BJP exuberant as victory in Gujarat, Himachal becomes clear

The Congress took solace in the fact that it challenged and bettered its tally in Gujarat, the home turf of Modi and BJP chief Amit ShahThe Bharatiya Janata Party was today headed for a record sixth straight victory in the Gujarat assembly polls and was set to wrest Himachal Pradesh from the Congress, tightening the party's grip over the country's politics with general elections only 18 months away.

"Jo jeeta wohi Sikandar (whoever wins is the king), said union minister Smriti Irani when asked if the Congress gave it a tough fight.

The BJP called the results a vote for development pushed by Prime Minister Narendera Modi, who was the tireless star campaigner in both states.

The Congress took solace in the fact that it was set to better its tally in Gujarat, the home turf of Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah.

Still, when the final results are declared, it will be clear that the Congress now rules only Karnataka and Punjab among the major states. And while its hold remains firm in Punjab under a strong chief minister Amarinder Singh, most analysts say it is shaky in Karnataka.

On Monday morning, as the election results trickled in and BJP inched to the majority mark of 92 in the 182-member Gujarat assembly, the PM signalled a 'victory' sign to the throng of television cameras and photographers as he entered Parliament to attend the winter session.

At 67, Modi led a gruelling blitzkrieg of public meetings – a total of 34 public rallies and some road shows, including his famous ride on a seaplane on 12 December. The PM's 'son of the soil' image in Gujarat helped the party overcome significant disaffection in the state.

"We have set a record in the history of the BJP by winning consecutive assembly polls... anti-incumbency is not working there. The prime minister's popularity is intact. Amit Shah's strategy has worked," BJP vice president Shyam Jaju said.

Congress takes solace
The Congress had won 61 seats in the 2012 elections while the BJP had got 115. The BJP's dip this time was touted by the Congress as a reflection of Congress President Rahul Gandhi's efforts during the campaign, when he appeared to have improved his stature as a politician.

"The Congress' tally has gone up there, 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.

His colleague Renuka Chowdary added, "Congress has done brilliantly. Our strength has increased. Morally, it has been a brilliant intervention by Rahul Gandhi."

Himachal upset
In Himachal Pradesh, results and trends so far show that the Congress has been drastically reduced from 36 seats in 2012 to below the 20 mark.

The poll percentage in the current election registered at 74.61, an all-time high, reflects the huge enthusiasm in the electorate that has routinely been anti-establishment.

Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh differ significantly in their social and economic issues as the former has long led in terms of development and also has a large Scheduled Tribes and Castes, Other Backward Class, Patidar, Dalit and Muslim population.

The BJP's Hindutva card has much more significance in Gujarat than in Himachal, which runs on different issues.

Himachal is a small state with a high literacy rate and the electorate here largely focuses on issues of governance, development, livelihood and employee demands, leaving behind the erstwhile factors like old and new Himachal, horticulturist-agriculturist divide and caste patterns.

Unlike the national scenario, Himachal has evolved a sound bi-polarity over the decades with the Congress and the BJP being the chief contestants, with little space for third alternative.

In the current elections, though Prem Kumar Dhumal - who bears an overarching influence in the party - was declared quite late as chief ministerial candidate, it worked for the party.

Dhumal not only rejuvenated the election campaign, but also succeeded in uniting several party members peeved over certain ticket allocations. Furthermore, the last week carpet bombing by the central leaders like Narender Modi, Smriti Irani, Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitely, Sushma Sawraj, J P Nadda and State chief ministers like Yogi Adityanath, M L Khattar and Shiv Raj Singh Chauhan gave the BJP a strong edge.

Compared to this the Congress remained a divided house as the relations between Virbhadra Singh, head of the congress government and Thakur Sukhwinder Singh, the organisational head, remained strained.