India's Modi faces test with Bihar elections starting next month

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 09, 2015 6:10 AM

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces a major test of his popularity next month as he tries to win power in the third most-populous state with a promise of economic development in a region where caste allegiances are traditionally dominant.Bihar, a state of more than 100 million people, will hold state assembly elections over five phases from Oct. 12 to Nov. 5, the election commission announced on Wednesday. Votes will be counted on Nov. 8.A defeat for Modi would harm his chances of consolidating power in parliament, where his reform agenda is being blocked because his party is in the minority in the upper house.The election will be a contest between Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party and regional political parties that campaign for the empowerment of lower caste Hindus and the minority Muslim community.Modi needs to win most state elections in the next four years to gain control of the upper house, where seats are distributed based on the strength of parties in state assemblies.Modi swept to power last year on expectations he would accelerate an economic transformation but is struggling to build support for reforms, such as a business-friendly land bill and passage of the biggest overhaul of taxes since independence.

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(Reporting By Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Robert Birsel)