India’s 2022 state elections: What’s at stake for the BJP

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath waits to address an election rally in Shamli, India, on Feb. 5. (Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP)

NEW DELHI — Five states in India will head to the polls beginning Thursday to kick off a high-stakes election season that experts say is likely to determine the political direction of the world’s largest democracy — and the fortunes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

More than 180 million voters — greater than the population of Russia — are eligible to cast ballots in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa. The BJP is in power in four of the states, which several opposition parties are seeking to recapture.

The prize catch is Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state. A flat expanse in northern India, Uttar Pradesh is home to some of the country’s poorest communities, but given its size often holds the key to power in New Delhi.

The elections this time are being held under the shadow of the pandemic, with restrictions on rallies and public meetings. Last year, Indian officials were criticized by health experts for conducting state elections despite signs that a second wave was taking hold in the country.

Here’s what you need to know about these elections.