State polls pose India’s Modi regional test before reelection bid

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rules three of the five poll-bound heartland states. (AFP pic)

NEW DELHI: Poll dates were announced for five Indian states by the country’s election commission Saturday, opening a long election season that will present Prime Minister Narendra Modi a regional test ahead of his national reelection bid in 2019.

Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rules three of the five poll-bound heartland states – western Rajasthan, central Madhya Pradesh and eastern Chhattisgarh.

BJP’s performance in these states, part of India’s bellwether Hindi speaking heartland, will reflect both on Modi’s personal popularity and the state of the main, Nehru-Gandhi dynasty led opposition Congress party before 2019.

Congress party president Rahul Gandhi has been facing questions over his leadership after a series of electoral setbacks for the party since 2014, when Modi took office.

The BJP hopes to wrest power in northeastern Mizoram, one of only two states directly ruled by the Congress, and will challenge a popular regional party in southern Telangana state.

India’s chief election commissioner O.P Rawat announced a single phase election in all states except Chhattisgarh, which is at the heart of country’s raging Maoist insurgency.

“Rajasthan and Telangana will vote on December 7, Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram on November 28 and Chhattisgarh on November 12 and November 20,” Rawat told journalists in New Delhi.

The results for all five states will be declared on December 11.

Modi continues to be the most popular national leader according to most recent surveys but faces challenges from emerging alliances between regional and national opponents.

His party is also battling criticism and anti-incumbency over issues including lack of jobs and falling farm incomes.

Farmers have called for free electricity, loan waivers and higher support prices for agricultural goods.

Clashes broke out on the outskirts of the national capital earlier this week when thousands of farmers from a powerful regional farmers’ union tried to enter Delhi to protest for their demands.