Indian Prime Minister Modi’s home state of Gujarat votes in major local polls

NEW DELHI (AP) — Voters in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat cast their ballots Thursday in crucial local elections, a vote seen as a barometer of the popularity of his ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata ahead of the 2024 general election in India.

The polls are the first of two rounds of voting in the western state that Modi led as chief minister for more than a decade before leading his ruling Hindu nationalist party to victories in national elections in 2014 and 2019 .

A second round of voting will take place on Monday before the votes are counted on December 8.

Modi’s party remains popular despite criticism over inflation and unemployment and is expected to emerge victorious. Most pre-election polls and several political analysts have predicted he will win a majority of the state’s 182 seats for a seventh consecutive time, beating the main opposition Congress party and the new Aam Aadmi party.

The BJP has been in power in Gujarat, a state of over 60 million people, since 1995.

Modi and dozens of his party’s top leaders campaigned in Gujarat and voters will head to the polls a month after a suspension bridge collapse in the town of Morbi killed 135 people. The disaster has angered residents across the state, but analysts say it will not affect the BJP’s popularity in the polls.

India’s main opposition Congress party hopes to revive its fortunes and regain some popularity in the state. In October, the party elected a new president, a move that has been seen to shed its family dynasty image. In September, Rahul Gandhi, its most prominent leader, launched a nationwide unity march through Indian towns and villages to rejuvenate the party and win the support of the people. But analysts say neither event will help the party electorally in the Gujarat elections.

Meanwhile, the BJP faces a tough challenge from the Aam Aadmi party, which has ruled the capital, Delhi, since 2015. Earlier this year, it swept the polls in the northern state of Punjab by toppling the Congress party.

The Aam Aadmi Party, born out of a nationwide anti-corruption movement in 2012, is a force to be reckoned with in Delhi. Since its surprise victory in the state of Punjab, the party has been trying to strengthen its presence across the country. A strong performance in Gujarat could indicate whether the party could appeal to voters in the 2024 general election, mainly at the expense of the Indian National Congress party which has been struggling since 2014.

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