By Ahmad Adil
NEW DELHI (AA) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state Gujarat in western India began voting on Thursday in crucial provincial polls, with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) expected to win a seventh straight term.
On Thursday morning, millions of people lined up outside the polling stations to cast their votes to elect members for the provincial assembly in the state, which has been ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party since 1995.
The Election Commission of India said on Thursday morning voting started for the first phase of the elections in the morning.
According to the Election Commission officials, in phase 1, nearly 24 million people are casting votes for 89 assembly seats. Polling for the remaining seats would be held in the second phase on Dec. 5.
Prime Minister Modi wrote on Twitter: "Today is the first phase of the Gujarat elections. I call upon all those voting today, particularly first-time voters to exercise their franchise in record numbers."
The results will be declared on Dec. 8, along with the northern Himachal Pradesh state, where polling took place last month.
Political experts in India believe the results on Dec. 8 would also offer a clue to Modi's popularity amid issues like inflation and unemployment.
“BJP is likely to rule the state again," Sarvesh Dutt, who teaches media studies at a Delhi-based university, told Anadolu Agency. "The result would also offer a clue to the party's prospects in the upcoming general elections in 2024."
In the last provincial elections, the BJP won 99 out of 182 total seats. India's main opposition Indian National Congress secured 77 seats.
Dutt also said the earlier election was traditionally a contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party and Indian National Congress.
“This time the entry of the Aam Aadmi Party in the polls has made the contest triangular,” he said.
The Aam Aadmi Party is ruling the national capital New Delhi and the northern Punjab state.
The Congress party has witnessed drubbing in a number of regional elections over the last few years.
Also, a “Bharat Jodo Yatra” (Unite India March) by senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who is traveling from the south to the north on foot, has raised hopes for the party's revival ahead of general elections in 2024.