India's ruling Congress party emerged from this week's state elections in a much weakened state, both in terms of political prospects and in terms of ability to govern.
The party lost elections in the states of Uttar Pradesh (India's most populous state with a population equal to Brazil's), Punjab and Goa. In Uttar Pradesh, the party was electorally test driving Rahul Gandhi,whom it hoped to run as its candidate two years hence in the national elections (given the fact that the current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be 82).
Rahul Gandhi is the grandson of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and great grandson of Jarahawal Nehru. He is the fourth generation to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has dominated the Congress party, and to a large extent Indian politics, since independence in 1947. There is no relationship to Mohandas Karamchand (called Mahatma, the "great soul") Gandhi, who led the nonviolent resistance to British rule. Rahul is the son of Congress party president Sonia Gandhi and her assassinated husband Rajeev Gandhi.
The party is suffering on the state level because of problems on the national level.
Congress party bigwigs have been involved in scandals concerning bribes that were paid in preparations for the Commonwealth games and for allocating wave bands for cellular providers.
Additionally, the economy has been plagued by inflationary pressures, stimulated by the declining value of the rupee and the inflation rate is currently running neck and neck with the growth rate, meaning that in real terms growth has vanished. The real figures could be even worse, the skeptics claim, and may actually be approaching 9.5% inflation.
In previous election cycles, when Congress faltered, the major beneficiary was the BJP ( Bharatiya Janata Party), a Hindu nationalist party that believes in a more militant policy towards Pakistan.
Recently, as in the Uttar Pradesh elections, the main beneficiaries are regional parties, and some are even allied with Congress on the national level as part of the UPA (United Progressive Alliance). As these regional parties have grown stronger at the expense of the two national parties, their bargaining power on the national level has also increased. Some of them have been floating the idea of pooling their resources in nationwide elections and designating one of their own as the next Prime Minister.