Analysts say a big loss for prime minister’s ruling party could unite opposition ahead of elections next year.
India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trailing against opposition Congress party on Tuesday in three big heartland states, according to news reports, as counting began from local elections seen as a final trial of strength for Prime Minister Narendra Modi before general elections next year.
Analysts said a big loss for the BJP would signal rural dismay and help unite opposition to Modi, though his personal popularity remains high, despite criticism that he was unable to deliver on promises to create jobs for young people and improve conditions for farmers.
The elections are also a test for Rahul Gandhi, the chief of the main opposition Congress party, who is trying to forge a broad alliance with regional groups to mount the most serious challenge to Modi yet in the election that must be held by May.
In the most populous state at stake, Madhya Pradesh, the BJP and Congress are in a tight race with Congress just a few seats in the 230-seat state assembly, according to the Times of India count. A total of 116 votes is needed to achieve a majority.
In the western state of Rajasthan, the Congress was leading in 88 seats of the 199-member assembly against the BJP’s 79 in the initial round of counting, according to a count by Times of India.
In the central state of Chhattisgarh, the Congress was ahead in 47 of the 90 seats at stake with the BJP at 24.
Meanwhile, in Telangana, the regional party Telangana Rashtra Samithi has crossed the 60 seats majority threshold, winning at least 77 seats.
Poll analysts cautioned that with the counting in preliminary stages, it was too early to predict the outcome of state races involving millions of voters.
Local issues usually dominate state polls, but politicians are seeing the elections as a pointer to the national vote just months away.
The Indian rupee dropped as much as 1.5 percent to 72.465 per dollar, while bond yields rose 12 basis points to 7.71 percent after the resignation of the central bank governor.
Equity analysts had warned that Monday’s surprise resignation of Urjit Patel, the governor of the Reserve Bank of India, after a long tiff with the government, could send the markets crashing.
Gandhi, the fourth generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, has sought to build a coalition of regional groups, some headed by experienced firebrand, ambitious politicians.
“When one and one become eleven, even the mighty can be dethroned,” opposition leader Akhilesh Yadav said of the prospect of growing opposition unity.
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