New Delhi: Controversial Hindu nationalist party leader Narendra Modi swept back to power in India's religiously divided Gujarat state on Sunday in what was called a national victory over the rival Congress Party.
The Congress loss in the Hindu nationalist bastion, though expected, was the fourth setback in regional polls this year for the party, which governs nationally, and raised questions about its federal poll prospects in 2009. The Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 117 seats in the 182-member state legislature, leaving Congress trailing with just 59 seats, the commission said.
Another six seats were picked up by small parties or independent candidates.
The BJP surged to lead as soon as counting of votes was started at 8am and within a couple of hours the Congress party conceded defeat realising the popular mood in the state was to give Modi another term in office and see him at the helm in 2009, when Gujarat is set to celebrate the golden jubilee of its formation. It was carved out of Bombay state (now Maharashtra) in 1959.
While the BJP camp started celebrating its victory, a deafening silence greeted media persons visiting the Congress party's central office. Later, the general secretary in-charge, B.K. Hari Prasad, came to accept the responsibility for the defeat in a bid to shield party chief Sonia Gandhi and her parliamentarian son Rahul Gandhi. The Gandhis had campaigned extensively in the state. While Rahul undertook roadshows, Sonia addressed a string of rallies.
Party circles blame Sonia's lack of political finesse for the defeat since in one of her rallies she termed Modi as "merchant of death" referring to his role in 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the state.
Modi, who until then was depending upon his development plank, retaliated with aggressive campaigning and managed to polarise Hindu voters, leading his party to a landslide victory.
Although six of Modi's ministers lost, Modi himself registered in impressive victory at his Maninagar constituency defeating his Congress rival, federal minister Dinsha Patel, by 87,161 votes, increasing his margin of victory from 75,000 in 2002.
One of the features of Gujarat polls was outright rejection of BJP rebels by the voters. Only one rebel candidate won.
Victory for Modi-led BJP has also raised questions on the future of two former chief ministers Keshubhai Patel and Suresh Mehta, who have already been served notices for working against the party.
The Patel factor failed to deter his fellow Patels from voting for the party in Saurashtra region where the Congress is considered strong. BJP managed to win 46 seats form the region, while the Congress could net only 16.
The same trend was visible in north and south Gujarat where the BJP managed to increase its tally from 2002 polls.
- With inputs from agencies