On the surface, India's recent election was about economic reform and religious freedom. Underneath, it was about cricket and water.
Following the most muddled election in modern Indian history, political analysts are beginning to see a new voting pattern in the world's biggest democracy.On one side is an emerging middle class who voted for a national dream, held high by cricket. On the other side are the rural masses who voted for local aspirations, and none more important than water.
In between, a once-dominant Congress Party found itself unable to fulfill either vision. Emerging as the biggest party in parliament, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won much of its support in cities and large towns, where economies are booming, populations are growing fast and televised cricket is all the rage.
The BJP formed a government Thursday, but has yet to win the confidence of parliament. To do so it will probably need the support of a new generation of regional parties, which emerged from this election with the balance of power and demands for a new style of development.
"There is a contradiction here," said Bhaskara Rao, chairman of the Centre for Media Studies in New Delhi. "We have globalization because of television, yet people want representatives closer to them."
If there was one message, he said, it was this: "The feeling is very anti-establishment."
The BJP's power base has been planted firmly in the emerging middle class, which seems to aspire to a strong, independent India, represented by a good government and a good cricket team.
Shortly before the election campaign began in earnest, many of the estimated 125 million middle-class voters saw India humiliated on television in the World Cup of cricket, which was won by tiny Sri Lanka.
Many of those viewers then voted for the BJP, which, like a good television commercial, sold itself with a clear-cut (if controversial) message. It would stand up to Pakistan with a nuclear weapons program. It would stand up to corrupt forces with a disciplined government. And it would stand up to Washington with restrictions on foreign investment.
"Among white-collar workers, the BJP does exceptionally well," said Yogendra Yadav, a leading polling expert at the New Delhi-based Center for the Study of Developing Societies.
Away from the world of TV sets, a different class of voters punished the Congress for very different reasons. Although the party had ruled the country for nearly 50 years, its campaign pledge of stability and economic reform had little resonance for families without water pumps or irrigation canals.
The divergent trends sent more than 150 new MPs to New Delhi, where they have been feverishly courted by opponents and frantically sequestered by their own parties.
For Ramachandra Reddy, a factory owner and first-time MP from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, where he ran on a regional party ticket, the bright lights of New Delhi have yet to overshadow the one message his voters gave him: give us water.
"We came here to make an impact," said Reddy, whose party had closeted its 16-member parliamentary caucus in a guest house in New Delhi for fear they might jump to the BJP or Congress. "Our voters want state development. They want irrigation. They want water."
State-based parties won one-third or more of the seats in seven states, giving them nearly 100 seats in parliament. In northern India, two other parties based on caste - a different kind of ethnicity - won 25 more seats. In return for their political support, the parochial forces are demanding major political reforms.
"It is high time to redefine center-state relations," said Chandrababu Naidu, chief minister of Andhra Pradesh and leader of the Telugu Desam Party, to which Reddy belongs.
Naidu said he wants to strip New Delhi of its powers in fields such as education and agriculture, just as the country's original constitution envisaged for a nation of 26 states and 18 officially recognized languages.
"I can look after people in my state better than Delhi can," he said.
As Congress rule crumbled - it now holds power in only two major states, both in the north - regional aspirations re-emerged, and they now carry much weight in the new parliament.
On the eve of his inauguration on Thursday as Prime Minister, BJP leader Atal Behari Vajpayee pledged to hand over more powers to the states, including a higher share of tax revenue and new constitutional limits on New Delhi's ability to dismiss state governments, a practice Jawaharlal Nehru instituted in 1959.
"Over-centralization has been a feature of politics for the last 30 years," said K.N. Govinda Charya, a leading thinker in the BJP policy unit. "If we can reallocate resources to the states, it will be good for the country."
The BJP already relies on regional parties from the prospering states of Maharastra, Haryana and Punjab to support its coalition.
But both Naidu's regional coalition and the Congress party have stated they'll back a leftist coalition to bring down the BJP government in parliament, perhaps as early as next week. That would open the door for the leftist coalition's new leader, H.D. Deve Gowda, to become prime minister.
As chief minister of Naidu's neighboring Karanataka state, Gowda would become the first provincial politician to move directly into the prime minister's office. His loose coalition would also include no fewer than six state leaders representing 400 million of the country's 930 million people.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)