Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party lost an election in a key state he visited frequently before the recent virus surge forced him off the campaign trail, adding to growing signs of a backlash over his government’s handling of the world’s worst Covid-19 outbreak.
In West Bengal, incumbent Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s All India Trinamool Congress won around 72% of 292 seats up for grabs, while Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party took 77, according to results posted on the Election Commission of India on Monday. Last month, the prime minister predicted his party would win more than 200 seats in the state, which held voting over eight phases starting on March 27.
Modi’s opponents won in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, while his party kept power in the northeastern state of Assam and gained the federally-controlled territory of Puducherry, where it contested in alliance with a regional party. He conceded West Bengal in a series of posts on Twitter, congratulating Banerjee while also noting the BJP made gains in the state. India’s S&P BSE Sensex fell 1.1% to 48,248.64 at 9:25 am in Mumbai, on course for a one-week low. The benchmark gauge gained 1% so far this year.
The focus now will be how well policy makers are able to minimise the socio-economic cost of Covid-19, said Madhavi Arora, an economist at Emkay Global Financial Services Ltd.
“It could also have implications for 2022 state elections,” Arora said, including the major BJP-held states of Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.
Grim scenes of overcrowded crematoriums and pleas for oxygen have overshadowed the election in recent weeks, with Modi coming under fire for campaigning in front of huge crowds as infections were spiraling. Daily deaths in India hit a record 3,689 on May 2, while the number of cases slowed slightly after the country became the first to cross the mark of 400,000 cases in a day.
“As three strongly anti-BJP regional leaders have emerged victorious, they are likely to be the nucleus of the opposition challenge to Modi in the months ahead as he battles the backlash to his mismanagement of the Covid crisis,” said Arati Jerath, a New Delhi-based author and political analyst who has written about Indian politics for nearly three decades. The results weaken the government and indicate there are “huge political and constitutional challenges ahead for Modi.”
India’s coronavirus surge leaves another 7 million people jobless
India’s unemployment rate rose to a four-month high of nearly 8% in April, and the outlook remains weak with state administrations extending lockdowns to curb a record surge in virus cases.
Unemployment increased to 7.97% from 6.5% in March, with more than seven million jobs lost last month, according to data from Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy Pvt, a private research firm.
“There is a fall in the jobs available. This could be due to the lockdowns,” CMIE Managing Director Mahesh Vyas said.
“Since the virus is still quite intense and we are stressed on the medical health-services front, it’s likely that the situation will remain tense in May as well.” Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who announced a strict lockdown in March 2020 that resulted in millions of lost jobs and a record contraction in economic output, now is urging states to use such measures only as a last resort.