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Ruling BJP defeats Congress in Gujarat ahead of 2019 election

INDIA’S prime minister Narendra Modi on Monday (18) celebrated victory in two state elections, saying the results showed a “strong support” for politics of good governance and development.

The wins in Modi’s home state of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh in north India further cemented his dominance, with his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) now ruling in roughly two-thirds of the country’s states ahead of a general election slated for 2019.

Draped in a garland of flowers, Modi thanked voters in Gujarat – which he ruled as the regional chief minister before becoming the prime minister – for electing the BJP to a sixth consecutive term.

“The Gujarat election results are historic. In this day and age, for a party to keep winning for so long is unprecedented,” he told cheering supporters at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi.

“I bow to the people of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh for their affection and trust in BJP. I assure them that we will leave no stone unturned in furthering the development journey of these states and serve the people tirelessly,” he said in a series of tweets.

Modi won praise for transforming the coastal state into an economic powerhouse and deploying business-friendly policies to lure foreign investors.

He said the results proved that there is a strong support for “politics of good governance and development”.

India’s Sensex plunged in opening trade on Monday but recovered throughout the day as results turned in favour of the BJP. The country’s election commission said the party won 99 seats in the 182-seat Gujarat parliament, more than the majority mark of 92 needed to form a government.

But it lost 16 seats compared to the 2012 polls. The party also wrested control of the northern Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh from the main opposition Congress party, winning 44 out of 68 seats.

The twin victories extended BJP’s command to 19 of India’s 29 states.

Modi faces a general election in 2019, but before then, the opposition aims to slow down his momentum in state elections, with two more next year.

Congress, which has ruled India for much of its history but was thumped by Modi’s BJP in the 2014 national poll, now holds just four states in the world’s largest democracy of 1.25 billion people.

There are Congress governments in Karnataka and Punjab, as well as Puducherry, Meghalaya and Mizoram. Elections in Karnataka are due next year. “The Congress’ tally has gone up

re, while the BJP’s numbers have fallen. This is the start of Rahul Gandhi’s political story,” senior Congress leader Kamal Nath told reporters outside parliament.

Modi’s chief rival Rahul Gandhi, who recently re­placed his mother Sonia at the helm of Congress, said he “accepts the verdict of the people”.

“I thank the people of Gujarat and Himachal with all my heart for the love they showed me,” tweeted Rahul, the sixth member of the Nehru-Gandhi dy­nasty to head Congress.

The BJP has ruled Gujarat for 22 years – more than half under Modi as state leader.

Some experts had forecast a backlash against Modi over unpopular economic reforms that hit Gujarati businesses hard, including a controversial cash ban and roll out of a national goods and ser­vices tax (GST).

“They have certainly lost a lot of ground, but Con­gress should have actually won this election, given the anger in the state against the BJP,” political com­mentator Manisha Priyam said.

Gandhi made frequent stops at temples while campaigning in the BJP heartland, inviting ridicule from detractors who accused the Congress leader of trying to lure Hindu voters.

Congress, a secular party, gained 17 seats this election, taking its total to 77.

Narendra Modi waves before boarding a sea-plane

To ensure his party’s prospects, Modi addressed dozens of rallies during his campaign in Gujarat, performed rituals and even waved from a seaplane on his last day on the campaign trail.

“If they had lost Gujarat, the BJP would have col­lapsed like a pack of cards,” said Congress member Sharmistha Mukherjee. “This is their citadel, they threw everything at it.”

Congress fielded five Muslim candidates, three of whom won in the Gujarat assembly elections.

The ruling BJP did not put up any Muslim candi­date in the state where the minority community ac­counts for 9.67 per cent of the population.

Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani retained his Rajkot West seat, defeating Indranil Rajyaguru of Congress. The state’s deputy chief minister, Nitin Patel, won the Mehsana seat against Congress candi­date Jivabhai Patel.

Campaigning in Gujarat took ugly turns as the bat­tle intensified.

Modi thundered from the pulpit at BJP rallies across Gujarat and accused senior Congress figures, including a former prime minister, of colluding with Pakistan to meddle in the state vote.

A Congress party veteran was suspended after us­ing a Hindi slur to describe Modi as low class, re­marks the BJP seized to cast Congress as elitist.

Amit Shah BJP president, gestures as he celebrates with party supporters after the initial poll results

In declaring victory, BJP chief Amit Shah credited Modi for prevailing over “family politics” – a thinly-veiled sleight against Rahul and the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has led Congress for generations.

In Himachal Pradesh, Prem Kumar Dhumal, the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, lost to Congress’s Rajinder Rana in Sujanpur, after he changed his tra­ditional constituency of Hamirpur.

As the results trickled in, BJP supporters danced, threw rose petals and chanted “Long live Modi” in Delhi.

“This (victory) was expected… It is a tremendous victory and Modi has come out as the single most popular leader,” BJP supporter Sandeep Kapoor said.

In the Congress party office in Ahmedabad, post­ers of Rahul Gandhi were being pasted on the wall.

“Rahul Gandhi’s hard work has paid off in the state and it proves that Modi’s governance is not making anyone happy,” said a Congress leader, Shak­tisinh Gohil. (Agencies)