Gujarat will vote in two phases on Dec. 9 and Dec. 14 to pick a new assembly, the election commission said on Wednesday, setting the stage for a crucial battle that is seen as a test of support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies to revive a sputtering economy.
Chief election commissioner AK Joti said all polling stations will have VVPAT machines, an anti-fraud system with a paper trail that briefly shows the candidate and symbol a person voted for.
The contest in Gujarat, Modi’s home state where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been in power for 22 years, will be keenly watched for signs of voter reaction to some of his radical economic policies that the opposition Congress party is trying to leverage to regain political ground.
The BJP has also been facing angry protests by the state’s powerful Patidar community that has been demanding a quota in education and government jobs.
“It’s not going to be easy for the BJP. The job market has all but collapsed. Scheduled castes have started organising themselves…,” said Sebastian Morris, professor of economics at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.
For the Congress, the stakes are high too, given that a good showing could help the party recover from recent election defeats. Over the past months, its vice president and chief campaigner, Rahul Gandhi, has displayed a new confidence in his public speeches as well as social media campaigns that have triggered some unease in the BJP.
“For the first time in three decades the Congress is calling the shots and the BJP is reacting. But it remains to be seen if the support gets translated into votes,” said Ahmedabad-based political analyst Hari Desai.
The Congress has reached out to the most popular among them, Hardik Patel, the leader of the Patidar community, as well as Dalit leader Jignesh Mewani. It has already enlisted the support of Alpesh Thakor, who leads a section of the Other Backwards Classes who oppose the Patidars’ demand for quota.
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