Modi fights to protect home base in Gujarat polls

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi before the start of a rally on Sunday in Surendranagar, Gujarat. He hopes to fight off a stiff challenge from opposition Congress' Mr Rahul Gandhi.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi before the start of a rally on Sunday in Surendranagar, Gujarat. He hopes to fight off a stiff challenge from opposition Congress' Mr Rahul Gandhi.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Indian PM expected to win but with smaller margin due to GST launch, currency pullout

NEW DELHI • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in the final phase of campaigning to retain power in his home state and stave off the most serious challenge yet from a combined opposition.

The election for a new legislature in the western state of Gujarat this weekend is turning out to be a greater challenge for Mr Modi than anticipated, the polls show, as rival parties seize on discontent caused by a slowing economy.

Gujarat is where Mr Modi earned his spurs as a business-friendly chief minister who cut red tape and graft and turned it into an economic powerhouse.

But an unpopular national tax and a shock move last year to withdraw most currency in a fight against graft has hurt Gujarat, like the rest of the country, and its businessmen are making loud complaints.

Three big polls carried out in the run-up to the vote tomorrow and next week have predicted a victory for Mr Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but with a greatly reduced majority.

An ABP-CDS poll this week gave the BJP 91-99 seats in the 182-member state House and opposition Congress 78-86, suggesting a close fight. A party needs 92 seats to win.

The surveys have often gone wrong, though, and Mr Modi himself remains far more popular across the country than his rivals, including Mr Rahul Gandhi who is leading the Congress charge to weaken Mr Modi in his home base.

Mr Modi has thrown himself into the campaign, addressing dozens of rallies over the past month, saying he alone could deliver on development. Yesterday, he was due to address party colleagues on their mobile phones to ensure a strong voter turnout.

Mr Amit Shah, the president of the BJP, said the party had full confidence in Mr Modi's ability to deliver an emphatic victory.

"He knows that only an absolute majority in Gujarat polls will legitimise his reforms and silence critics," Mr Shah said.

Votes from the election will be counted on Dec 18 and the results announced the same day.

Gujarati businesses - which form the core of Mr Modi's support base - have complained about the new goods and services tax as aggravating tough economic conditions.

Mr Jagdip Desai, a sanitaryware manufacturer, said the complex tax procedures had come on top of slowing demand and he had to fire 3,000 workers.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2017, with the headline 'Modi fights to protect home base in Gujarat polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe