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Four major Indian states to go to the polls amid raging farmer protests

·1-min read
FILE PHOTO: A woman shows her ink-marked finger after casting her vote at a polling station in Majuli

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Four major Indian states are set to go for polls in the next two months in a test of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity amid a raging months-long protest by farmers against three new agricultural laws that have sparked outcry at home and abroad.

The eastern states of Assam and West Bengal and the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala will hold state assembly polls between late March and April, India's Election Commission said in a statement on Friday.

Modi is battling his biggest political challenge in years as tens of thousands of farmers have camped out on the outskirts of New Delhi since late last year, blocking highways and demanding the government repeal the laws they say will harm farmers and benefit large corporate buyers.

But the federal government has refused their demands, saying the laws were crucial to bring new investments into the sector.

The protests have also caught international attention with celebrities such as pop star Rihanna and environmentalist Greta Thunberg announcing their support for the farmers.

Bengal, where Modi's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is up against firebrand leader Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress party, will conduct elections in eight phases starting March 27.

While Assam will complete elections in three phases also beginning March 27, Kerala and Tamil Nadu will hold a one-day poll on April 6. Results will be counted on May 2 in all the states.

(Reporting by Nigam Prusty; Writing by Abhirup Roy; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)