India’s Modi is taking the lead in key states in the midst of virus growth

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party was hit by a setback on Sunday when it lost a hotly contested state investigation.

In the past month, India held its largest democratic exercise in two years, with 175 million eligible to vote in five regional elections.

But the marathon investigations involved huge meetings where many participants were maskless and a record-breaking coronavirus nail coincided with the final phases of the vote.

Experts blame the pandemic for complacency, as well as religious festivals attended by millions of supporters and political rallies.

The most important election was in the eastern state of West Bengal, where 90 million people live.

Modi and his right-hand man, Interior Minister Amit Shah, fought hard in the state as they sought to end a decade of rule by fireplace leader Mamata Banerjee.

But when the results began to seep in, they showed Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress Party (TMC) on course for a third term.

Thousands of TMC supporters took to the streets, despite a virus-related ban on celebrations.

In a victory speech later on Sunday, 66-year-old Banerjee West Bengal said “the immediate challenge is to fight Covid-19 and we are convinced that we will win”.

“This victory has saved humanity, the people of India. It is India’s victory,” added Banerjee, a staunch critic of Modi.

Modi tweeted his congratulations but added that his party had increased its support in the state “from a negligible presence earlier”.

Congratulations to Mamata Didi for @ AITCofficial’s victory in West Bengal. The Center will continue to expand all possible support to the Government of West Bengal to meet people’s ambitions and also to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic. @MamataOfficial

– Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) 2 May 2021

However, Banerjee lost his seat in Nandigram to a former trust that passed to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

She promised to challenge the loss in court. She can still be sworn in as prime minister but must be elected to another constituency within six months.

Previously, voting for two constituencies was postponed after two candidates died of Covid-19.

Despite the defeat in West Bengal, there was a silver lining for the BJP “in the sense that it has now established itself as the main opposition to the TMC,” political strategist Amitabh Tiwari told AFP.

But it was also a setback because the party’s top leadership put “a lot of political capital in the state, they did a lot of rallies … it was perceived as a close contest and some polls said the BJP could win there.”

The BJP retained the northeastern state of Assam.

In Puducherry – a small former French colony formerly known as Pondicherry – the BJP was expected to come to power through an alliance amid attempts to increase its presence in the south of the country, where it has traditionally been weak.

And in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, MK Stalin returned his DMK party to power after a decade by defeating a sitting coalition that has the BJP as its national partner.

In Kerala in the south, where the BJP has so far played only a small role, a left-wing alliance retained power with a comfortable victory over a congressional coalition.

It was the first time a government in the state was re-elected since 1977.

(AFP)

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