politics. And he is, of course, the author of India's economic reforms. Targeting him personally was a big error. And now he's become a figure in history; no other leader since Jawaharlal Nehru, a founding father of Indian independence, the first prime minister, has managed to win re-election after a serving a full five-year term as prime minister. Manmohan Singh has done that.

And in fact, on the television they are playing music now which is entitled "Singh is King."

SIMON: Oh, my. I want to get you to talk about the role that some members of, in fact, the Nehru family played. Although we should explain that they are, in fact, named Gandhi; they're descendents of Indira Gandhi, the daughter of Prime Minister Nehru.

REEVES: Yes, and that's exactly right. And they've played a very big role and a very important role. The power behind the party, Sonia Gandhi - you remember she's the Italian-born widow of one of Indira's sons, who was prime minister and assassinated in 1991 - now her son, Rahul, traveled the country tirelessly during this election campaign. He's young. He's 38, which is young by Indian political standards. He provided a new face for the Congress Party, which has tended to be dominated by oldies.

And he and his sister, Priyanka, who's a very talented political operator, you know, they were both very active. And I think this election's revealed that they're both shaping up as potential leaders of India and that the dynasty has some more years to run.

SIMON: U.S. likely to be pleased?

REEVES: Yes, it is, because - several reasons, actually. But one of them is that India borders Pakistan. Of course that's highly unstable. A weak and unstable government in India would have added to the general instability in the region. It would have been harder, for example, for a weak Indian government to handle big regional crisis, such as the one that occurred late last year, when militants from Pakistan launched a multiple and very deadly attack on the Indian city of Mumbai.

SIMON: NPR's Philip Reeves in New Delhi, thanks so much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.