Millions take to polls in India state elections seen as key test for 2024 national vote

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP has been campaigning in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for months

Women display indelible ink marks after casting their votes for state elections in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, on Friday. AP
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Millions of people in the Indian states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh will vote to choose their next governments on Friday in a major test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of the 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 the national elections.

The central state of Madhya Pradesh is a stronghold of Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which has governed there for more than 18 years.

However, opinion polls have predicted a close race between the Hindu-nationalist BJP and the Indian National Congress, the main opposition party.

More than 59 million people will cast votes for about 2,500 candidates in the state across 230 seats.

The elections are crucial for Mr Modi and his party’s fate as the victory is seen as a prelude to next year’s general elections, when nearly 950 million citizens will cast vote for the country’s next leader.

"I am confident that voters from every region of the state [Madhya Pradesh] will vote enthusiastically to mark this great festival of democracy. My special greetings to all the youth of the state who are voting for the first time in this election," Mr Modi posted on X, formerly Twitter, in Hindi.

He has been campaigning extensively across the state for months.

In the eastern state of Chhattisgarh, voters will cast their ballot in the second phase of elections where Congress is in power. Chief Minister Bhupendra Baghel governs the state.

The first phase took place on November 7.

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

Chhattisgarh is a crucial state as it is home to indigenous tribes.

Congress is banking on its popular development model, which includes loan waivers for farmers. Under this programme, the repayment of government funds lent to small and marginal farmers for agriculture and irrigation purposes can be waived in case of distress, poor monsoon rains or natural disasters that affect yield.

Congress has also promoted welfare initiatives to increase education opportunities, improve health centres and procure forest produce from tribal people.

A total of 958 candidates are contesting 70 seats.

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 senior government positions.

Two other states – Rajasthan and Telangana – are scheduled to hold elections at the end of the month.

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

Updated: November 17, 2023, 3:17 PM