NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party could be crushed by an opposition alliance in the country’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh in a general election, which is due by May, according to an opinion poll released yesterday. The India Today-Karvy Insights Mood of the Nation poll forecast that the number of seats held by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and an ally could plummet to just 5 from the 73 it won in the last election in 2014 if most of the opposition parties, including the Congress party, team up to take on Modi.

That would mean they would have to agree on only one opposition candidate to fight the BJP in each constituency. A recently formed alliance between three regional parties in the state could win 58 seats without Congress joining it, the poll showed. BJP and its ally would win 18 seats in that scenario and Congress would have 4. Uttar Pradesh sends 80 lawmakers to the lower house of parliament, the most for any state in India. A total of 2,478 people were polled in Uttar Pradesh, which has a population of about 220 million, for the survey.

The shock poll comes after the BJP lost elections in five state assemblies late last year, including three that it had controlled, largely because of rural anger about low farm incomes tied to weak crop prices and amid concerns about a lack of job creation. Following the losses, Modi is considering a series of vote-catching measures, including directly transferring money to farmers, that may cost more than 1 trillion rupees, according to government sources.

Congress, meanwhile, appointed its President Rahul Gandhi’s charismatic younger sister to a senior party position that party officials say will help to energize its campaign. Priyanka – whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all prime ministers – was appointed Congress party chief in the east of Uttar Pradesh. She will report to Rahul, a fellow scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, who heads the main opposition party that ruled India for much of its post-independence history.

Priyanka, 47, is popular within Congress but the reigns were passed to her older brother Rahul when their mother Sonia stepped back from the helm in 2017.
Rahul, 48, said he was “very happy that my sister, who is very capable and hardworking, will now work with me”, as Congress campaigns in a tough election. “Congress is not going to be on (the) back foot. It will be on the front foot,” the opposition leader told reporters. Priyanka is expected to assume her duties in February, the party said in a statement.

She will oversee the party’s campaign in eastern Uttar Pradesh, home to Modi’s constituency in the holy Hindu city of Varanasi. But the region is more than just symbolic. Uttar Pradesh is the heartland of Hindi-speaking India, a bellweather state and the country’s most populous. Victory in Uttar Pradesh is a key stepping stone to forming a national government.

Though she has campaigned informally in past elections, Priyanka’s official elevation to a key Congress post was seen as a long time in the making. Some party loyalists see Priyanka as more affable and charismatic than her older brother, and had long lobbied for her to play a bigger role. Rahul’s leadership credentials were hammered in the wake of 2014, when Congress was thumped in the polls by Modi and his BJP.
Modi won a record mandate and stormed to victory with the Hindu nationalist BJP, gaining ground with decisive wins in key states including Uttar Pradesh, as Gandhi’s stewardship took a battering. But the Congress leader has bounced back, with the party taking back three heartland states from the BJP in December, delivering momentum as the national election looms. Priyanka’s appointment comes as Congress was left out of an opposition alliance against Modi between two regional parties in Uttar Pradesh in recent weeks. – Agencies