2022 elections in India: All you need to know about the polls that will test Modi ahead of 2024

The state polls will test Modi’s popularity in the country ahead of the 2024 general elections

Stuti Mishra
Monday 17 January 2022 12:55
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<p>File image: Five Indian states will vote in a closely watched electoral battle over the next few weeks  </p>

File image: Five Indian states will vote in a closely watched electoral battle over the next few weeks

Five states in India are set to go to polls in the next few weeks in a closely watched electoral battle which will be crucial in gauging the popularity of Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of general elections in the country in 2024.

The polls will also test whether opposition parties, largely pushed to reduced numbers in the last few elections with Mr Modi’s rise, can form a united front to challenge him ahead of 2024.

Over 180 million voters — more than twice the population of the UK — will be eligible to vote in the upcoming elections in five states, including the most populous Uttar Pradesh (UP), Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur, and the protest-rocked Punjab.

The BJP is in power in four of these states while the Indian National Congress, which has held power intermittently in the country for decades since India’s independence before being ousted in 2014, is in power in Punjab.

Assembly elections 2022: Full schedule of polls in 5 states

The state of Uttar Pradesh with its 403 assembly seats, the highest in the country, will vote in seven phases. It will also be the first to go for polling starting from 10 February. The other phases will be held on 14, 20, 23, and 27 February, and 3 and 7 March.

Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa elections will be conducted in a single phase with the first voting for its 117 seats on 20 February and the remaining two on 14 February for their respective 70 and 40 assembly seats.

The northeastern state of Manipur will vote in two phases for its 60 seats on 22 February and 3 March. Results of all the assembly polls will be declared on 10 March.

Why the UP assembly elections 2022 are critical for the BJP

While all these states are electorally crucial for the BJP in its bid to strengthen control over the country, UP is going to be especially instrumental for Mr Modi’s party to maintain its power and for other parties to increase their presence.

Currently, BJP’s controversial and hardline leader Yogi Adityanath, known for his far-right stand, is the chief minister of the state. Hindus comprise 80 per cent of Uttar Pradesh’s population while minorities, of which the Muslims are a significant section, comprise 19 per cent.

UP has been the epicentre of BJP’s Hindutva politics for decades, focussed around the controversial issue of Ram Temple in Ayodhya city where a mosque was vandalised in 1992 by Hindu nationalist groups who believe it to be the birthplace of Lord Ram. The party has advocated the creation of the temple since then and the country’s Supreme Court in 2019 decided in the favour of the new temple — a move the ruling party has claimed as its victory.

How important UP is to BJP can also be noted by the fact that Mr Modi in 2019 decided to contest elections from the state’s Varanasi city instead of his usual turf in Gujarat where he was the chief minister for over a decade before becoming the prime minister of the country.

However, this time, all isn’t well for the BJP in UP as signs of a brewing rebellion within the party has grown in recent weeks. Ten legislators, including three ministers, have so far jumped ship from the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. Most of them have joined main rival Samajwadi Party.

However, BJP seems confident of trouncing the opposition citing Mr Adityanath and Mr Modi’s popularity in the state.

Punjab to vote after massive farmers protest

Last year has also marked the biggest protest against the BJP government so far in the form of farmers’ agitation which led to Mr Modi retrieving three controversial laws.

The elections are also going to be an indicator of the political fallout of the unrest, especially in Punjab, a state from where the biggest number of protestors took part in the demonstrations over the year.

While the ruling Congress is fighting to retain power in one of very few states it rules outright, Mr Modi and his party’s allies in the state will be trying to make inroads by taking advantage of the fluid political situation in the state.

A few months before the election, the then chief minister of the state and a prominent Sikh face, Captain Amarinder Singh, left Congress and to form a new party — Punjab Lok Congress (PLC), which announced its alliance with the BJP.

Congress is also going to get competition from Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party which is poised to make some gains in Punjab.

Will BJP retain Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa?

While the BJP is in power in all three states with a six-party coalition government in Manipur but the party’s ally in the northeastern state, the National People’s Party (NPP), is hinting at contesting elections on its own.

Some frictions are also being witnessed in Uttarakhand with BJP sacking a state cabinet minister on Sunday. Uttarakhand minister Harak Singh Rawat, who held the forest and environment, labour, employment and skill development portfolios, was removed from the state cabinet, and his primary membership of the BJP was revoked for six years.

Mr Rawat had reportedly threatened to resign in a cabinet meeting earlier. He is now rumoured to join Congress. However, there is no official confirmation of this yet.

The Goa elections will happen amidst a series of attacks against Christians in India with advocacy groups claiming that such incidents have risen under the Modi government. Goa has a 25 per cent Christian population and the state is a popular tourist destination.

The year is also crucial for Mr Modi as PM as the Omicron variant is spreading, posing another danger to healthcare services and economic activities. The campaigning in the elections this time has also been unlike any other elections with the country’s election commission banning roadshows and rallies, asking all events to be held virtually.

The counting of votes will take place on 10 March, deciding the fate of thousands of candidates, five states and the leading parties.

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