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Modi stares at biggest poll loss

India’s Congress party supporters celebrate outside the party headquarters in New Delhi on Dec 11 as vote counting in five Indian states began. Counting of votes in five Indian states began on Dec 11 as the country’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party engaged in close contest with opposition Congress party in three key states, a test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity ahead of the general election. (AFP)

India’s ruling party looked set to lose power in three key states, official vote counts showed on Tuesday, likely handing Prime Minister Narendra Modi his biggest defeat since he took office in 2014, and only months ahead of a general election.

The results in the heartland, rural states of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh could force the federal government run by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to lift spending in the countryside, where more than two-thirds of India’s 1.3 billion people live.

Political analysts say the BJP’s likely defeat underscores rural dismay with the government and could help unite the opposition led by the Congress party, despite Modi’s high personal popularity, in the face of criticism he did not deliver jobs for young people and better conditions for farmers.

“We’ve all voted for Congress this time and our candidate is winning here,” said Bishnu Prasad Jalodia, a wheat farmer in Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress was ahead of the BJP and only slightly short of the majority needed to rule.

“BJP ignored us farmers, they ignored those of us at the bottom of the pyramid.” The elections are also a test for Rahul Gandhi, president of the left-of-centre Congress, who is trying to forge a broad alliance with regional groups and present Modi with his most serious challenge yet, in the election that must be held by May. (RTRS)

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