10/12/2004, 00.00
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Elections in Maharastra, a test for Congress

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Voters in Maharashtra (western India) are set to go to the polls tomorrow October 13 to elect the 288 members of the State Assembly. Mumbai is the state's capital.

This is the first major test for the Congress Party, which was voted back into power in last May Union elections.

Whilst opinion polls give Congress–NCP an edge over its fundamentalist rivals in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiv Sena alliance, the latter are working hard to give the ruling coalition a run for its money in many Mumbai constituencies. Big money and local mafias have traditionally dominated local elections and many social activists are already claiming that criminals have hijacked the electoral process.

Given the BJP's and the Shiv Sena's Hindu-centric and nationalist reputation, the unpalatable prospect of living under their rule has pushed religious and tribal minorities to back the more secular Congress-NCP coalition. Still, in the last few days both the BJP and the Shiv Sena have been using religious symbols to get Christians to vote for them.

Since these elections are seen as a crucial test for the whole country many prominent political leaders from outside the state have stepped into the fray –incumbent Chief Ministers, former chief ministers, Union ministers, MP's– and campaigned for their respective parties.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed rallies in Mumbai as did Kerala's Chief Minister, Oommen Chandy. Controversial Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi tried to woo voters on behalf of BJP candidates.

The Congress is banking heavily on Sonia Gandhi who covered almost every corner of the State, descending on Mumbai on the last day of campaigning. (NC)

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