Poll test for BJP; stakes high for Ma­mata, Jaya

BIG FIGHT EC an­nounces elec­tions for TN, WB, As­sam, Ker­ala and Puducherry

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - HT Navi Mumbai Live - - FRONT PAGE - HT Correspondent let­ters@hin­dus­tan­times.com

NEW DELHI: Elec­tions to four states and a union ter­ri­tory will be held over six weeks be­gin­ning April 4, in a test of whether the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) can ex­pand its foot­print in re­gions where it has been tra­di­tion­ally weak.

The vote as­sumes sig­nif­i­cance at a time when the coun­try is caught up in a political up­heaval over a de­bate over na­tion­al­ism and al­leged religious in­tol­er­ance, even as eco­nomic growth slips.

The con­tro­ver­sies have given a han­dle to non-BJP par­ties which are hop­ing to fur­ther cor­ner Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi af­ter his party’s hu­mil­i­at­ing de­feat in elec­tions in Delhi and Bi­har last year.

The vote could have a bear­ing on the de­gree and pace of co­a­les­cence of anti-BJP forces, a phe­nom­e­non party pres­i­dent Amit Shah re­cently de­scribed as “BJP-ver­sus-all or Naren­dra Modi-ver­sus-all”.

The elec­tions are also im­por­tant for Modi to im­prove the govern­ment’s tally in the Ra­jya Sabha, where a lack of ma­jor­ity has stalled the govern­ment’s eco­nomic re­forms agenda and de­layed the pas­sage of a goods and ser­vices tax bill.

The re­sults of the lat­est round of state polls will be an­nounced on May 19, the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion said on Fri­day. About 170 mil­lion peo­ple will be el­i­gi­ble to vote in Tamil Nadu, Ker­ala and Puducherry in Chief elec­tion com­mis­sioner Nasim Zaidi (cen­tre) and elec­tion com­mis­sion­ers OP Rawat (right) and AK Joti an­nounce the sched­ule for As­sem­bly elec­tions, on Fri­day. the south and As­sam and West Ben­gal in the east.

The states go­ing to the polls are ruled by re­gional par­ties, bar­ring Ker­ala as well as As­sam where the Congress is seek­ing a fourth term.

Al­though Prime Min­is­ter Modi’s pop­u­lar­ity is prob­a­bly still hold­ing up, the BJP has been buf­feted by a spate of political con­tro­ver­sies, in­clud­ing grow- ing stu­dent protests on top univer­sity cam­puses. Slow­ing eco­nomic growth has only wors­ened a cri­sis in the coun­try­side, where two suc­ces­sive droughts have pushed farm­ers deeper into debt and forced dozens to com­mit sui­cide.

The only re­al­is­tic chance the BJP is said to have in this round of as­sem­bly elec­tions is in As­sam where it has aligned with small re­gional groups to tap into pos­si­ble anti-in­cum­bency.

The stakes are also high for two of the coun­try’s three women chief min­is­ters, Tri­namool Congress (TMC) chief Ma­mata Ban­er­jee and AIADMK’s J Jay­alalithaa who rule in West Ben­gal and Tamil Nadu re­spec­tively. They are likely to go it alone in the polls.

CON­TIN­UED ON P10

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