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Vote count shows India’s ruling party heading for rout in state polls

NEW DELHI : India's ruling party lost a key state election yesterday, the vote count showed, in its first electoral test since deadly anti-government protests erupted nearly two months ago.

The Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already lost a string of state elections.

The protests, in which at least 25 people have been killed, erupted across the country in mid-December, after the BJP passed a new citizenship law critics say violates India's secular constitution and discriminates against minority Muslims.

In counting for state polls held in India's capital New Delhi, data from India's Election Commission showed the liberal Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), led by the city's chief minister, Mr Arvind Kejriwal, leading in 63 out of 70 seats, as of press time.

PAKISTAN

The BJP ran a campaign accusing protesters of supporting India's arch-rival Pakistan and was projected to win 13 seats, up from three in 2015 but far below its own expectations.

The party's local chief Manoj Tiwari had predicted it would win a majority.

AAP activists in distinctive white boat-shaped caps danced outside party headquarters in New Delhi as the result became clear, TV channels showed.

Assistant professor Neelanjan Sircar at Ashoka University near New Delhi, said that local issues, including delivery of basic services like education and health, appeared to sway voters towards the AAP, even as the BJP ran a polarising campaign on the back of Mr Modi's image.

"Modi is a larger-than-life character at the national level, which obviously gives the BJP a huge advantage in national politics," Prof Sircar said.

"But it doesn't translate to state level politics, where the BJP often doesn't have a charismatic face."

Bespectacled former bureaucrat Kejriwal, 51, formed AAP in 2012 amid an anti-corruption movement that swept India.

The party won a stunning victory in 2015 state elections in the capital, wiping out the BJP and Congress, the party that has ruled India for half its post-independence history.

The Congress - the main opposition at national level - was projected to win no seats in Delhi yesterday, reflecting the deep decline in its fortunes. - REUTERS

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