Supporters of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) burn firecrackers to celebrate after learning of the initial poll results of Gujarat state assembly election in Gandhinagar, India, December 8, 2022. Image Credit: Reuters

New Delhi: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is poised for a landslide election win in his home turf Gujarat.

Almost certain victory in the western state of Gujarat will help the 72-year-old leader build momentum for national elections due in less than 18 months.

The BJP was leading in 154 seats in the 182-member assembly in Gujarat, exceeding the results in the previous election, according to data from the election commission.

The election took place as India’s economy faces considerable global headwinds as well as soaring inflation and unemployment. Modi was the star campaigner for his party and addressed dozens of rallies.

“Overall he was able to keep voters support intact in spite of economic hardship,” said Neelanjan Sircar, senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research. “The winning momentum will help him to remain ahead of his rivals in 2024 as opposition is in disarray.”

Television footage showed BJP supporters cheering for the party’s success by playing drums and dancing under giant makeshift tents and on the streets in Gujarat.

The BJP’s strong showing on Modi’s home turf “- he ruled the state for over a decade “-is set to see the party retain power for a seventh consecutive turn. The victory follows the BJP’s sweep of state elections in India’s most populous and politically significant state of Uttar Pradesh in March.

The ruling party has “unmatched organisational machinery on the ground,” said Rahul Verma, a fellow at New Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research. The BJP has a “formidable social coalition” in Gujarat, making it difficult for its “weak” and “fragmented” rival to end its nearly three-decade rule in the state.

In northern Himachal Pradesh, it was a different story. The opposition Congress party was leading 38 out of 68 seats while BJP was ahead in 27, signalling that inflation and unemployment would still be a cause of concern for the ruling party ahead of the 2024 national election.

If the results trend holds up, Congress would wrest control of the Himalayan state from the BJP. While this would be a setback for Modi and the BJP, they still enjoy widespread support among the population with their social welfare schemes.

Exit polls on Monday showed BJP could win two-thirds of the seats in Gujarat and may face a tougher battle in Himachal Pradesh. At least eight exit surveys predicted the party will win elections Himachal Pradesh, while one poll gave an edge to the Congress Party.