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Indian election results flat for Modi's party

by The Associated Press | May 3, 2021 at 2:00 a.m.
A counting agent in protective suit stands as security men guard during the counting of votes of Assam state assembly election in Gauhati, India, Sunday, May 2, 2021. With Indian hospitals struggling to secure a steady supply of oxygen, and more covid-19 patients dying amid the shortages, a court in New Delhi said it would start punishing government officials for failing to deliver the life-saving items. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

NEW DELHI -- India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi failed to make gains in four recent state elections, according to preliminary voting trends released Sunday by the independent Election Commission, indicating his Hindu nationalist party's political strength may be slipping as the country struggles to contain an unprecedented surge in coronavirus cases.

The Election Commission's vote forecast showed the Bharatiya Janata Party trailing in West Bengal state behind a powerful regional party, apparently unable to dislodge the state's firebrand chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, after a hard-fought campaign.

Modi's party looks set to retain power in the northeastern Assam state for a second term, but it failed to pick up any significant gains there or make inroads in two southern states, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Final results will be released late Sunday.

Even before the current virus surge, Modi's party faced stiff challenges in these local legislative elections. Following the disappointing results, Modi stands weakened but faces no threats to staying on as prime minister until his term ends in 2024.

"The [Bharatiya Janata Party] started running out of steam as the pandemic spread," said political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay.

"The verdict in West Bengal state will definitely weaken Modi's position," he added, but cautioned that further study of the results was needed to say how much they were a referendum on the the party's handling of the covid-19 outbreak.

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With 70% of the vote counted in West Bengal, the rival All India Trinamool Congress party could win 211 out of 292 seats in the state legislature -- having won 21 seats so far and leading in anther 190. That's compared to potentially just 80 seats for the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has won three seats outright and leads in 77.

In Assam's 125-seat state legislature, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies are ahead in the race for 75 seats, compared to 49 seats tipping toward its main challengers.

Supporters of the All India Trinamool Congress party held victory celebrations and set off firecrackers in West Bengal after the initial results were released.

Health experts say the massive electoral rallies and marches held as voters cast their ballots in March and April are partly to blame for the subsequent spike in covid-19 infections. Public anger for allowing the elections to go forward despite the risk has been directed at both Modi's government and the Election Commission.

Modi's party has soared in Hindu-dominated regions in central and northern India since he was elected in 2014. The recent local elections were seen as crucial for the party to gain a foothold in three states that have sizeable minority Muslim populations. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has for years been accused of stoking religious polarization and discriminating against minorities.

A counting agent stands in protective suit during the counting of votes of Assam state assembly election in Gauhati, India, Sunday, May 2, 2021. With Indian hospitals struggling to secure a steady supply of oxygen, and more covid-19 patients dying amid the shortages, a court in New Delhi said it would start punishing government officials for failing to deliver the life-saving items. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
A counting agent stands in protective suit during the counting of votes of Assam state assembly election in Gauhati, India, Sunday, May 2, 2021. With Indian hospitals struggling to secure a steady supply of oxygen, and more covid-19 patients dying amid the shortages, a court in New Delhi said it would start punishing government officials for failing to deliver the life-saving items. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party cadres celebrate burn firecrackers as they celebrate early leads for the party in the Tamil Nadu state assembly elections in Chennai, India, Sunday May 2, 2021. (AP Photo/R. Parthibhan)
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party cadres celebrate burn firecrackers as they celebrate early leads for the party in the Tamil Nadu state assembly elections in Chennai, India, Sunday May 2, 2021. (AP Photo/R. Parthibhan)
Indian policemen guard at a vote counting center for the state legislature elections amid a weekend lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus Kochi, Kerala state, India, Sunday, May 2, 2021. (AP Photo/R S Iyer)
Indian policemen guard at a vote counting center for the state legislature elections amid a weekend lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus Kochi, Kerala state, India, Sunday, May 2, 2021. (AP Photo/R S Iyer)
Assam police personnel stand guard near a counting hall during the counting of votes of Assam state assembly election in Gauhati, India, Sunday, May 2, 2021. With Indian hospitals struggling to secure a steady supply of oxygen, and more covid-19 patients dying amid the shortages, a court in New Delhi said it would start punishing government officials for failing to deliver the life-saving items. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Assam police personnel stand guard near a counting hall during the counting of votes of Assam state assembly election in Gauhati, India, Sunday, May 2, 2021. With Indian hospitals struggling to secure a steady supply of oxygen, and more covid-19 patients dying amid the shortages, a court in New Delhi said it would start punishing government officials for failing to deliver the life-saving items. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Counting agents in protective suits take rest during the counting of votes of Assam state assembly election in Gauhati, India, Sunday, May 2, 2021. With Indian hospitals struggling to secure a steady supply of oxygen, and more covid-19 patients dying amid the shortages, a court in New Delhi said it would start punishing government officials for failing to deliver the life-saving items. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Counting agents in protective suits take rest during the counting of votes of Assam state assembly election in Gauhati, India, Sunday, May 2, 2021. With Indian hospitals struggling to secure a steady supply of oxygen, and more covid-19 patients dying amid the shortages, a court in New Delhi said it would start punishing government officials for failing to deliver the life-saving items. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
A counting agent in protective suit walks past officials during the counting of votes of Assam state assembly election in Gauhati, India, Sunday, May 2, 2021. With Indian hospitals struggling to secure a steady supply of oxygen, and more covid-19 patients dying amid the shortages, a court in New Delhi said it would start punishing government officials for failing to deliver the life-saving items. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
A counting agent in protective suit walks past officials during the counting of votes of Assam state assembly election in Gauhati, India, Sunday, May 2, 2021. With Indian hospitals struggling to secure a steady supply of oxygen, and more covid-19 patients dying amid the shortages, a court in New Delhi said it would start punishing government officials for failing to deliver the life-saving items. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Election officials sit wearing masks and face shields during the counting of votes of Assam state assembly election in Gauhati, India, Sunday, May 2, 2021. With Indian hospitals struggling to secure a steady supply of oxygen, and more covid-19 patients dying amid the shortages, a court in New Delhi said it would start punishing government officials for failing to deliver the life-saving items. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Election officials sit wearing masks and face shields during the counting of votes of Assam state assembly election in Gauhati, India, Sunday, May 2, 2021. With Indian hospitals struggling to secure a steady supply of oxygen, and more covid-19 patients dying amid the shortages, a court in New Delhi said it would start punishing government officials for failing to deliver the life-saving items. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Election officials sit wearing masks and face shields during the counting of votes of Assam state assembly election in Gauhati, India, Sunday, May 2, 2021. With Indian hospitals struggling to secure a steady supply of oxygen, and more covid-19 patients dying amid the shortages, a court in New Delhi said it would start punishing government officials for failing to deliver the life-saving items. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Election officials sit wearing masks and face shields during the counting of votes of Assam state assembly election in Gauhati, India, Sunday, May 2, 2021. With Indian hospitals struggling to secure a steady supply of oxygen, and more covid-19 patients dying amid the shortages, a court in New Delhi said it would start punishing government officials for failing to deliver the life-saving items. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
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