World Bulletin / News Desk
Elections in five Indian states -- including two this weekend -- could provide a crucial insight into the future of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, analysts said ahead of the polls.
Modi’s right-wing government, which came to power in May 2014 after securing a landslide, is now halfway through a term that has seen several voices of dissent over its policies, especially the recent demonetization decision.
Some analysts say the mood in the country is so disillusioned and even directly opposed to the BJP in some parts of the country that its chances of repeated the success of 2014 in a 2019 general election are greatly reduced.
On Saturday, the states of Punjab and Goa will go to the polls while three other states -- including the country’s most populous, Uttar Pradesh, which is home to 200 million people -- will vote by March 8. The final votes from all five will be counted on March 11.
Uttar Pradesh, which has the highest number of assembly and parliamentary seats, is crucial for any political party wanting to secure a short- or long-term future.
“These elections are very crucial, especially Uttar Pradesh, and will have definitely impact on the 2019 elections,” Rajiv Kumar, a political analyst at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, told Anadolu Agency.
Kumar said that any party that wins Uttar Pradesh (UP) this year will gain huge momentum in the run-up to the general election.
“UP is such a huge state and it has 80 seats in parliament... In the 2014 elections as well, Mr. Modi secured a huge mandate from UP,” he said.
Adnan Farooqui, of the department of political science at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi, said: “What is important is that if BJP doesn’t perform well in Uttar Pradesh this year and is unable to form the government, it may show some indication of what is going to happen in the 2019 general polls.”
The results “might also motivate several political parties in the country to have informal understanding like forming an alliance route for the  elections,” Farooqui said.
The elections are happening at a key moment for the ruling party and the government, especially when sentiment against the demonetization policy is running high.
Last November, Modi abolished the 500 rupee and 1,000 rupee notes on the pretext of fighting corruption and “black money”.
The move triggered chaos and panic and led to long queues outside banks as people waited to get their notes changed amid fears that their money could disappear. Modi’s decision also attracted severe criticism from opposition parties and economic experts, who said demonetization during elections would have a major effect on the vote.
“There is a feeling among the people that they are not happy with the demonetization and they may not vote for the BJP government,” C.P. Gupta, a finance professor at the University of Delhi, told Anadolu Agency.
“So, this issue is also likely to play a role in this election.”
However, analysts such as Kumar said demonetization could have a “positive impact” on the state elections as it has improved Modi’s credentials in fighting corruption.
In Punjab, which shares its borders with Pakistan, the contest is between the Aam Aadmi Party, the Congress party and the incumbent Shiromani Akali Dal party that rules the state with the BJP.
Here, drugs and employment are the main issues, according to voters who spoke to Anadolu Agency.
“I think the easy availability of drugs in the state is the issue for the youth in this election,” Arvind Singh, a 21-year-old post-graduate student from Amritsar, said.
“The present government has not done much for the youth of the state, which makes them disappointed and looks to vote for alternative parties.”
Inderjot Singh, a government employee who lives in Chandigarh, the capital of the Indian states of Haryana and Punjab, said: “This time the elections are very interesting because there are three main parties. Unemployment is the issue, I think should be addressed by the next government.”