Narendra Modi’s BJP party faces close fight in India’s swing state Karnataka

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India will hold elections in the populous southern state of Karnataka in May, the results of which will indicate whether the opposition has cut into the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party ahead of general elections next year.

Winning Karnataka — the state is home to Bengaluru, India’s IT hub — would energize Rahul Gandhi’s opposition Congress party.


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The scion of the nation’s most famous political dynasty recently completed a 2,170-mile trek from the country’s southernmost tip to the icy north of Kashmir to revive the floundering party.

Last week Gandhi was disqualified from parliament after being found guilty of defamation. His party has planned protests across the country over the next month to garner public sympathy and widen its support base.

To maintain an aura of invincibility, Modi needs a win in Karnataka, which has a long history of swinging between parties.

A victory there may also help his Bharatiya Janata Party — the incumbent in the state — make inroads into other southern provinces.

The state is home to the local offices of Intel Corp., Amazon and International Business Machines Corp.
Elections for the 224-seat assembly will be held on May 10, while counting of votes will take place on May 13, Rajiv Kumar, the country’s chief election commissioner, said in New Delhi on Wednesday.

At this point, the contest will likely come down to the BJP and the Congress, which has made campaign guarantees of free power and 2,000 rupees in cash per month to all female heads of households to compensate for a jump in the price of cooking gas and food items.

The Congress may also use Gandhi’s disqualification from parliament as ammunition — the development is seen by many as a political ploy by the BJP to weaken the opposition.

“For the Congress, it’s a very desperate situation: This is the only state where they have a very clear chance of winning,” said Sandeep Shastri, a political scientist and national coordinator of the Lokniti, a research group. For the BJP, a “victory will be a huge moral booster.”

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