India's ruling party leads in border state poll as votes tallied

World Thursday 19/May/2016 10:56 AM
By: Times News Service
India's ruling party leads in border state poll as votes tallied

New Delhi: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party was leading on Thursday in a race to win an election in the northeastern state of Assam, a victory that would help rebuild some momentum after poll losses by his Hindu nationalist party last year.
A win in Assam, one of five states set to announce election results on Thursday, would be the first victory for Modi's party in India's remote northeast, a sign of its political influence expanding beyond its traditional northern and western belt.
Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led in the races for 52 of the 87 seats in Assam where clear trends had been set, unofficial tallies compiled by television broadcasters showed.
The opposition Congress Party, which has ruled the 126-seat state assembly since 2001, trailed with 19 seats.
Counting of votes began at 0230 GMT and official results are expected later on Thursday.
Modi waged a polarising campaign in Assam, an underdeveloped state rife with ethnic and religious tension, and vowed to disenfranchise millions of Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants, to curry favour among discontented Hindus.
An estimated 10 percent of the 20 million voters at Assam's state legislature elections are Muslims who have migrated since the 1950s from the former East Pakistan, later Bangladesh, and gained Indian citizenship.
Elsewhere, tallies by television channels showed popular regional parties were headed for victory in the southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu and the eastern state of West Bengal, where the BJP has a small presence and was not expected to win.
Modi's party lost elections in the populous eastern state of Bihar in November and in the capital, New Delhi, early last year.
Victory in Assam, while symbolic, will have little impact on Modi's ability to control the upper house of parliament, where his party lacks a majority and the opposition has stymied key economic reforms.
Assam does not have any lawmakers retiring in the next couple of years from the Rajya Sabha, or the upper house, whose representatives are elected in rotation by state legislators.
But the prospect of Congress weakened further by the state vote will raise the ruling party's hopes that its bitter foe could be less resistant to its reform legislation, helping to break the gridlock in the upper house.
"The people of Assam have accepted our winning combination. This is going to be a great victory," the BJP's chief ministerial candidate Sarbananda Sonowal told Indian television.
BJP supporters gathered in the state capital, Guwahati, and distributed sweets even before the result had been declared.