Sat Feb 4, 2017 10:40AM
Polling officials in India collect electronic voting machines at a distribution center on the eve of the state assembly elections in Dera Bassi in the northern state of Punjab, Feb. 3, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)
Polling officials in India collect electronic voting machines at a distribution center on the eve of the state assembly elections in Dera Bassi in the northern state of Punjab, Feb. 3, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

Millions of Indians in two of the country’s main states have taken to the polls in key legislative elections seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity.

More than 40 million voters were eligible to cast their ballots to elect a total of 157 legislators in the northern state of Punjab and Goa in the west on Saturday.

Hundreds of thousands of electoral officials and police forces were deployed in the two states to ensure violence-free polling.

Three other states, including the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, will elect new governments over the next five weeks. The final results are to be announced on March 11.

The elections come amid national polarization over Modi’s controversial decision that withdrew India's two high-value currency bank notes from circulation last year, sparking months of financial uproar in the vast South Asian country.

Voters are also outraged over the prime minister’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which attempts to push through its Hindu ideology and revamp Indian labor laws.

Recent opinion polls show victory for the ruling party, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, where its primary rivals are regional factions. In the other four states, the BJP faces national opposition parties, such as Congress.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks to media as he arrives for the Budget session of parliament in New Delhi on January 31, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Uttar Pradesh is deemed important because the state sends the highest number of MPs to the upper house of the national parliament, where the BJP currently lacks a majority.

In case of winning more seats in the parliament, the Indian premier would initiate reforms seen as crucial to enhance the economic growth he has already promised voters.

The elections in the five states will not decide whether Modi remains in office or not; however, a defeat would be seen as a major blow to his political image.