India's regional elections a litmus test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Millions in Chhattisgarh and Mizoram will head to the polls on Tuesday to choose their next governments

Indian voters wait to cast their ballots at a village in ​​Chhattisgarh's Bastar district. Photo: Chief electoral officer, Chhattisgarh / X
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Millions of people in the Indian states of Chhattisgarh and Mizoram will vote to choose their next governments on Tuesday – elections seen as a litmus test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's bid for a third term in next year’s national elections.

The world’s largest democracy of 1.4 billion people has a federal structure, with citizens picking state legislators in regional polls while the prime minister is elected in national elections.

The eastern state of Chhattisgarh will have its first phase of polling on Tuesday while Mizoram, in the north-east, will have only one phase.

Both states are crucial as they are home to indigenous tribal peoples.

Chhattisgarh is currently led by the Indian National Congress, the main opposition party in the country, and is governed by Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel.

Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is making all efforts to return to power after a gap of five years.

Congress defeated the BJP in Chhattisgarh in 2018, putting an end to the 15-year rule of Mr Modi's party.

Voting for 20 of the state's 90 assembly seats opens today, with more than 220 candidates in the fray. More than four million voters are expected to cast their ballots on Tuesday. The second phase will be held on November 17.

To try to prevent any incidents of violence in Chhattisgarh – which has a decades-long history of Maoist insurgency – more than 25,000 security personnel have been stationed across the region.

Congress is banking on its development model – which includes loan waivers for farmers, a programme under which government funds lent to small and marginal farmers for agriculture and irrigation purposes are set aside in case of distress, poor monsoon rains or natural calamities that affect the yields.

There are also welfare initiatives to increase education opportunities, improve health centres, procure forest produce from tribal people and allow them to make decisions on resources such as water, land and forests, as well boosting their representation at a village governance level.

The BJP has accused Mr Baghel’s government of corrupt recruitment practices in which he is alleged to have appointed relatives and close aides of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen to top government positions.

Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress party's national president, appealed to the state's residents, especially youths who are first-time voters, to take part in the election.

“We have full confidence that just governance in Chhattisgarh will continue and faith in democracy will remain intact,” he said.

Three-pronged voting war

In Mizoram, the tiny, mountainous state in the foothills of the Himalayas in the north-east, 174 candidates are in the fray for the 40 assembly seats up for grabs.

More than 800,000 voters are eligible to cast their ballots.

The incumbent Mizo National Front won a huge majority in 2018 after defeating Congress.

This election will be three-pronged war pitting the party against Congress and the Zoram People's Movement.

The BJP is contesting in 23 constituencies after having won just one seat in the most recent elections.

Its chances of victory are slim as the state is Christian-dominated and has a homogenous society based on one identity and one ideology.

The BJP is battling its “anti-Christian” image in the state.

Mizoram has a sizeable population of Kuki-Zo tribal people, a community embroiled in months-long ethnic clashes in neighbouring Manipur state.

“I believe that we shall be able to form the government and we shall be having an overwhelming victory in my constituency,” Zoramthanga, the Mizoram Chief Minister who goes by a single name, said after casting his vote.

The results for both the states will be announced on December 3.

Three other states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana – are scheduled to hold elections in November.

While Rajasthan is ruled by Congress, the BJP is in power in Madhya Pradesh and the Bharat Rashtra Samithi, a regional party, is in power in Telangana.

The leaders of all three parties have been aggressively campaigning, with Mr Modi holding several roadshows in an attempt to retain the party's hold over Madhya Pradesh and ensure victory in other states.

Updated: November 07, 2023, 9:03 AM