| 1 October 2022, Saturday |

India’s biggest state holds election in key test of Modi’s popularity

Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, began voting on Thursday in the first in a series of municipal elections that will be a critical litmus test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling party’s popularity.

With a population nearly as large as Brazil’s, retaining power in the bellwether state would give the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a boost in its drive for a third consecutive victory in national legislative elections expected in 2024.

Television images from polling places showed long lines of people dressed up against the winter chill as they waited to vote.

Defeat in Uttar Pradesh, or any of the other three states it controls that conduct elections this month, would pile to the pressure on the BJP, which is already under fire for high unemployment and its handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“If the BJP loses, especially in UP, it would be a major blow,” said Rahul Verma, a fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. “However, this qualifies as a semi-final.” The game in 2024 will be drastically altered.”

The assessment looks to be more dismal for the main opposition Congress party, commanded by the Nehru-Gandhi family. Only Punjab, in the northwest, is one of the five states where voting begins this month.

“Congress absolutely needs to win states, even if they are little ones, just to get back into the habit of winning.” Otherwise, they would be in big difficulty,” Verma remarked.

Failure to do so will raise fresh concerns about Rahul Gandhi’s leadership, whose father, grandmother, and great-grandfather have all served as prime ministers but who has unable to dent Modi’s strong ratings.

Religious lines

During the campaign, the BJP targeted Hindu majorities in the northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Both have significant sacred sites, some of which are contested by Hindus and minority Muslims.

Opinion surveys indicate that the party will win in both states, despite efforts by some opposition parties to duplicate its Hindu-first agenda and appeal to its support base.

“We have witnessed all political parties playing inside the same field of the BJP,” Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, author of Modi’s biography, said of the campaign thus far. “That is one of their most notable accomplishments.”

Congress and others have criticized the policy, claiming that it risks inflaming community tensions that have already erupted into fatal violence.

Yogi Adityanath, a conservative politician running for re-election as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has emphasized his record of combating crime and has stated that law and order take precedence above religion.

“My government dealt with corruption concerns,” he told a small group of reporters on Monday.

“Law and order has significantly improved under my tenure, and police action was taken against gangsters and mafia groups without regard for caste or religion.”

Uttar Pradesh, which has a population of about 200 million people, will vote in seven phases finishing on March 7, while most other states will vote in the coming days. Counting begins in the five states on March 10, with results likely soon after.

In the northeastern state of Manipur, the BJP confronts a challenge from the Congress, while in the western state of Goa, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is attempting to expand its reach beyond its traditional stronghold of India’s capital.


  • Reuters