By Saurabh Sharma
LUCKNOW (Reuters) – Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party is expected to retain control of India’s most populous state after a month-long voting process ended on Monday, according to opinion polls which have a mixed record in the country.
Holding onto Uttar Pradesh would give a huge boost to Modi’s hopes of winning a third straight term office in the 2024 general election and bolster his image as the most popular politician in the country in decades.
His Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies are expected to win anywhere between 211 to 277 seats out of 403 in the state, a comfortable majority, according to four polls carried out for new channels. Votes will be counted on Thursday.
The BJP and its allies won more than 300 seats in the last state election five years ago.
Uttar Pradesh, estimated to have more people than Brazil, seems to have gone for continuity despite the BJP state and federal governments’ much-criticised handling of a catastrophic COVID-19 wave last year, high unemployment, and anger against farm reforms that Modi had to roll back late last year after months of protests.
The BJP has maintained all along that it was going to keep the northern state because of its policies like giving free staples to the poor during the pandemic, a fall in crime rates, and Modi’s personal popularity, especially among Hindus.
“The guidance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the improved condition of law and order, beneficiary schemes are going to keep us in power and today’s opinion polls are also suggesting the same,” said Sameer Kumar Singh, a BJP spokesperson in the state.
The BJP’s nearest rival in Uttar Pradesh, Samajwadi Party, said it would return to power in the state.
A win in Uttar Pradesh could also be a seal of approval for Hindu monk Yogi Adityanath, the state’s current chief minister who is seen as a possible successor to Modi.
In elections held in four smaller states, the Aam Admi (Common Person) Party that rules Delhi is projected to win in Punjab, while the race is tight but slightly in favour of the BJP in Manipur, Goa and Uttarakhand.
(Reporting by Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow and Krishna N. Das in New Delhi; Editing by Hugh Lawson)