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The BBC's South Asia correspondent Mike Woolridge
"Supporters arrive for the final election rallies"
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The BBC's Jill Mcgivering
"Some see this as an important mid-term test of public opinion"
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Wednesday, 9 May, 2001, 14:15 GMT 15:15 UK
State polls could test BJP
Prime Minister Vajpayee in Calcutta
Mr Vajpayee's image is tarnished by a bribery scandal
By Seema Chishti in Delhi

Nearly 200 million voters will be going to the polls on 10 May in the states of Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry.

Key contenders
Assam: Asom Gana Parishad-BJP against Congress

West Bengal: Left Front against Congress-Trinamool

Tamil Nadu: DMK-BJP against AIADMK alliance (includes Congress)

Kerala: Left Democratic Front against Congress-led UDF

Pondicherry: Congress against two opposition alliances.
Opinion polls are anxious to predict the outcome in the different states.

But so far, only West Bengal is predicted to go to the ruling Left Front coalition once again, while the other four states are by and large expected to show strong support for the Congress party - leaving the BJP out of the picture.

Leaders of the BJP-led ruling coalition in Delhi have made it clear that as far as they are concerned, the results of these state elections do not amount to a referendum on their time in office so far.

Tarnished image

But in the light of the way the battlelines between the BJP and the opposition Congress party have been drawn, the results of these elections - in so far as they could go the way of Congress - could in reality place a great deal of strain on an already fractious coalition.

George Fernandes
George Fernandes: A casualty of the defence scandal
The recent defence scandal which led to the resignation of the Defence Minister, George Fernandes, has already severely dented Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's personal reputation and the image of the BJP.

Analysts say that if regional members of the ruling coalition, such as the DMK in Tamil Nadu, do badly in the polls, it will strengthen the image of a BJP-led coalition as a weak and unsuccessful political force.

However, it is not as if all is well within the Congress camp either.

The party is directly in conflict with many left-wing parties such as the Communists, with whom it has tried but failed to align itself to fight off the BJP-led alliance.

Congress ambitions

In this election campaign, left-wing parties have spared no opportunity to criticise the Congress for what they say is a tacit alliance between the party and the BJP in the southern state of Kerala.

Congress supporter
Congress may find it hard to gain ground
They also accuse Congress of supporting an anti-left wing coalition in West Bengal.

But another possible outcome is that these elections may lead to the further strengthening of parties which are aligned neither to the Congress nor to the BJP.

The presence of these parties together, while not amounting to a winning combination, could eventually stand in the way of Congress' ambitions.

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14 Mar 01 | South Asia
Scandal threatens Indian coalition
14 Mar 01 | South Asia
Heads roll in India bribery scandal
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