Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party lost an election in a key state he visited frequently before the recent virus surge forced him off the campaign trail, adding to growing signs of a backlash over his government’s handling of the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreak.
In West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s All India Trinamool Congress won about 72 percent of 292 seats up for grabs, while Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took 77, according to results posted by the Election Commission of India yesterday.
Last month, Modi predicted that his party would win more than 200 seats in the state, which held voting over eight phases starting on March 27.
Modi’s opponents won in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, while his party kept power in the northeastern state of Assam and gained the federally controlled territory of Puducherry, where it contested in alliance with a regional party.
He conceded West Bengal in a series of posts on Twitter, congratulating Banerjee, while adding that BJP made gains in the state.
The focus will now be how well policymakers are able to minimize the socioeconomic cost of COVID-19, said Madhavi Arora, an economist at Emkay Global Financial Services Ltd.
“It could also have implications for 2022 state elections,” Arora said, including the major BJP-held states of Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.
Grim scenes of overcrowded crematoriums and pleas for oxygen have overshadowed the election in the past few weeks, with Modi coming under fire for campaigning in front of huge crowds as infections were spiraling.
“As three strongly anti-BJP regional leaders have emerged victorious, they are likely to be the nucleus of the opposition challenge to Modi in the months ahead as he battles the backlash to his mismanagement of the COVID crisis,” said Arati Jerath, a New Delhi-based author and political analyst who has written about Indian politics for nearly three decades.
The results weaken the government and indicate there are “huge political and constitutional challenges ahead for Modi,” she said.
India yesterday reported 368,147 new COVID-19 cases and 3,417 deaths — numbers that experts believe are vast undercounts because of a widespread lack of testing and incomplete reporting.
The Indian Ministry of Health said that it has confirmed 19.9 million COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, behind only the US, which has counted more than 32.4 million.
It said that more than 218,000 people have died.
The southern state of Karnataka yesterday said that 24 COVID-19 patients died at a government-run hospital amid reports of an oxygen shortage.
It was unclear how many died due to a lack of oxygen, but the chief minister ordered an investigation.
Additional reporting by AP
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