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The Indian general elections are a chaotic, crazy, bewildering and uplifting process and it's very hard to node every nuance. Before I give you some of the bare details, let me remind you that we follow a Westminster style system with a Prime Ministerial form of government. However, we also have state level governments (duplicating the system at the national level) and three of the states went to the polls along with the general elections.

This was the first election where Electronic Voting Machines were used across the country. It was argued by the Election Commission that this would reduce rigging, which is reasonably common in some parts of the country. The one advantage of using EVMs was that the results came in very quickly- it has taken less than half a day to count the votes in over 500 constituencies covering half a billion people. Some achievement that!

This election has seen a shock defeat for the ruling NDA or National Democratic Alliance of which the Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party or the BJP is the chief constituent. Having been in power for a full term of five years, the BJP called these elections, hoping not just for a comfortable victory, but to gain enough seats of their own, so as to be able to shake off some of their more troublesome allies. The decision to call elections at this time was also prompted by the predictions for a good monsoon- very crucial in a country heavily dependent on rains for agricultural prosperity.

The election campaign was dominated by two things- first, the complete lack of issues. And second, the preponderance of movie stars contesting the elections! The prime agenda for the BJP was their 'India Shining' campaign highlighting the achievement of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. On hindsight it would seem that this has backfired and eventually contributed to their loss. However, a large number of the movie stars who were contesting elections have won their seats including Dharmendra, Jayaprada and the effervescent Govinda. Along with the fact that quirky former Test cricketer and cricket commentator Navjot Singh Sidhu has won from Amritsar, you can be rest assured that parliament will be one lively place next session!

Now to the actual results. Of the 536 results declared till tonight, the break up is as follows:

Congress and its allies- 219
BJP and its allies- 186
Others (including the Left parties)- 131.

This means that it is now possible for the Congress along with Left support (the Left has swept two states, Kerala and my home state of West Bengal) to form a government without having to depend on more problematic allies like the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh. It also means that Sonia Gandhi, the widow of the former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi will most certainly become India's next Prime Minister.

Sonia Gandhi's ascendancy to the post of PM is a curious phenomenon. Her Italian and Christian background was picked up by the BJP which tried to argue that Indians should not elect a 'foreigner' (she is a naturalized Indian citizen) as their leader. Clearly the public did not buy this argument. Although doubts remain about her ability to govern a nation of this size- she speaks halting Hindi and no other Indian language, is a poor orator, has no clear political views on most issues and seems to make them up as she goes along, and has absolutely no political experience. There are fears that she will easily manipulated by Congress bigwigs. I am not sure what I feel about this. On the one hand, I am incredibly annoyed that the Congress has to rely on its 'royal family' and dynastic politics for leadership. On the other I am also incredibly proud of the idiosyncratic liberalness of my country that is willing to elect a white Italian Roman Catholic woman as their Prime Minister!!

Finally, let's take a quick look at some particular results and how parties have fared in various states. The biggest shock was the defeat of the Telegu Desam in Andhra Pradesh where it's IT savvy Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has been wiped out and the Congress has come back to power. Similarly in Tamil Nadu, the ruling AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munetra Kazagham) has been wiped out (although it retains power in the state legislative assembly that did not go to the polls) by its ally the Dravida Munetra Kazagham or the DMK. As I write this, there is news that the leader of the DMK, M. Karunanidhi might be offered the post of Deputy Prime Minister.

The Left parties, notably the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has come up with its best showing ever. Winning 36 seats out of 42 in West Bengal, including seats in its traditional area of weakness- Calcutta, as well as 18/20 seats in Kerala, and 2/2 seats in Tripura, the Left looks well on its way to regaining some of the political credibility it had lost.

I will update this node as and when results for all 539 seats have been declared. There is to be a repoll in the politically sensitive seat of Chhapra in Bihar. So these results might take a while. In the meanwhile, if you want up to date coverage of the elections, please go to www.ndtv.com. At some point in the next few days, I'll try and include some of my own political views on this election as well as snippets from the main newspapers. I want to look at why the NDA lost, what this means for Indian democracy and the Congress party in particular, and how the BJP will try and recover from this loss.

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