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Politics

Electoral gains boost Modi's reform prospects

A convincing election victory in the state of Assam has restored some of the magic critics said had worn off Prime Minister Narendra Modi since his election in 2014. (Photo by Yuji Kuronuma)

NEW DELHI -- Strengthening prospects for economic reform in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party has performed strongly in recent state elections, with a clear win in Assam and significant gains elsewhere.

The BJP has been in power for two years, and Assam has been under the sway of the Indian National Congress party since 2001.

Unofficial tallies broadcast on local TV channels on Thursday show the BJP and its allies securing at least 85 out of 126 seats in Assam, the biggest state in the northeast. The underdeveloped state has been troubled by illegal immigration from neighboring Bangladesh, an issue the BJP aired in the run-up to voting.  

Describing the victory in Assam as "historic" and "phenomenal," an elated Modi said the BJP will do everything possible to fulfill the dreams and aspirations of its people and promote development.

The win takes the BJP beyond its strongholds in India's north and west, and comes as a morale booster after the party lost back-to-back elections in Delhi and Bihar last year. Critics then said Modi's magic was waning.

The southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Puducherry, and West Bengal in the east, also voted in April and May. The counts only began on Thursday, and the BJP never had strong presences there but has improved vote share.        

Apart from losing Assam, the INC was voted out in Kerala, defeated by the opposition Left Democratic Front. It won smaller Puducherry.

Modi tweeted that Indians are placing their faith in the BJP, and see it as the party of "all-round" and "inclusive" development.

The BJP's general election victory in 2014 gave it a majority in the lower house, but it remained weak in the upper house where members are elected through state legislatures. State elections are therefore key to an increased presence in the upper house.  

The crucial goods and services tax that is meant to forge a common market for India was passed by the lower house last year, but has been stuck in the upper house with the INC demanding amendments.

BJP President Amit Shah attributed the INC's recent poor showing to its efforts to hinder the Modi government's development agenda.

"The strengthening of support for the BJP at the local level should make it easier for policies at the national level to filter into individual states," said Capital Economics, a macroeconomic research firm.

"This mandate will help further the development agenda in these states, with good governance and policy reforms taking center-stage," said Harshavardhan Neotia, president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. "This will restore investor confidence and help attract greater investments, and create more employment opportunities."

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