Factbox-The main issues of the upcoming national elections in India
By Alasdair Pal
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Uttar Pradesh, the first of India’s five states to go to the polls this month, begins voting in state elections on Thursday. Here are some key facts about elections and why they matter.
WHICH STATES VOTE?
Uttar Pradesh: seven phases beginning February 10 and ending March 7
Goa: February 14
Uttarakhand: February 14
Punjab: February 20
Manipur: February 27 and March 3
Counting in the five states begins March 10, with results expected shortly thereafter.
WHY ARE THESE ELECTIONS IMPORTANT?
As the biggest set of polls since the pandemic, the performance of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party is likely to be seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s handling of COVID-19 and the economy.
They also provide what observers call a “semi-final” contest ahead of national parliamentary elections scheduled by 2024.
Few parties are able to govern the country without popular support in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state that sends by far the most lawmakers to parliament. A good performance there would give the BJP a major boost to its hopes for a third consecutive term in office.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN ISSUES?
The BJP has placed religious issues at the heart of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, two northern Indian states with a large Hindu majority.
Punjab faces India’s worst drug problem, Goa is divided over whether to allow mining in the state, while in the remote northeast state of Manipur, some sides are are committed to repeal special laws that allow the army to act with impunity.
Some issues relate to the five states. The BJP says it has prioritized the development of the country’s poorest and cleaned up India’s reputation for inefficiency and corruption after decades of mismanagement.
Opposition parties point to a sluggish economy and a lack of job creation, especially among the country’s young people.
WHAT DO THE PARTIES HOPE TO ACHIEVE?
The BJP will seek to retain the four states it already controls. A defeat in any of them – particularly in Uttar Pradesh – would add to the strain on the economy and the government’s handling of the pandemic.
The failure of the opposition Congress party to carry one of the five states will lead to more questions about the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, a scion of the Nehru political dynasty whose father, grandmother and great- grandfather were all prime ministers.
The victory in Goa or Punjab of the regional party Aam Aadmi will probably raise the national profile of its leader Arvind Kejriwal, currently at the head of the provincial government of Delhi.
WHAT DOES A SURVEY SAY?
Given the complexity and scale of voting, opinion polls in India may not be reliable.
Those who have tried this time consider the BJP to retain Uttar Pradesh, with the Samajwadi Party, a regional party representing the interests of lower castes and Indian Muslims, in second place. The BJP is also likely to carry neighboring Uttarakhand, according to the polls.
Goa and Manipur are closer, with the BJP seen as narrowly outmatched by its rivals but unlikely to govern without a coalition.
The BJP is unlikely to feature in the race in Punjab, with competition between the Congress, AAP and regional parties.
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Mike Collett-White)