Vote counting began Sunday in four Indian states in a test of strength for India's opposition pitted against the ruling party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of next year's crucial national vote. Results are expected later in the day.
Elections in the four states — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana — took place last month. Polling in India is generally done in phases owing to the large population.
Vote counting in a fifth state, Mizoram, is expected Monday.
The election results of the five states are expected to give an indication of voter mood ahead of the 2024 national elections in which Modi is eyeing a third consecutive term.
The Indian National Congress, India's main opposition party, holds power in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, rules Madhya Pradesh, and its regional ally, Mizo National Front, is in power in Mizoram. Telangana is ruled by the strong Telangana Rashtra Samithi, known for opposing BJP in the state.
A live feed on the election commission's website shows BJP leading in three states, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, while the Congress is making headway in Telangana, in early ballot counting.
Modi and his party remain popular on a national level after nearly a decade in power and surveys suggest he is expected to win a third term. But a new alliance of 28 opposition parties, called INDIA, is expected to challenge Modi's party nationally. The acronym, which stands for Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, comprises India's previously fractured opposition parties and is led by the Congress party.
Modi flew across the five states and campaigned to support his party's candidates. The Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also traveled across the states to woo voters. The charged-up voting campaigns witnessed both leaders promising voters subsidies, loan waivers and employment guarantees.
Modi will seek reelection next year at a time when India's global diplomatic reach is rising. But in recent polls, Congress has dented his party's image of invincibility by toppling local BJP governments in state elections in southern Karnataka and northern Himachal Pradesh.
The elections come at a time when India is facing multiple challenges; rising unemployment, attacks by Hindu nationalists against the country's minorities, particularly Muslims, and a shrinking space for dissent and free media.