The western Indian state of Gujarat heads to the ballot Thursday, the result of which will be seen as a test of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hold over his home turf and an indicator of his popularity with national elections less than two years away.
Modi ruled the state for over a decade before moving to the national stage in 2014. His Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has held power there for more than a quarter century. The state will vote to elect a new legislature in two phases. The second round of voting will take place on Monday. The ballots will be counted on Dec. 8.
“Gujarat results will be read as a referendum of Modi’s style of governance and his policy,” said Maya Mirchandani, assistant professor of broadcast and media studies at Delhi’s Ashoka University. Modi is expected to seek re-election as prime minister — his third term in office — in national elections in the first half of 2024.
The north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh will also count votes on the same day as Gujarat. Both states are currently ruled by the BJP. The state elections come amid high inflation and unemployment in the country. However, pre-election surveys indicate that Modi and his party are set to win both states.
“What will matter for Prime Minister Modi is the margin of victory,” Mirchandani said. “Will the BJP substantially increase its tally or will opposition close the gap. The margin will tell whether PM Modi emerges stronger or weaker.”
In the last state elections in Gujarat in 2017, the BJP won 99 out of the 182 assembly seats, just 22 more than its main rival, the Indian National Congress. This time the Aam Admi Party (AAP) — a regional political group that governs the northern state of Punjab and capital Delhi — is also a key player in the state, making it a three-way competition that’s expected to benefit the BJP.
Opinion polls, the most recent published in early October, show Modi’s BJP projected to win 135 to 143 seats this time.