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    People watch Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the nation, on television in Hyderabad, India, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016

    Crucial State Polls to Test Modi’s Post-Demonetization Popularity

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    Elections in India’s most populous state UP will be a litmus test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity after he played the bold gambit of demonetization.

    New Delhi (Sputnik) India's Election Commission (EC) on Wednesday announced elections to state assemblies in five key states of Uttar Pradesh (UP), Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa. The elections come soon after the Central Government's demonetization drive that began on 8 November and analysts claim they will test Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity, particularly in, Uttar Pradesh.

    The state of Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state with over 200 million people sends the highest number of representatives to both Chambers of Indian Parliament. In the May 2014 federal elections, Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nearly swept the board, winning 73 seats out of 80. This stupendous performance from UP helped it win ts biggest-ever majority in Lok Sabha, the lower Chamber of Parliament.

    A repeat of the federal success in state elections would help the BJP wrest control of the Rajya Sabha, the upper Chamber of Parliament, making it easier for the party to pass key reforms.

    Modi's popularity had won the BJP a majority in the 2014 Lok Sabha (federal) elections. But the saffron party (a nomenclature for BJP's Hindutva agenda) has not been in power in UP for 15 years, having ceded s political space to regional parties such as the ruling Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

    With Modi's charisma and the relative weakening of the two regional parties due to infighting and corruption allegations, BJP is hoping to come back to power this time. A massive crowed turned up at Modi's public rally in the UP's capital Lucknow on Monday. Even Modi acknowledged the massive crowd: "I am stunned by the size of the audience; this is the largest rally I have ever seen."

    Modi and the BJP leaders believe that the government's demonetisation drive which took out 86 per cent of the cash from the economy will benefit the ruling regime. A BJP spokesperson GVL Narshima Rao claims a "positive undercurrent" for the BJP after the currency note ban.

    The Opposition parties agree that currency note ban will be the central issue in state assembly elections but in a negative way because of the distress it has caused to the poor. "The notes ban has caused the maximum pain to each of the 1.25 billion Indians," said Manish Tewari, Congress Party spokesperson. The dark horse in Uttar Pradesh could be the BSP, which bases its support among the most marginalized sections.

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