Ruling party faces electoral test in state polls
Three Indian states - including the wealthy western state of Maharashtra, where India’s financial capital Mumbai is located - go to the polls Tuesday in a critical test for the country’s ruling Congress party.
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AFP - Indian voters in three states cast their ballots on Tuesday in the first election test for the ruling Congress party alliance since it won national power in May.
Campaigning for state elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh has focused on relief for drought-hit areas after a poor monsoon, electricity shortages, unemployment and rising food prices.
The Congress power trio of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, party president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi have toured the states, with much attention focused on the vast city of Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra.
Key concerns in Maharashtra range from improving security after the Mumbai attacks last year in which 166 people died, the recent slowdown in economic growth, and rural poverty that has triggered a spate of farmer suicides.
"There is no single decisive vote factor," Kumar Ketkar, analyst and editor of Marathi newspaper Loksatta, told AFP, describing the campaign as "bitter and chaotic".
The Congress alliance has ruled for ten years in the state, and Ashok Chavan is battling to retain the role as chief minister that he took over soon after the November attacks.
The main opposition in the state is an uneasy alliance between two Hindu nationalist parties -- the regional right-wingers Shiv Sena, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who have struggled since their heavy general election defeat.
Chavan appealed for Maharashtra's voters to judge him on his record.
"In the last six to seven months the police have done a good job. The trial of (militant attacks suspect) Kasab is progressing fast," he said.
"A lot of money has been sanctioned to procure weapons and equipment for the police."
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, campaigning in Mumbai on Sunday, said that price rises caused by the poor monsoon would soon be reversed and he reassured voters that "the worst is indeed over".
BJP leader L.K. Advani, however, targeted Singh at a series of elections rallies over the weekend.
"Where there is corruption, there is price rises," he said. "Corruption is the cause of price rises and the prime minister had failed to check the corruption."
Shiv Sena, founded by Bal Thackeray in 1966, has a reputation for flaming inter-faith tensions and targeting India's Muslim minority.
Thackeray, 83, remains at its head but the movement has become increasingly fractured.
His nephew Raj Thackeray heads the breakaway MNS, which may split the Hindu nationalist vote. He was briefly arrested last year on charges of disrupting government work and rioting.
Haryana state, near to Delhi, is a well-populated agricultural and industrial region, while remote Arunachal state in the mountainous northeast borders China.
About 90 million people are eligible to vote in the elections, with the result due to be announced on October 22.
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