Gandhi election test in most populous Indian state
Million Vote in India
BARABANKI, India — India’s most populous state went to the polls Wednesday in a contest pitting the scion of the Gandhi political dynasty against the ruling party of local low-caste leader Mayawati.
Rahul Gandhi, whose family has dominated post-independence Indian politics, has led campaigning for the Congress party in politically vital Uttar Pradesh (UP) in a key test of his ability to become a national leader.
The 41-year-old is widely seen as a prime minister-in-waiting, but he faces a tough task reviving the fortunes of Congress in a state where the party has been out of power for 22 years and was trounced in the last elections in 2007.
Arrayed against him is the formidable and mercurial figure of Chief Minister Mayawati, a low-caste populist who inspires a devoted following from those at the bottom of India’s strict social order.
She trumpets her efforts to fight discrimination and improve the lives of the poor and marginalised, but her administration also stands accused by critics of rampant corruption and wasting public funds on vast urban landscaping projects.
She has built statues of low-caste icons — including herself — in huge parks in the state capital, with total expenditure estimated officially at more than a billion dollars.
Uttar Pradesh has a population of about 200 million. If it were a country it would be the world’s fifth-most populous, larger than Brazil, and in places it has poverty as bad as in sub-Saharan Africa.
Seventeen million people were expected to vote on Wednesday for a new state assembly in the first phase of the local elections that will be held in seven stages until March 3. Results will be announced on March 6.
No accurate polling data exists, but the main contest is between Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), another regional caste-based group the Samajwadi Party (SP), Congress and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.