State polls offer litmus test for Indian Govt
INDIA: India kicks off a round of crucial state polls today,
seen as a mini-referendum on the ruling Congress Party ahead of a
general election expected in early 2009.
Six states will vote before the end of the year against a backdrop of
rising food prices and growing concerns over the impact of the global
financial crisis on India’s economy.
Maoist rebel-hit Chattisgarh will hold its two-part assembly polls
starting Friday, followed by central Madhya Pradesh, the capital Delhi,
tiny Mizoram in the northeast and the western desert state of Rajasthan.
The insurgency-affected region of Jammu and Kashmir will vote in a
seven-part election starting on Monday that is likely to see low turnout
due to a boycott called by separatist leaders opposed to Indian rule.
With the exception of Kashmir and remote Mizoram, the ballots are
being watched as a litmus test of the popularity of the Congress-led
government which has to call a general election by May 2009 at the
The opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governs
in three of the states voting, but analysts say anti-incumbency
sentiment may be offset by anger with the federal government over
“The Congress has a great disadvantage,” said political analyst
Sanjay Kumar, a fellow at the New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of
Developing Societies. “Everybody is looking at Congress as responsible
for the price rises.” Other political experts agreed inflation was
uppermost in voters’ minds.
“Many of these are states with large numbers of poor people. It will
be a very major issue,” said political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan.
“It is a millstone around the neck for the Congress.”
India has also started to feel the pinch from the global financial
crisis, with exports and manufacturing slowing and GDP growth forecasts
cut as a result and job losses expected.
But Congress officials insist that the country’s economic
fundamentals are strong and the global crisis holds little sway in
domestic electoral politics. “There is concern at the economic meltdown
but the concern is more on the impact it may have on macroeconomic
indicators. It is not so much of a concern from an electoral point of
view,” party spokesman Manish Tewari told AFP.
“Inflation has moderated except for a little spike last week.
Food inflation and commodity inflation are coming down. From our
perspective the situation looks fairly good.”
While the state polls will give some indication of the national
electoral mood, some political analysts warned against reading too much
into the results.
New Delhi, Thursday, AFP