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3 Indian States Hold Regional Elections

By Anjana Pasricha
New Delhi
13 October 2009

In India, voters in three states cast ballots to choose local governments. The polls are seen as a major test for the ruling Congress Party, which won a huge victory in general elections earlier this year.

Stakes are high for the ruling Congress party, which hopes to retain power in all the states which went to the polls Tuesday - the western Maharashtra state, the northern Haryana state and Arunachal Pradesh in the northeast.

The most significant is Maharashtra, one of India's most prosperous states, which the Congress Party has ruled for a decade along with a regional ally.

Ashok Chavan is the state's Chief Minister. Hoping for a third term for the Congress party, he appealed to voters to turn out in numbers.

Polling was largely peaceful, but police said Maoist rebels opened fire near a polling booth in a rebel stronghold in Maharashtra state.

Navy, air force and paramilitary forces stood guard in Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra state, where daring terror attacks last November killed 166 people and raised many questions about the government's lack of preparedness in tackling terror.

Security, rising food prices, and the plight of farmers in areas hit by a drought are key issues which dominated the polls.

The Congress Party hopes a fractured opposition will help it win the polls.

In Maharashtra, the Congress Party is pitted against two Hindu nationalist parties - the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the regional Shiv Sena. All eyes also are on a breakaway Hindu nationalist faction, called the MNS, which has targeted migrants from North India, accusing them of taking away jobs from locals.

A prominent Congress Party lawmaker from Mumbai, Milind Deora, says such issues are of concern to people in a city made up of millions of migrants.

"People are concerned about what kind of an ideology will come back to power, will it be an ideology that will discriminate on the basis of which language you speak, which state you come from, [or] will it be a more inclusive ideology," said Deora.

In Haryana, a prosperous state adjoining the capital, the Congress Party hopes to win a second term in office. The Congress Party is also the dominant force in Arunachal Pradesh - a remote state of which large parts are claimed by China.

Political analysts say a good showing by the Congress Party in these state elections will boost the party, which scored a surprise, thumping victory in general elections in May.

After dominating India's politics for decades, the Congress Party lost much ground in the 1990's, but has steadily recovered in the last six years.

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