India's Congress party wins election in key state, in setback for Hindu nationalists

Saturday, October 16th 2004, 9:30 am
By: News On 6

BOMBAY, India (AP) _ India's Congress party and its allies retained power in a key state Saturday, beating rival Hindu nationalists in an election that was seen as a test of the popularity of Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born leader of the country's governing coalition.

The Congress party-led alliance won 139 seats in the state legislature of Maharashtra, defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena coalition, which won 118 seats.

Small parties and independents received 31 seats, with several expected to help the Congress party reach the majority mark of 145 in the 288-seat state legislature.

``It's big win for the Congress and its allies. It reaffirms the leadership of Sonia Gandhi,'' said Mahesh Rangarajan, a New Delhi-based political analyst.

Gandhi spent several days in the state campaigning for her party.

The elections in Maharashtra, India's second most populous state, were held months after the Congress party and its allies won a surprise victory over the BJP in national elections.

The defeat in Maharashtra is likely to further dampen the morale of the Hindu nationalists, who are smarting after their national loss.