Bullet train project in jeopardy

India's richest state was yesterday set to be ruled by parties opposed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), jeopardising a Japanese-backed bullet-train project opposed by farmers.

The BJP's inability to pull together voters in the western state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, has meant that three parties, including a former BJP ally, were set to form the government.

Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, 59, was scheduled to take oath as the 18th chief minister of Maharashtra yesterday.

His appointment came more than a month after results of the assembly elections were declared on Oct 24, reported India Today.

Soon after the results came in, Mr Thackeray reminded ally BJP of its promise to share the chief minister's post. But BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis denied that such a promise had been made.

An enraged Thackeray called off government-formation talks, saying he could not tolerate being dubbed a liar.

The falling apart led to the formation of an unlikely alliance between the Sena on one hand and ideologically-divergent Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) on the other.

That is a major setback for Mr Modi after his landslide victory in general elections this year.

It could also hinder the bullet train project, a US$17 billion investment largely financed by a long-term, low-cost loan from Japan.

The BJP was in power in both Maharashtra and Gujarat when work began on the project in 2017.

"We have always opposed the bullet train," said Ms Manisha Kayande, a spokesperson for the Shiv Sena. "Our state is giving a major chunk of money for the project, when most of the track is in another state. This will definitely be re-framed."

The train will run the 508km from Mumbai to Ahmedabad, the main city in Gujarat.

But it has run into obstacles acquiring land amid opposition from fruit farmers.

Any delay in the project is likely to undermine investor confidence at a time when growth in India has slowed to its weakest pace in years.

Critics say India does not need the high-speed train and investment should go instead to improve the existing network.

"We are not against development or infrastructure projects, but at the same time farmers' interests can't be ignored. We will rethink about projects that farmers are opposing," said a senior leader of the NCP.

The authorities have acquired 548 hectares out of the total requirement of 1,380 and the project is targeted to be operational by 2023, the government told parliament in July.

Protests against land acquisitions are common in India, where tens of millions of farmers till small holdings. A planned US$44 billion refinery to be run by a consortium including Saudi Arabia's Aramco, the world's biggest oil producer, is also struggling to secure land in Maharashtra.



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