Modi's popularity to be tested in five state polls as Covid-19 cases surge

The polls will be barometer of Mr Modi's popularity. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - Five Indian states will go to polls starting from March, elections which will test Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ability to expand his party's footprint in the eastern and southern parts of the country amid a renewed surge in virus cases.

Voting for the state legislatures of West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry - with a combined population that exceeds that of Brazil - will take place from March 27 to April 29.

Ballots will be counted on May 2, Mr Sunil Arora, India's chief election commissioner, told reporters in New Delhi on Friday (Feb 26).

The polls will be a barometer of Mr Modi's popularity and his Bharatiya Janata Party's ability to form governments in parts of the country where it doesn't wield much influence.

Of these states, the party rules only Assam, where a religion-based citizenship Act is a major issue and retaining power could further embolden the government to implement the controversial law across the country.

The government has put off implementing the law following nationwide protests that's seen at least 70 people killed in clashes between police and demonstrators.

It bars Muslims from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh from seeking citizenship while allowing in people of other faiths.

In West Bengal, the BJP has gone on war footing to unseat regional leader Mamata Banerjee, the main challenger to Mr Modi.

With its aggressive strategy, BJP has already established itself as the main rival for Ms Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, which has been ruling the eastern state for a decade.

The BJP is also trying to expand his base to southern states of Tamil Nadu, India's second most industrialised state, Kerala and federally-controlled territory of Puducherry.

The elections are taking place at a time when some areas have been witnessing fresh surge in Covid cases since January.

The central bank expects the nation's economy, Asia's third-largest, to contract 7.5 per cent in the year ending March 31.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.