Modi faces test in home turf | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 10, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:41 AM, December 10, 2017


Modi faces test in home turf

First round of voting records 68 percent turnout

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state of Gujarat went to the polls on Saturday, in a key electoral test of his popularity after a series of controversial economic reforms.

Voters, with their election cards in hand, started lining up at polling booths early in the morning in Gujarat where Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has held power for 22 years.

Modi built his reputation as an economic reformer in Gujarat which boomed under his rule, attracting investments from around the globe.

But his recent reforms -- a new national tax and a shock currency ban to fight graft -- have hit India's growth and hurt the very constituency of traders and small business owners who were his biggest supporters in the western state, polls found.

Experts say this election is a serious challenge to Modi as his rivals ride a wave of discontent over the stuttering economy, adding that voter anger over the reforms and a desire for change could boost the flagging fortunes of the opposition Congress Party.

Voting wrapped up at 5:00 pm local time (1130 GMT) in the first stage of the election yesterday, with around 68 percent turnout reported, the Election Commission of India said after polls closed, revising its earlier figure of nearly 50 percent.

Saturday's turnout was lower than the 71.3 percent registered at the last state election in 2012.

The Congress campaign has been spearheaded by Rahul Gandhi -- the man likely to challenge Modi for premiership at the next general election in 2019.

The election is seen as a chance for Gandhi to finally prove his mettle before he is named president of the party his mother Sonia has led for more than two decades.

A little over 21 million voters were eligible to cast their ballots yesterday when 89 constituencies were up for grabs across 19 districts of Gujarat, according to the Election Commission of India.

The next stage of voting is on December 14.

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