LUCKNOW, India (AP) — Election officials across five Indian states Tuesday began counting votes in crucial provincial elections that are being seen as a test of strength for the country's ruling Congress party.
The most critical results are expected from the country's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. Rahul Gandhi, touted as Congress' next prime ministerial candidate, has campaigned there relentlessly for months to oust the government of Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party, which represents dalits, the country's lowest caste.
Poor numbers could seriously handicap the national government in the last two years of its term and be an indicator of how the party will fare in the next federal polls. They would also deal a blow to Gandhi's credibility as a serious national leader.
He is a member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has dominated Indian politics for the most part since independence from Britain in 1947. His mother is Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born Congress party president; his father, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated in 1991. The family is not related to independence leader Mohandas Gandhi.
The other states that will elect new governments are northern Punjab and Uttarakhand, the insurgency-wracked northeastern state of Manipur, and coastal Goa state. Manipur and Goa are ruled by the Congress party, while Punjab and Uttarakhand are ruled by opposition parties.
Results are expected to start trickling in around 10:30 a.m. local time (0430 GMT).
The massive elections in the five states were spread out across seven phases, from early February to March 3 and saw a high voter turnout, with at least 60 percent of the electorate voting in each state.