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Modi’s party aims for big win as major Indian states vote

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Ghaziabad (India) (AFP) – Polls opened Thursday in India’s most populous state to test the appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda in the face of rampant unemployment, rising inflation and the coronavirus pandemic.

Uttar Pradesh has weathered India’s economic downturn and Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is keen to prove it still dominates the flagship state, home to more than 200 million people.

A strong win in the heartland of the Hindi-speaking north will give the BJP a boost ahead of the 2024 national elections when it seeks a third straight win under Modi.

Opinion polls have indicated the BJP will retain power in Uttar Pradesh’s 403-member assembly – something no party has done since 1985 – with an increased vote share.

The battlefield region has a larger population than Brazil and, in national elections, sends more lawmakers to parliament than any other state, representing 80 of the 543 seats in the lower house.

In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP is led by incendiary Hindu monk and outgoing chief minister Yogi Adityanath, whose charisma and sharp tongue have won him fans and critics.

Adityanath, 49, was accused of stoking religious divisions to woo Hindu voters, who make up 80% of the state’s electorate.

The saffron-robed ascetic was outspoken in his Hindu nationalist rhetoric during the campaign for the seven-stage staggered polls, angering the state’s minority Muslim population.

The BJP’s main rival is the Samajwadi (socialist) party, led by Akhilesh Yadav, which seeks to exploit discontent over job losses and rising prices since the first wave of the pandemic hit the country in 2020. .

Keen to make up for lost ground, the BJP has promised jobs for at least one member of every family and free electricity for farmers – a key electoral bloc – if it retains power.

The first phase of voting on Thursday will see more than 22 million voters cast for 58 assembly seats.

The counting will take place on March 10 after the seven voting phases.