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India's ruling Congress party trails in key state as votes in crucial polls are counted
LUCKNOW, India (AP) ' India's ruling Congress party trailed far behind its rivals in early returns from a key state election Tuesday, a sharp rebuke that could hamper the party's performance over the final two years of its term.
Congress icon Rahul Gandhi had put his reputation on the line by campaigning relentlessly to oust the government of Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party from Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state.
While Mayawati, a bottom caste dalit leader who uses only one name, appeared headed for defeat, it was the Samajwadi Party, the state's socialist party, that appeared headed for a significant victory.
"People across the state have supported us. People have risen above caste and religion," Akhilesh Yadav, a top Samajwadi leader, told New Delhi Television news channel.
Final results were expected later Tuesday, but early trends showed disfavor to Mayawati, who drew criticism during her 5-year rule for spending a fortune on public parks complete with gigantic statues of herself and other party leaders instead of reforming the health and education systems.
Yadav said the electorate had punished Mayawati for a lack of governance.
"She did not work the way she should have. The millions that were wasted on the statues, if that had been utilized properly, I think Uttar Pradesh would have benefited greatly," he said.
Results from the Election Commission projected Congress to win more than double the paltry 22 seats it controls in the 403-strong state assembly but not enough to give it any real leverage in the state.
Results from four other local elections were also being counted Tuesday.
The disappointing results in Uttar Pradesh ' Congress leaders had hoped to triple their seat count ' are a blow to Gandhi's aspirations to be taken seriously as a national leader.
Gandhi, who is a parliamentarian from Uttar Pradesh, is a member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has dominated Indian politics since independence from Britain in 1947. His mother is Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born Congress party president; his father, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated in 1991. The family is not related to independence leader Mohandas Gandhi.
By midday even Congress appeared to have conceded Samajwadi's victory.
The Congress-led national coalition has been battered by corruption scandals and weakened by growing opposition from rebellious smaller parties within the government that have blocked major new legislation.
Congress had hoped a strong showing would rejuvenate the government and give it leverage to widen the coalition and pressure its wayward allies to fall in line. A poor showing will leave the government limping toward the next election in 2014, even as economic growth slows and analysts say the nation is desperately in need of a transformative reform agenda.
The other elections are in the northern states of Punjab and Uttarakhand, the insurgency-wracked northeastern state of Manipur, and western coastal Goa. Manipur and Goa are ruled by Congress, while Punjab and Uttarakhand are ruled by opposition parties.
The massive elections in the five states were spread out from late January to March 3 and saw a high voter turnout, with at least 60 percent of the electorate voting in each state.