Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat is voting in local polls, with his Hindu nationalist party expected to win a seventh straight term, but any unexpected slips could herald a tighter contest in national polls due by 2024.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not lost in the western industrial state since 1995 and Modi served as its chief minister for nearly 13 years before becoming the prime minister in 2014.
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Opinion polls conducted in the lead-up to the Gujarat polls projected the BJP to comfortably retain power in the state despite criticism of inflation and unemployment.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which was formed only a decade ago and has claimed power in Delhi and the state of Punjab, is set to become one of the main opposition parties in the state at the expense of the Congress party.
The second phase of voting is on Monday and results are due on December 8.
Dheeraj Patel, 45, who cast his vote in the city of Surat, hopes corruption and unemployment in the state would be addressed after the polls.
“The BJP has a stronghold in the state. They have also developed it a lot but we want that the growing corruption should be addressed which is going on along with the development,” Patel told Al Jazeera. “No one is talking about the corruption and unemployment here.”
Another Surat resident, Vishnu Kumar, a textile businessman, said the AAP has made the contest triangular in the state.
“AAP has forayed into politics in Gujarat and is creating a perception that they would be a strong opposition to the BJP here. But it would be worth watching whether these talks turn into votes,” he said.
Dr Imran A K Surti, director of a private academic institution in Surat, told Al Jazeera that safety and security remain the top concerns for Muslims, who constitute nearly 10 percent of the state’s 60 million population.
Gujarat witnessed large-scale anti-Mulsim riots in 2002 when Modi was the chief minister. Independent estimates put the death toll at nearly 2,000 – most of them Muslims. Dozens of women were raped during the carnage, according to human rights organisations.
Since the riots, the state’s Muslims say they have been marginalised by even the opposition parties.
“As far as any political party is concerned in Gujarat, there is hardly any representation of Muslim leaders,” Surti said.
In the last state election five years ago, the BJP won 99 seats in the 182-member assembly while Congress took 77.
The BJP is expected to win 131 to 139 seats this time, ABP-CVoter projected in November. Congress could win 31 to 39 seats while the Aam Aadmi Party could bag up to 15.
According to an India TV-Matrize opinion poll, also conducted in November, the BJP may win up to 119 seats.
The AAP has promised voters subsidies on electricity and other bills in their bid to become the main challenger to the BJP.
Congress, on the other hand, launched a cross-country “unity march” in September against what it calls “hate and division”, hoping to revive its fortunes and regain some popularity.
The polls are being held a month after the collapse of a suspension bridge in the town of Morbi killed 135 people. The disaster angered people across the state but analysts say it will not dent the BJP’s popularity in the polls.
The right-wing party also expects to emerge victorious in assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh state in the north, which were held last month with results to be declared on December 8.