India: Modi’s BJP heading for landslide in state polls

By Shuriah Niazi

NEW DELHI, India (AA) – India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is set to sweep two state polls in Maharashtra and Haryana, as voting came to close on Monday.

The exit polls conducted by various TV channels have given a comfortable majority to the BJP, leaving the main opposition Congress party and its allies trailing. The results are expected to be announced on Thursday.

The polls are believed to be the first test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity and a vote for his economic policies, since he won parliamentary elections with a thumping majority five months ago. The party was facing stiff challenge to retain the western state of Maharashtra that houses the metropolis of Mumbai – India’s economic capital.

An average of most of the exit polls shows that the BJP and its ally Shiv Sena combine will win 215 seats in the 288-seat Maharashtra assembly. In Haryana, which borders capital New Delhi, the BJP is predicted to win 63 seats, out of the total of 90 seats.

Polling was also held for 51 assembly seats and two parliamentary constituencies spread across 18 states, which had fallen vacant due to the death or resignation of candidates.

According to the Election Commission of India, 60.5% voters exercised their franchise in Maharashtra. Haryana recorded a turnout of over 65%. Many Indian film stars and corporate captains came out to vote in Mumbai.

The exit poll results have proven many analysts wrong, who were expecting a voter backlash, in the wake of economic recession and a slump in GDP growth rate. India witnessed 5% growth rate in the last quarter — the lowest in six years. The opposition Congress has rejected the exit poll outcome, saying it will await actual results on Thursday.

During the campaign, opposition parties used economic slowdown and unemployment to corner the ruling BJP. Besides housing large corporate houses, Maharashtra also hosts over three million small and medium enterprises, considered the backbone of Indian economy.

“The indifference of the government was affecting the ambitions and future of the people of the country, particularly Maharashtra. Business sentiments have deteriorated. Many factories are facing closure in Maharashtra,” said former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a leader of opposition Congress.

-BJP leaders skipped economy

Top leaders of ruling BJP, however, skipped discussing economy during their poll speeches. They banked upon to sway public by referring to national security issues. During their election speeches at various places, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and Home Minister Amit Shah sought votes by raising issue of the revocation of special status to Muslim majority Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir and counted it as a big achievement. They criticized the opposition Congress for not revoking the special status to Kashmir, when it was in power.

Even Prime Minister Modi during his election rallies made national security an issue to connect with the voters. “The BJP government had taken several key decisions to unify the country, but parties such as Congress had opposed every single decision taken in the interest of national security,“ he said at an election rally. In the parched Haryana, he threatened to sop waters flowing to Pakistan, saying farmers in Haryana had first right over these waters.

Muslim political outfit the All India Majilis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) is also contesting in 44 out of the 288 seats in the Maharashtra elections. The AIMIM backed by Asaduddin Owaisi is eyeing 11% Muslim votes in the state. Around 13 million Muslim population spread over 40 assembly constituencies play significant role to swing results.