NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party is set to keep control of India's most populous state on Thursday (Mar 10) as officials begin the count in a state assembly vote that will offer clues to the national mood before the next general election, due by 2024.
Opinion polls have predicted a comfortable majority for Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh, despite the government's much-criticised handling of COVID-19, high unemployment and anger over farm reforms that Modi cancelled last year after protests.
The BJP has long predicted that it would retain the northern state because of policies such as free staples for the poor during the pandemic, a crackdown on crime and its popularity among the Hindu majority reinforced by the construction of a temple on the site of a razed mosque.
In elections in four smaller states over the past month, the Aam Aadmi Party that governs the national capital territory of Delhi is projected to win in Punjab, while the races are tight in BJP-ruled Manipur, Goa and Uttarakhand.
Uttar Pradesh is home to about a fifth of India's 1.35 billion people and sends the most legislators to parliament of any state.
It has long been said that without winning Uttar Pradesh and the neighbouring state of Bihar, no party or coalition has much hope of securing a majority in parliament. The BJP has been in power in both.
For decades, Uttar Pradesh was a stronghold of the main opposition Congress party, but it has been unable to stem a slide in is popularity over recent years.
If Modi's party holds Uttar Pradesh as expected, opposition hopes of a united front to challenge him in the next general election will be dented.
A win in Uttar Pradesh would also be a seal of approval for Hindu monk Yogi Adityanath, who was surprisingly chosen as chief minister for Uttar Pradesh five years ago and is seen as a future prime ministerial candidate for the BJP.