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India's Ruling Party Routed By Upstart In Delhi Elections

Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal, center, waves to the crowd as his party secured a landslide victory in New Delhi, India, on Tuesday. The result is a huge blow for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party.

Not even the most starry-eyed optimists of India's upstart Aam Aadmi [Common Man] Party dared predict they would pierce the armor of Prime Minister Narendra's Modi political invincibility as convincingly as they did today.

The party won a 95 percent landslide, capturing 67 out of 70 seats in the local assembly election in Delhi to decide who will govern the Indian capital.

The thrashing reduced Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party to just three seats. Political analyst Siddharth Varadarajan quipped that the BJP, which used to joke that Rahul Gandhi's Congress Party could fit all of their parliamentarians into one bus, can now transport all of its members of the local assembly "in an auto-rickshaw," the popular three-wheeled, three-seater transport.

The Congress Party of the Gandhi dynasty was discredited in 2014's national elections that brought Modi to power. It has been consigned to irrelevance in Delhi, winning no seats in the assembly; the party had controlled Delhi for 15 years until 2013, and the country for the better part of six decades.

Modi's national Cabinet met to discuss the results. The prime minister had laid his own prestige on the line, making high-profile appearances and suggesting the social activists of the Aam Aadmi Party would deliver "anarchy" over "governance."

Modi called to congratulate Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of the triumphant party and pledged to work for "development."

Kejriwal first stepped into the political limelight in December 2013, winning the election on a wave of public fury over corruption, but walked off the job after 49 days to the dismay of voters. A contrite Kejriwal apologized, softening the voters, and emerged this time around as a less petulant, more mature politician.

He bested India's most formidable political force, Modi, and dared the BJP to prove its accusations that his Aam Aadmi Party solicited dirty money, accusations that never materialized.

The unprecedented win establishes Kejriwal, who will be inaugurated Saturday, as a bona fide political alternative of a distinctly secular party. Analysts say it has also exposed the evident displeasure of voters at the Modi government's acquiescence to Hindu ultra-nationalists and their efforts to promote Hinduism at the expense of other faiths.

The Aam Aadmi Party's remarkable feat could embolden the political opposition in other Indian states. While Delhi is a small territory, such a comprehensive shellacking in the capital of more than 15 million people is a blow to the BJP's wider ambitions. Those include capturing Bihar, India's third most-populous state, later this year.

"The victory of AAP has galvanized non-BJP partners everywhere," Varadarajan told NPR. "What defeated the BJP was the emergence of new politics."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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