May 15, 2018 / 4:00 AM / 9 months ago

Modi's party, Congress in close fight in Indian state - early vote count

NEW DELHI, May 15 (Reuters) - India’s ruling party was running neck-and-neck with the main opposition Congress in a southern state on Monday, an early vote count showed, in an election seen as a measure of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity ahead of general elections next year.

Karnataka, now ruled by the Congress party, is home to India’s Silicon Valley capital of Bengaluru. It is the first big state electing an assembly this year and will be followed by three more.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was leading in 76 seats in the elections to the 225-seat assembly in Karnataka, versus 74 for Congress, the Times Now news channel said. Another channel, NDTV, showed the BJP leading in 62 seats and Congress in 63.

Investors are watching the contest closely as they worry a loss for Modi would force him to double down on populist measures, such as extending farm loan waivers a year before the 2019 elections.

If Modi failed to capture the state, that would re-energise Congress under Rahul Gandhi, the fifth-generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that is trying to exploit dissatisfaction over a lack of jobs for young people and rising fuel prices.

Both Gandhi and Modi addressed rallies across the state to drum up support. (Reporting by Aditya Kalra Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Clarence Fernandez)

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