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Thursday, October 7, 1999 Published at 18:11 GMT 19:11 UK

World: South Asia

Surprise performance in Andhra Pradesh

Mr Naidu has promoted information technology

By Omer Farooq in Andhra Pradesh

Andhra Pradesh's State Chief Minister, Chandrababu Naidu, has led his Telugu Desam Party (TDP) back to power in the state with a clear majority - despite opinion polls and media forecasts, which suggested the TDP was riding for a fall.

Indian Elections 99
Full results
The assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh have long aroused more interest than might have been warranted, nationally and abroad.

This was mostly because it was seen as a test case for economic reform as opposed to the old-fashioned politics of subsidies.

It was also on account of the image projected by Mr Naidu, who wanted to come across as the state's chief executive officer rather than its political leader.

Mr Naidu went against prevailing political opinion, weathered criticism from the opposition Congress and left parties, and implemented a massive economic restructuring programme.

[ image: Mr Naidu has championed empowerment of the poor]
Mr Naidu has championed empowerment of the poor
He slashed subsidies for - among other things - food, and he raised power tariffs.

World Bank approval

In recognition of Mr Naidu's commitment to the new economic model, the World Bank offered millions of dollars to help develop infrastructure.

Even so, the World Bank's approval need not - in fact, generally does not - translate into votes from those who've been hit by rising prices, say of rice and electricity.

As expected, opposition politicians criticised the TDP government for being anti-poor and pro-World Bank.

Congress went quite the other way, promising free electricity for two million farmers to run agricultural pumpsets.

Economists and the pro-reforms lobby were aghast. The scheme would have cost as much as 25bn rupees and there could not have been a more stark contrast of political style.

Forecasters proved wrong

But the results have confounded analysts and the opposition's expectations. Of the 42 parliamentary seats in the state, Congress has managed to win only five.

The TDP-BJP alliance has swept 36 seats. At the assembly level, the TDP-BJP alliance has won almost 200 of the 294 seats.

But why has it happened?

Rather belatedly, observers now point to the numerous development and welfare programmes Mr Naidu has put in place for disparate sections - particularly women, young people and the minorities.

The TDP's policy of instituting the small-savings movement, which enables women to put by small amounts of money, has contributed to the economic empowerment of women.

On the other hand, Mr Naidu's talk of developing the state's infrastructure, build and promote information technology and the computer industry and the search for investment, has little resonance in the villages, though it impressed the aspiring middle classes in cities and towns.

But Mr Naidu was also careful to promote son-of-the-soil programmes, such as Janambhoomi, which seeks to develop villages with a can-do, self-help philosophy.

On a purely political note, the TDP's alliance with the BJP is thought to have paid off, too.

In the last elections, the two parties had separately polled more than 50% of the vote.

They have repeated it this time round and pooled the results, leaving Congress behind at 40% of the vote-share.

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