India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party has won three out of four key state elections, according to the election commission’s website.
The crucial polls pitted India’s opposition against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of the vital national vote, scheduled in less than six months.
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Ballot counting on Sunday showed the BJP wrested control of the heartland states of Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan from the Indian National Congress, India’s main opposition party.
Of 90 assembly constituencies in Chhattisgarh, the BJP bagged 54 while the Congress won 35. In Rajasthan, the BJP got 115 of 199 seats.
The right-wing party was also likely to be re-elected in Madhya Pradesh for a record fifth term by winning 163 of 230 seats.
The Congress comfortably won Telangana state, which was ruled by the Bharat Rashtra Samithi party, formerly known as the Telangana Rashtra Samithi. Of 119 seats in the southern state, the Congress won 64, while the BRS got 39. The BJP won an impressive eight seats in the state.
Vote counting in a fifth state, Mizoram, is set for Monday where BJP’s regional ally, the Mizo National Front, is in power.
Elections in the five states were held last month and more than 160 million people, or a sixth of India’s electorate, were eligible to vote. Polling in India is generally done in phases owing to the large population.
‘Historic and unprecedented’
The election results indicate the voter mood ahead of the national elections in May in which Modi is eyeing a third consecutive term.
At the BJP headquarters in New Delhi on Sunday evening, party members and supporters lined up on the two sides and Modi walked between them, waving. The activists showered him with flower petals, chanting “Long live Mother India” and other slogans.
Later, Modi in a speech said the results were “historic and unprecedented” and “a victory for honesty, transparency and good governance”.
“The results in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan indicate that the people of India are firmly with politics of good governance and development, which the @BJP4India stands for,” Modi wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
New opposition alliance
Modi and his BJP remain popular on a national level after nearly a decade in power and surveys suggest he is expected to win a third term.
However, a new alliance of 28 opposition parties, called the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance or INDIA, is set to challenge the BJP nationally. It is led by the the Congress.
Rahul Gandhi, the Congress leader, conceded defeat in the three states where his party was trailing.
“The battle of ideology will continue,” he wrote on X, and thanked the people of Telangana where his party was winning.
The charged-up voting campaigns witnessed both leaders promising voters subsidies, loan waivers and employment guarantees.
The elections came at a time when India is facing multiple challenges – rising unemployment, attacks and “hate speech” by Hindu nationalists against the country’s minorities, particularly Muslims, and a shrinking space for dissent and free media.
Although Congress won Telangana, its second victory in the south this year, Sunday’s outcome was seen as a setback to the party and its leader, Gandhi, as it was wiped out of the politically critical heartland.
“We always said we will win the heartland states,” BJP president Jagat Prakash Nadda said. “The results are the outcome of our finest political strategy and work on the ground.”