New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Over the next five weeks, voters will cast their ballot in state-wide legislative elections in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and its outcome will decide India’s future. Opinion polls indicate an almost even split between the state’s two major parties.
With 403 seats up for grabs, thousands of candidates are fighting for a seat. But they will have to wait a bit to find out whether they won because voting is held in seven phases spread over more than month.
The state, which has a population of 175 million, also holds 80 seats in the Lok Sabha (House of People or lower house), who play a crucial role in determining who holds power in New Delhi.
But Uttar Pradesh is going through hard times. Once India’s textile hub, it is now behind other states, whilst corruption among politicians is getting out of hand. Making matters worse the authorities seem unable to get a grip over spiralling crime. In Noida district, serial rapes and murders of dozens of children and women have shocked the country.
The state's report card in the field of health is dismal with widespread child malnutrition, a high number of polio cases, hundreds of children dying every year from encephalitis and a maternal mortality rate of 700 or more per 100,000 live births as against a national average of 407.
In the last elections, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (Socialist) had won. In Delhi it backs the ruling, Congress-led coalition government. However, Yadav’s critics say there is nothing socialist about his lifestyle. Last month, the Indian Supreme Court ordered an inquiry into the sources of his wealth.
His main rival is the Bahujan Samaj Party leader, Mayawati—a Dalit woman of humble origin known for her penchant for expensive jewels whose current assets run into the millions dollars. Her party backs Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
If pre-election opinion polls are to be believed, the state is more or less evenly split with just a handful of votes likely to make the difference.
However last month parties that backed the ruling coalition government in the federal capital suffered setbacks in other state elections. Many experts believe that any major loss in Uttar Pradesh could lead to a political crisis that might favour the return of the BJP to power.