Assembly election test for ruling Cong in India

MUMBAI: Three Indian states went to the polls today in the first test for the ruling Congress party alliance since it won a thumping general election victory in May on promises of economic reform.

Campaigning for state elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh focused on relief for drought-hit areas after a poor monsoon, electricity shortages, unemployment and rising food prices.

The Congress power trio of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, party president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi toured the states ahead of voting, with much attention focused on the vast city of Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra.

Key concerns in Maharashtra range from improving security after the Mumbai attacks last year in which 166 people died, the recent slowdown in economic growth, and rural poverty that has triggered a spate of farmer suicides.

“There is no single decisive vote factor,” said Kumar Ketkar, analyst and editor of Marathi newspaper Loksatta.

Voting today was largely peaceful, though police said Maoist rebels opened fire at one polling booth near where 17 officers were gunned down last week.

The Congress alliance has ruled for 10 years in Maharashtra, and Ashok Chavan was battling to retain the chief minister role that he took over soon after the attacks on Mumbai.