Staving off a Congress challenge in its citadel, the BJP retained power in Gujarat with a record sixth straight win and trounced its rival in Himachal Pradesh to wrest the state Monday.
In Gujarat, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi spearheaded a high-octane campaign in his home state, the BJP won 99 seats, going past the halfway mark in the House of 182 where it had a strength of 115 in the last Assembly. The Congress took 77 seats, Independents three, Bhartiya Tribal Party two and the NCP one.
In Himachal Pradesh, the BJP handed the ruling Congress a drubbing, winning 44 of 68 seats. The Congress managed 21 seats, while the CPM took one. Two seats went to Independents.
But the defeat of Prem Kumar Dhumal, the BJP’s chief ministerial face, posed a new problem for the party on who should lead its government in the state now.
Both Modi and BJP president Amit Shah called the results a victory of their party and government’s development agenda. Addressing jubilant party workers at the BJP headquarters Monday evening, Modi raised the slogan of “Jeetega bhai jeetega, Vikas hi jeetega”.
While Himachal Pradesh gave the BJP plenty to cheer about, it was the outcome in Gujarat that was keenly tracked, both by the BJP and its rivals as counting got underway.
The mandate for the BJP, though somewhat reduced, deflected any setback to its reform measures given that the Congress had made the rollout of the GST a major campaign issue and had hoped to cash in on what it called resentment among traders.
In the textile and diamond hub of Surat, the Congress failed to make inroads despite intense campaigning by Rahul Gandhi and Patidar quota agitation leader Hardik Patel. Surat’s diamond industry is powered by migrants from agrarian homes in Amreli, Junagadh, Bhavnagar and Rajkot.
Much of the Congress numbers was powered by the turnaround in Saurashtra where it won 28 seats, up from 15 earlier, besides central and north Gujarat. In Unjha, which also includes Modi’s hometown Vadnagar, Asha Patel of Congress defeated five-term MLA Narayan Patel.
Those voted out included four BJP ministers — Shankar Chaudhary, Atmaram Parmar, Chiman Sapariya and Jasha Barad — and the top brass of Gujarat Congress — Shaktisinh Gohil, Arjun Modhwadia, Siddharth Patel and Tushar Chaudhary.
The victory in Gujarat sent a clear message to the BJP leadership that it will have to tread carefully because its core Hindu vote base appeared to have been shaken, especially after the Congress shed its “pro-minority” image to draw up a “soft Hindutva” strategy.
Speaking to reporters, Shah said: “We have won Himachal with a massive margin. We have won 48.5 per cent votes. It is a 10 per cent jump over our figure in 2012. Himachal wanted to join the vikas bandwagon and this is a result of that.” He said the election was a verdict on the “politics of performance” and the “pro-poor welfare initiatives” of the Modi government.
Modi called the results a green signal for his reform agenda. “Support for BJP shows the nation is ready for the reform agenda… every citizen wants India transformed,” he said.
The BJP attributed the fall in its number of seats in Gujarat to a schism over caste lines — Shah and Modi blamed the Congress for it — and the “low level of campaign by the Congress in which the Prime Minister was abused”.
Shah said the victories had brought one more state to the BJP kitty of party-ruled states and would precede its “wins” in Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura and Karnataka where polls will be held next year. “This will ensure that Modiji’s dream of ushering a New India by 2022 will be fulfilled,” he said.