India's Narendra Modi leads his party to victory in a state with more than 200 million people

Voters in the populous state of Uttar Pradesh handed the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narenda Modi a powerful endorsement with two years left before national elections in India.

In the biggest election in the world this year — in terms of population, at least — India’s governing Hindu nationalist party recorded a massive victory that underscored the widespread popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Led by Modi’s vigorous campaigning, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, won 325 of 403 state assembly seats in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, easily dethroning a powerful incumbent party and shrugging off the effects of the prime minister’s controversial decision to withdraw most of India’s cash from circulation in November.

The demonetization measure, which Modi said would reduce corruption in the form of undeclared assets and modernize India’s economy, had the greatest impact on daily wage earners, leading some experts to predict that the BJP would struggle among the state’s large lower middle class.

But Saturday’s results in Uttar Pradesh — home to more than 200 million people, more than all but five countries — suggested that the move was far more popular than analysts and political opponents had expected and sets Modi up well for national elections due in just over two years.

“People like leaders who take risks,” said Rajdeep Sardesai, a prominent television journalist. “The fact is Modi still enjoys credibility and trust from an average voter. If nearly three years into his term, he has won U.P. on his image, then Modi can look at 2019 with confidence.”

In other state assembly results announced Saturday, the BJP won a sizable majority in rural Uttarakhand state but fell short in the northern farming state of Punjab, which was won by the opposition Indian National Congress. No party won a majority in two smaller states, Goa and Manipur.

The results could help Modi’s party gain ground in the upper house of parliament, whose composition is dictated in part by state assemblies, and whose current members have stymied many of Modi’s economic reform proposals, saying they would hurt the poor.

The BJP controls 13 of India’s 29 state assemblies, but by far the biggest prize is Uttar Pradesh, where it had not held a majority since 1991.

In barely three years in power, Modi’s swaggering style and promises of economic change have made him a towering national leader in a country where politics often are dictated by caste and region.

In some of the remotest villages of Uttar Pradesh, where the demonetization policy was thought to have caused the most disruption, many voters said that even though they were struggling, they supported the move because it took on the dishonest rich.

Because of the large numbers of voters, balloting took place in several phases starting Feb. 11. Speaking before she cast her ballot last month in rural Amethi, a bastion of the rival congress, Shraddha Tiwari, a 20-year-old arts student, said Modi had gone after people who had stashed so-called black money in their homes.

“Modi is decisive,” she said. “Even if it had an adverse impact on some of us, it was important for the larger good of the country.”

Article India's Narendra Modi leads his party to victory in a state with more than 200 million people compiled by www.latimes.com

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