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A top opposition leader in India’s electorally important state of Uttar Pradesh predicts a big win for his party, saying young and poor voters are turning against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party. 

Akhilesh Yadav, leader of the Samajwadi Party — the biggest opposition group in Uttar Pradesh — said Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party won’t repeat its past success in India’s parliamentary elections ending June 1. He didn’t provide any polling data to support his views, which were based on feedback from party workers and turnout at political rallies for the opposition.

“The BJP route to power was through Uttar Pradesh, now they are losing all seats and that will be their end,” Yadav said in an interview Tuesday at a political rally in Bhadohi, a rural town in the eastern part of the state.

Of the 543 seats contested in India’s parliamentary elections, 80 seats come from Uttar Pradesh, making it the state with the largest number of lawmakers. The northern region is the heartland of the Hindi belt, a stronghold for the BJP, which won 62 seats there in the 2019 elections.

Modi had set an ambitious target that the BJP and its allies would win 400 seats in the parliamentary elections, increasing the coalition’s majority from more than 350 seats in 2019. Slightly lower voter turnout figures, and Modi’s turn towards sharper and more divisive rhetoric, have raised doubts about the BJP’s support. Uncertainty about the results has crept into financial markets as well, with stock market volatility rising in recent weeks. 

Amit Shah, India’s home minister and key Modi ally, sought to dismiss those doubts, telling a rally in Odisha state on Tuesday that “Modi has crossed 310 seats” already, and the coalition will aim to reach 400 in the final two phases of voting, set to take place on May 25 and June 1. The votes will be counted on June 4. 

Dayashankar Mishra, an Uttar Pradesh state minister from the ruling BJP, said Tuesday that Modi remains popular and the BJP will easily reach its electoral goals. Citizens have benefitted in the past 10 years from the BJP’s policies, such as a free food program, and support measures targeted toward farmers and women, he said in an interview in Varanasi, the Hindu holy city where Modi is contesting the election. 

Yadav, in his interview, said that voters in the province are turning against the BJP because of a lack of jobs, especially for young people, the high cost of living, and concerns that the ruling party may dilute affirmative action policies for lower-caste individuals. His party has traditionally drawn its support from lower caste voters and Muslims. 

At the rally in Bhadohi, Yadav claimed that his party and allies will win all 80 seats up for grabs in Uttar Pradesh. While that’s unlikely, if the BJP loses significant support in the state to Yadav’s party, he’ll emerge as a key player in the alliance.   

Yadav was in Bhadohi to campaign on behalf of a candidate from the Trinamool Congress, who is standing in the constituency against the incumbent winner from the BJP. To dent the BJP’s support in the elections, the opposition alliance, comprising of more than 20 political parties, have agreed not to contest seats against each other.

Yadav said opposition groups were aligned on policy priorities if they came to power: they plan to waive loans for farmers, create more government jobs and conduct a caste survey nationwide to better target affirmative action policies.

He said the alliance hasn’t yet chosen a candidate for prime minister, but will do so once the results are known.

“We are yet to finalize one face,” he said. “We have so many faces, but they have only one face,” he added, referring to Modi, who has emerged as an increasingly dominant figure in the BJP, with the party even labeling its manifesto Modi’s Guarantee.

--With assistance from Swati Gupta.

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