11/14/2008, 00.00
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One hundred million Indians to vote, test for government and Hindu nationalist opposition

Six states are renewing their legislatures. The Congress Party faces a test before next year’s federal elections. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s party is seeking reassuring results against Hindu nationalists. Tensions and clashes with Maoist groups have taken place in Chhattisgarh as security alert is high in Jammu and Kashmir 17 November elections for. Some Christians are running for office to give minorities a greater voice.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – About 100 million voters will go to the polls from 14 November till 4 December to elect six state legislatures. The election will allow Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s ruling Congress Party to test its strength against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu nationalist party that dominates the opposition in the Union parliament but which is in power in several states.

Voting will start in Chhattisgarh (14 November), followed by Jammu and Kashmir (17 November), Madhya Pradesh (27 November), Delhi (29 November), Mizoram (2 December) and finally Rajasthan (4 December).

Based on the electoral system results from five states will be announced on 8 December; Jammu and Kashmir are a case apart and results there are expected on 28 December.

Before polling stations opened in Chhattisgarh police and Maoist groups, which are also present 12 other states, exchanged gunfire.

Militant Islamic groups and a strong BJP presence are also a reason to fear violence.

Many of the states going to the polls are high security areas, above all Kashmir where separatist groups have been engaged in open warfare against the central government.

The elections have also given religious and ethnic minorities an opportunity to gain visibility. Two Christian leaders are running for a bloc that wants to oust the BJP from the government of Madhya Pradesh.

A new party has also been formed to defend the rights of religious minorities. The India Minority Front was founded in the capital earlier this month and joins six other Christian parties already in existence, small, mostly southern-based parties which lack however enough exposure to be competitive nation-wide.

Analysts do not expect any major change in these elections. According to Nadendla Bhaskara Rao, chairman of the Centre for Media Studies, a policy group in New Delhi, “Congress will pay for rising prices in some states, while the BJP will have local issues turning against them in others.”

Overall Congress should hold onto Delhi and take Rajasthan from the BJP. The Hindu nationalist party should instead have no problems in hanging onto Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.

No majority is expected in Jammu and Kashmir.

The story is different in Mizoram; here the Mizo National Front is expected to be re-elected.

For some observers of India’s domestic political scene, if Congress has a good showing this might push party leaders to call for early elections in February. Otherwise they will wait until the present federal parliament comes to its natural end after five years.

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