Polling stations open in Mizoram and Chhattisgarh, a rehearsal for the 2024 national elections

Millions of voters are called to the polls to renew the legislative assemblies in five states. The vote is seen as a test ahead of next year’s national elections, especially for the Indian National Congress, which leads the opposition coalition against the ruling BJP.

Raipur (AsiaNews) – Millions of people are called to vote today in the northeastern state of Mizoram and in the central state of Chhattisgarh to renew their respective legislative assemblies.

This will start a series of five elections seen as a test for the opposition coalition INDIA, which will challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in next year’s national elections.

In Chhattisgarh, 20 out of 90 seats will be elected today, while the other 70 will be chosen on 17 November. Elections will also be held in Madhya Pradesh on 17 November. Rajasthan will go to the polls on 25 November and Telangana on 30 November.

All election results will be announced by 3 December at the earliest. Analysts expect this round of voting to be a prelude to what might happen in countrywide elections in 2024.

After interethnic clashes broke out in neighbouring Manipur in May, some 12,000 people have moved to Mizoram seeking shelter from the violence, government figures show.

Last month Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga, leader of the National Mizo Front (MNF), criticised the BJP-led central government (which is in power in Manipur) for its handling of the crisis.

The MFN returned to power in 2018, defeating the Indian National Congress (INC) after ten years.

Zoramthanga is seeking re-election; his main rivals are the INC and the Zoram People's Movement (ZPM), a party created in 2017 and which came second in the last elections ahead of the INC. A majority of 21 is needed in the 40-seat Mizoram Legislative Assembly.

The BJP, which is also taking part in the election, doesn't seem to have much of a chance. In 2018, it won only one seat, and this year it is running only 23 candidates.

Two hours before the polls close, the State Election Commission reported a record turnout of almost 70 per cent.

The situation is more complicated in Chhattisgarh, one of only four states governed by the INC, where the BJP is the main rival.

Several constituencies are located in Bastar, a region considered a stronghold of Maoist insurgents.

Three people were injured yesterday in Kanker, a local district, in an explosion and this morning, another Improvised Explosive Device (IED) injured a member of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Sukma district.

Additional police and paramilitary forces have been deployed today, and voting will stop at 3 pm rather than 5 pm as usual. However, 126 polling stations have also been added in areas that were previously inaccessible due to armed rebellion, police said.

“To detect the influence of Maoists in the worst-hit areas, drones will also be used extensively, particularly in the four districts of Dantewada, Bijapur, Sukma and Narayanpur,” said Bastar Inspector General of Police P Sundar Raj.

Former Prime Minister and BJP leader Raman Singh is among the key candidates in this first round of voting in Chhattisgarh, but the leaders of the INC, which won 19 of the 20 seats in the first phase of the election five years ago, are confident:

“We are banking on our work in the last five years and the promises we have made in our manifesto,” said INC spokesperson RP Singh.

During the election campaign, the INC announced a series of welfare measures for women, farmers, and tribal communities, and sought to outflank the BJP by paying farmers higher rice prices.

For its part, the BJP last week pledged to pay 3,100 rupees per quintal (100 kg, 220 lb) if it came to power.

The state government currently pays 2,600 rupees, a price that is already the highest in the country, but the INC is offering to pay up to 3,200 rupees if re-elected.

The BJP predicts the INC will lose 15 seats in the first phase. “We feel we are ahead in most seats, and have the clear edge in terms of candidates,” said Sacchidanand Upasane, a senior BJP leader.