By Vishal Manve & Ammu Kannampilly –
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalists faced mixed fortunes in two state elections, with his party on course to see reduced majorities as a grinding economic slowdown weighed on voters.
An official count of tens of millions of ballots was under way on Thursday in western Maharashtra state, which is home to the financial hub of Mumbai, and in Haryana in the north, bordering New Delhi.
With more than half the 288 seats in Maharashtra’s state assembly declared, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
won or was ahead in 103 seats,
sharply down from 122 five years ago, the election commission’s website showed, leaving its rival Congress party trailing at 45.
But in Haryana they were locked in a tight battle, with Congress winning or leading 31 seats — a boost for the party from its tally of 15 in the 2014 polls.
Although the BJP appeared to be edging ahead of Congress, neither side was expected to secure a majority of the 90 seats up for grabs, putting the result on a knife-edge.
The BJP is seeking a second term in both states, months after Modi’s landslide victory in national polls in May despite a patchy economic record that has seen unemployment hit levels not seen since the 1970s.
The premier was a star campaigner in both states, eager to reassure voters upset over job losses and sluggish growth.
Scores of BJP workers turned up at the party’s headquarters in Mumbai dressed in saffron tunics, with some playing drums and others carrying victory placards, letting off firecrackers in anticipation of the final results.
WARNING SIGN FOR BJP
Still, it was a fraction of the huge crowds that gathered there for state elections five years ago.
Hours later, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis told reporters that the reduced majority was not a cause for concern.
“This is not a time for analysis but time for celebrations,” he said.
In Haryana however, BJP chief Subash Barala — who was trailing by more than 30,000 votes in his own constituency — quit his post on Thursday after early results showed the party struggling to carve out a lead.
Analysts said the results were a warning for the BJP, which trumpeted its muscular brand of nationalism and aggressive foreign policy in its push to voters.
Political commentator Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay said while Modi’s personal popularity had bolstered the party’s appeal, the diminished majorities showed “the BJP’s political narrative has its limits.”
“The… government has to take its economics more seriously. It cannot bluff its way past. Voters are not buying it,” he said.
Modi is under mounting pressure to kickstart the economy, which has endured five consecutive quarters of slowing growth, causing India to lose its status as the fastest-growing major economy to China.
The slump has hit automakers particularly hard, with sagging demand forcing companies to halt production, slash prices and cut jobs in a once-booming industry that employs millions, including at major plants in Haryana and Maharashtra. The party would have to depend on its allies to form a majority and establish a coalition government in both states.
A return to power by the BJP — even as part of a coalition — would be yet another blow to the Congress party, which has struggled to strike a chord with frustrated voters after dominating Indian politics for decades. — AFP