Rahul Gandhi faces a tough task
INDIA’S most populous state along with one of its smallest went to the polls on Saturday (March 3) in the final leg of local elections that could have a key bearing on who rules the world’s largest democracy in two years.
Voters in vast northern Uttar Pradesh and tiny coastal Goa cast ballots in the elections seen as a key test of popularity for Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s embattled Congress party-led national government.
Results of the polls staged over one month in five states will be announced next Tuesday (March 6) and analysts are watching to see whether Congress fares well enough to remain the powerbroker in the 2014 general elections.
The Uttar Pradesh vote is the most important of the five elections which also have been held in the restive state of Manipur, the wheat-bowl heartland of Punjab and the mountainous region of Uttarakhand.
Rahul Gandhi, scion of a family which has dominated post-independence Indian politics, has spearheaded campaigning for the secular left-leaning Congress party in politically crucial Uttar Pradesh.
The 41-year-old is widely viewed as a prime minister-in-waiting, but he faces a hard task in resurrecting Congress's fortunes in a state where the party has been out of power for 22 years and was trounced in the last elections in 2007.
Arrayed against him in the vast, underdeveloped state of 200 million people is the mercurial Chief Minister Mayawati, a low-caste populist who commands a huge following from those at the bottom of India's strict social ladder.
The main contest in Uttar Pradesh is between Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, another regional caste-based group the Samajwadi Party, Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The state will send 80 members to parliament in the next national elections - the single largest bloc - and a poor performance by Congress could damage Gandhi’s fortunes as well as the under-fire prime minister Dr Singh.
Dr Singh heads the ruling coalition that has been beset by a string of corruption problems, including from the bungled sale of telecom licences in 2008 and the graft-plagued 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games.
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