Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party is trailing in a key state election that is seen as a test of his popularity and an indication of whether the backlash over his government’s mishandling of the country’s Covid-19 emergency will hurt him at the ballot box.
In West Bengal, incumbent Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s All India Trinamool Congress was ahead in 216 seats, while Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was leading in 74, trends posted on the Election Commission of India website show.
In the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Modi’s opponents were ahead, while the BJP was leading in the northeastern state of Assam and also the federally-controlled territory of Puducherry, where it’s contesting in alliance with a regional party.
BJP leader and federal Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman conceded the election in West Bengal in a Twitter post. The counting of ballots is expected to end on Monday.
The coronavirus pandemic has overshadowed the five assembly elections, and Modi is facing growing criticism over his decision to continue campaigning in front of huge crowds in the battleground state of West Bengal as infections were spiraling.
“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. The results weaken the government and indicate there are “huge political and constitutional challenges ahead for Modi.”
India’s fierce second wave has overwhelmed the nation’s underfunded health system, with infections topping 400,000 on May 1 in another global record and hospitals running out of beds, oxygen and medical supplies. The death toll continues to mount and images of crematoriums working non-stop have flooded newspapers, television and social media.
Sunday’s vote count comes a day after 12 patients including one senior doctor died when a hospital in the capital New Delhi ran out of oxygen — the third such incident in the last 10 days — after sending out desperate calls for help hours earlier.
“We have been raising this kind of alarm to the government, because it is an ongoing situation that is worsening everyday,” Sudhanshu Bankata, the executive director of the Batra Hospital, said by phone.
Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said his administration had told both the courts and the federal government that the state required 976 metric tonnes of oxygen per day but had only been allotted 490 metric tonnes.
“Then how are things supposed to work out?” Kejriwal said in a statement. “Delhi needs oxygen.”
The BJP used these elections to try to expand its footprint in the country’s east and south. The victory for his party in Assam, where a religion-based citizenship act is a major issue, could further embolden the government to implement the controversial law across the country.
In West Bengal, the party was on a war footing to try and unseat Modi’s main challenger Banerjee, who has been outspoken against the prime minister’s pro-Hindu agenda.