Le Pays De France - Hardline Hindu monk seeks re-election in key Indian state

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Hardline Hindu monk seeks re-election in key Indian state
Hardline Hindu monk seeks re-election in key Indian state

Hardline Hindu monk seeks re-election in key Indian state

India's most populous state went to the polls Thursday in a key popularity test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government.

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Victory in the northern state of over 200 million people, and strong performances in four other state polls in the coming weeks, would boost Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party ahead of 2024 national elections when he will likely seek a third term.

"We will win all five (states)... They (the people of Uttar Pradesh) will accept us in 2022 after seeing our work," Modi, 71, said in an interview with ANI news agency on the eve of the election.

Uttar Pradesh, home to more people than Brazil, is run by Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand monk from the BJP who has implemented a string of policies seen by critics as anti-Muslim.

- 'Jobs lost' -

The BJP's main rival is the Samajwadi (Socialist) Party, led by Akhilesh Yadav who has been seeking to tap into discontent over job losses and rising prices.

The state government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has also been widely criticised, with hundreds of bodies floating in the Ganges or buried in its banks last year.

"The government should address what happened during Covid (in) the past two years. Many people have been affected and suffered losses no doubt," voter Amit Pratap Singh, 48, told AFP.

"People's businesses have been impacted. Jobs have been lost. So the government should plan to address it."

Keen to make up lost ground, the BJP has promised a job for at least one member of each family and free electricity for farmers -- a key voting bloc -- if it retains power.

Opinion polls have indicated that the BJP will retain power -- something no party has done since 1985 -- with an increased vote share.

"I don't think the government should change if there's good governance. I have seen good governance in this regime. Yogi (Adityanath) has performed well. Because he's done well, he should stay," said Sandeep Sharma, 46, a voter from the state's Ghaziabad district.

- 'Love jihad' -

Since winning power in 2017, Adityanath's government has tightened curbs on slaughterhouses killing cows -- sacred in Hinduism -- and on loudspeakers for the Muslim call to prayer.

It also brought in a law against "love jihad", the alleged masterplan by the Muslim minority to hoodwink Hindu women into marriage in order to convert them to Islam.

The shaven-headed 49-year-old, who has been touted as a possible successor to Modi, has also given several cities new names in place of Islamic-sounding ones.

More than 100 alleged criminals -- mostly Muslims or low-caste Dalits -- have been reportedly extra-judicially killed by police, a charge Adityanath denies.

The state was one of the worst affected when deadly violence erupted in late 2019 following protests against the federal government's amendments to India's citizenship law that was seen as anti-Muslim.

One of those to die was Aleem, who according to his brother Shahbuddin was shot dead by police in the town of Meerut. Police have denied shooting anyone during the unrest.

"Injustice is at its peak under Yogi's government. It can't get worse than this," Shahbuddin, 28, told AFP.

Results from the election, as well from the four other polls, are due after counting begins on March 10.