India has kicked off local elections in the central state of Chhattisgarh and the northeastern state of Mizoram which will be an important indicator of national mood ahead of next year’s general elections.
The vote that began on Tuesday has India’s opposition Congress party facing off against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
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While the polling will be completed by the evening in Mizoram, Chhattisgarh will see the second phase of voting on November 17, along with polls in the neighbouring Madhya Pradesh state. Voting in two more states – western Rajasthan and southern Telangana – will take place on November 23 and November 30, respectively. The votes from all five states will be tallied on December 3.
The opposition Congress party holds power in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Modi’s BJP rules Madhya Pradesh, while its regional ally maintains power in Mizoram. Telangana is governed by a strong regional party, Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), formerly known as Telangana Rashtra Samithi.
The Congress has formed a national coalition of previously fractured opposition parties, called the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), to limit Modi’s increasingly powerful influence.
Modi and other senior BJP leaders, as well as top Congress politicians, including its former chief Rahul Gandhi, have travelled across the five states in a charged-up election campaign, trying to win over voters by offering them subsidies, loan waivers, and employment guarantees.
Modi and his party remain popular nationally after nearly 10 years in power and surveys suggest he is expected to win a third term as prime minister.
But his party is facing tough challenges in all five state polls where issues like rising unemployment and inflation are likely to concern citizens.
Meanwhile, the Congress hopes to rebuild power in these states ahead of the national polls. It has announced welfare schemes for women and farmers in states where it is in a direct contest with the BJP.
During his nine years in power, Modi has consolidated BJP’s reach in north and central India. However, the party has faced tough challenges in states where regional parties hold influence.
In recent polls, Congress toppled local BJP governments in elections in southern Karnataka and northern Himachal Pradesh states, denting the governing party’s image of invincibility.