Indian PM Modi's party headed for landslide in state polls
NEW DELHI: India's governing Hindu nationalist party was headed to landslide victories Saturday in key state legislature elections that are seen as a referendum on the performance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's nearly 3-year-old government.
Leaders from Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party said the party's victory in Uttar Pradesh, India's largest state, would boost Modi's chances of winning another term as India's prime minister in 2019 elections.
The Election Commission said the BJP won 216 out of 403 seats in Uttar Pradesh's legislature and was leading in another 93 voting districts in the state. The party's president, Amit Shah, described it as "a historic verdict."
The party also had won 42 of 70 seats and was leading in another 15 constituencies in another northern state, Uttarakhand, wresting power from the Congress party, the main opposition at the national level.
Final results from the elections — held in February and early March — were expected later Saturday.
Modi tweeted: "Am overjoyed that BJP has received unprecedented support from all sections of society. Huge support from the youth is gladdening."
The Congress party had a face-saving win in Punjab state, where it captured 70 of 117 seats and was leading in another eight voting districts. It was fighting a close battle with the BJP in western Goa state and northeastern Manipur state, according to the Election Commission.
Rahul Gandhi, the Congress party vice president, seems to have failed to make any impact for his party in Uttar Pradesh, located in the Hindi heartland, with his party winning five seats and leading in another two constituencies. The party's ally, the Samajwadi Party, had won 33 seats and was leading in 16 other voting districts.
Sandeep Dikshit, a Congress party leader, said that "it will be unfair to blame the party's debacle entirely on Rahul Gandhi."
The victory will come as a big morale-booster for Modi, who had extensively campaigned in the region for his party nominees.
"The BJP has reached new heights in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh states and changed the political picture of the country," India's home minister, Rajnath Singh, said in New Delhi. The party will be returning to power in Uttar Pradesh after 14 years.
Kapil Sibal, a senior Congress party leader, conceded that "No doubt, it's an astounding victory for the BJP."
Modi's party appears to have successfully forged a coalition of upper, middle-ranking and lower castes in Uttar Pradesh. "The elections prove that the BJP was able to break caste and class barriers," social scientist P. Kumar of the Giri Institute of Development Studies said in Lucknow, the state capital.
Modi maintained his party's winning run in the state, with the BJP winning 71 of Uttar Pradesh's 80 seats in India's Parliament in 2014 national elections.
The opposition Congress and other rivals of the BJP vainly hoped that the voters would punish Modi's government for its decision to demonetise the country's highest-value currency bills in November, which brought immense economic hardships, especially to the poor.
Modi called India's massive demonetization drive, which withdrew 86 percent of the country's currency bills from the system, to cleanse the system of tax evasion and corruption. Banks and ATMs witnessed massive lines of people for months. ATMs were not refilled for days and banks ran out of cash within a few hours of opening.
The government was able to tide over the problem as voting started last month.
"People have strongly supported Modi on the demonetization issue," said Shah, the party president, adding that they believed it was a step taken to recover unaccounted money hoarded by the rich.
A majority of Indians earn and spend in cash, either due to habit or because they're too poor to have access to banks.
Since taking office in May 2014, Modi's government has been pumping funds into boosting education, while increasing spending on roads, irrigation and other infrastructure. It has also been reforming India's complicated tax regime.
Modi leading in biggest state election as counting begins
NEW DELHI: Early counting on Saturday in India's most populous state showed Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party leading in the country's most important electoral test since the 2014 general election.
If the Bharatiya Janata Party does wrest control of Uttar Pradesh it would be an endorsement of Modi's stewardship of Asia's third-largest economy after his high-risk decision last November to scrap high-value banknotes worth 86 percent of the cash in circulation.
Though it was premature to call the outcome, the election commission put the BJP leading in 262 of the 403 seats in the state, putting it on course for a large majority.
The BJP's vote share based on early counting is more than 40 percent, the election commission said.
"This will be a phenomenal endorsement for Narendra Modi and will put him on track for winning the 2019 election," Prannoy Roy, editor of TV channel NDTV said.
Having campaigned in the state for two months, Modi, and his election strategist Amit Shah, can take credit if the BJP wins - but may face a backlash from sidelined party elders if they come up short.
"The results will redefine the prime minister's political destiny and his future course of action," an aide to Modi in the capital, New Delhi, told Reuters.
Post-election surveys had suggested Modi's BJP had done enough to come first in Uttar Pradesh, home to one in six Indians, but that it might fall short of an outright majority.
The exit polls, which are often wrong in India, also put the BJP ahead in three of four other states that will declare election outcomes on Saturday.
According to early voting trends, opposition Congress party was leading in Punjab, while the BJP was ahead in Uttarakhand and in the coastal state of Goa. Results of a ballot in a fifth state, Manipur, were also due on Saturday.
Voting in Uttar Pradesh, a state of 220 million people, was conducted in seven stages and ended on Thursday.
The BJP's opponents include an alliance between Congress and the ruling Samajwadi Party, a tie-up that caught Modi's party off guard. A better than expected showing by a third party could complicate the picture as results filter out.
A strong BJP showing would be welcomed by investors counting on further economic reforms - including the launch of a national sales tax - in the absence of any credible opponent who might halt Modi's march to a second term in 2019.
Short of a majority, the BJP could see opponents block its path to power in the state by forming a coalition, although Modi's party will also look to convince its smaller rivals to join forces.
"If the BJP fails to secure a majority, then Modi's economic decisions will be questioned and his failure to create jobs will impact his political future," said Mohan Guruswamy, who heads the Centre for Policy Alternatives, an independent think-tank.