Modi Faces Test in State Polls Before 2024 General Elections

Five Indian states will hold local polls from November, posing a key test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi before general elections next year.

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Five Indian states will hold local polls from November, posing a key test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi before general elections next year.

Polling will be carried out from Nov. 7 to 30, with the results declared on Dec. 3, according to Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar.

The polls come as a diplomatic standoff with Canada over claims India was behind the shooting of a Sikh separatist leader in Vancouver has galvanized support for Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. The opposition has refrained from criticizing Modi over Canada’s allegations. 

The 73-year-old leader remains popular in India, according to a recent survey, and is expected to extend his decade in power in the national elections, which are set for the first half of 2024.  

The five states going to the polls are Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in central India, Rajasthan in the west, Telangana in the south and Mizoram in the remote northeast. They collectively account for a sixth of India’s 945 million voters.

“It will be an indicator of the direction of the 2024 elections,” said Sandeep Shastri, a political scientist. “The toughest battles are in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan where both key players — BJP and Congress – have their unique challenges.”

The main opposition Congress party controls Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The group is promising social benefit programs as it looks to retain those states and build on the momentum from its election victory in Karnataka in the south in May. 

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has positioned himself as the main challenger to Modi and an opinion survey shows his popularity rising. He has returned to parliament after a four-month suspension and formed an alliance to take on the BJP-led government. 

The BJP controls Madhya Pradesh, where there are early signs of a tight race. The party is fielding heavyweights, including some federal ministers, and banking on Modi’s popularity. Congress is offering farm loan waivers, allowances for women and free electricity. 

“For the Congress, victories in at least two of the three states — Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — are important to consolidate its leading position among opposition parties,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a political analyst who wrote a biography on Modi.

A regional party, Bharat Rashtra Samithi, is in power in Telangana and it isn’t aligned to either the BJP or Congress. A BJP ally rules Mizoram, a state neighboring Manipur where ethnic clashes since May have left 175 dead. 

Security issues will be a major election topic in Mizoram, where there are concerns that the conflict between the Christian Kukis and the Hindu Meitei is spilling over from Manipur. Critics have said the BJP’s political dominance has made the South Asian country less tolerant of ethnic and religious minorities. 

“The BJP would try its utmost to win at least two of the three Hindi heartland states and hope to carry the optimism from victories to the 2024 parliamentary polls,” Mukhopadhyay said. 

–With assistance from Swati Gupta.

(Updates with an analyst’s comments.)

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