India's ruling party asked to form government in southern state despite lack of majority

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s ruling party was on Wednesday asked to form a government in the southern state of Karnataka, sparking criticism from the opposition who said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party did not win enough seats to take power.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as the single largest party in state elections in Karnataka, winning 104 seats in the 225-member assembly but falling short of an outright majority.

The main opposition Congress party forged a post-poll alliance with a regional party and told the state governor it had a combined tally of at least 117 seats and should be allowed to form the government in the state.

On Wednesday, the governor sided with the BJP however, asking it to form a government and prove its majority within 15 days in the assembly, according to a copy of a letter posted by the party on Twitter.

Congress spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala criticized the governor’s decision, saying it “cannot sustain the scrutiny of the constitution or the test of law”. Indian television channels reported that Congress was planning to approach the Supreme Court late in the night to challenge the governor’s decision.

Karnataka, with a population of 66 million, is home to the technology hub of Bengaluru. It is the first major state electing an assembly this year, and will be followed by three more.

A strong showing by Modi’s BJP in Karnataka has given him momentum for a re-election bid in next year’s national polls and opened a path for more reforms, analysts say.

A BJP government in Karnataka will also help Modi silence critics who said his popularity had waned after the implementation of a nationwide sales tax and a ban on high-value bank notes late in 2016.

If it succeeds, the BJP and its allies would govern 22 of India’s 29 states.

Reporting by Aditi Shah and Sudarshan Varadhan in New Delhi; Editing by Hugh Lawson