Ahmedabad/Shimla: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fought off a resurgent Congress on Monday to barely hold on to Gujarat for a record sixth term but stayed on course to pick up an easy win in Himachal Pradesh.
The BJP's victory margin in Gujarat was much reduced -- 99 from 115 last time -- as the Congress put up a spirited show with the reservation-centric support from traditional BJP voters, Patidars and OBCs. The grand old party bettered its score to 80, 19 up from 2012 in the 182-seat Assembly.
The Nationalist Congress Party won one, the Bhartiya Tribal Party won two and Independents picked up three.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Gujarat has proved itself an exception by voting development to power for last three decades.
“Gujarat’s victory is doubly sweet for me – as its former mukhiya, I am proud to say that the state’s present leaders continue to win,” Modi said at the evening celebrations in the Delhi party office.
Modi said the BJP’s successive electoral victories show the country is poised to be transformed with reform and performance. “This country is now aspirational and has new dreams. It is not ready to compromise anymore,” he said.
He said the country now has a government that is not afraid to take decisions, whose intentions and policies are clean, and which believes in cooperative, competitive federalism.
Analysts feel the Congress might have missed the bus this time in Gujarat given the strong anti-incumbency wave, the Patidar and OBC disenchantment, farmer distress and lack of growth among other things. The BJP lost heavily in Saurasthra where there is a high density of both farmers and Patels. The Congress made significant gains here but could not pull off a victory due to lack of a local credible face.
A tense BJP had sniffed the fight and, therefore, roped in Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the last leg of the campaign blitzkrieg. He addressed 41 rallies, the highest ever in the state. Modi made the bitterly-fought campaign more about Gujarati pride than development.
The Congress did not get the support of the entire Patel community either, the young chunk of which was led by the very flamboyant Hardik Patel. There was a split in the Patel vote, which has been traditionally anti-Congress, but the shift towards Congress was not enough to tip the scales. The older Patels were unhappy but did not desert Modi.
The BJP got the unquestioned support of the tribal belt. The ruling party also cleared the demonetisation and GST hurdles by mopping up the urban vote. But it fared badly in rural areas which went to the Congress. In urban Gujarat's 55 seats, the BJP got 43 to Congress' 12. But in 127 rural seats, BJP got 56 and Congress 71.
Interestingly, the BJP lost the Unjha Assembly constituency in Mehsana district -- which includes Prime Minister Narendra Modi's hometown Vadnagar -- to the Congress. Congress’ Asha Patel defeated BJP nominee and sitting MLA Narayan Patel with a comfortable margin of over 19,000 votes in Unjha.
Even though Gujarat did not go the Congress way, one thing is clear -- party president Rahul Gandhi emerged a political leader. He stitched together a caste-based coalition, even tried to shed the party's pro-Muslim shell by visiting only temples in Gujarat, and also pumped up the strident political rhetoric against Modi. Rahul visited 23 temples and his party won in each of those constituencies.
He stitched together a caste-based coalition, tried to shed the party's pro-Muslim outer shell by visiting only temples in Gujarat and also pumped up the rhetoric.
In Himachal Pradesh, which has alternated between the BJP and the Congress for decades, the BJP cruised to a two-third majority win with nearly 44 seats in the 68-constituency Assembly. The Congress tally hovers around 21. The Communist Party of India (Marxists) won 1 while Independents got the other two.
But the question is who will head the BJP government in Himachal Pradesh as chief minister designate Prem Kumar Dhumal has lost his seat.
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and his deputy Nitin Patel trumped their Congress opponents after trailing initially.
Prominent OBC leader Alpesh Thakor, now with the Congress, and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani also won. Top Gujarat Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil lost.
The Gujarat elections were held in two phases on December 9 and 14 and the average voter turnout was 68 per cent, slightly lower than 2012’s 71 per cent.
In 2012, the BJP won 115 seats out of total 182 seats while the Congress won 61 in Gujarat. BJP has been in power in Gujarat since 1995.
After polling, Election Commission data had shown constituencies dominated by the Patidar community – which has since the 2015 quota agitation turned against the BJP -- saw a turnout of nearly 75 per cent during voting. This could have been an indication of the electoral manifestation of Patidar anger against the ruling BJP.
The Congress banked heavily on the troika of angry young men of Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani, leaders of the Patidar, OBC and Dalit communities.
The BJP had derided the alliance between the OBCs and the Patels as self-contradictory as the two communities would be competing for quota benefits with each other.
In Himachal Pradesh in 2012, the Congress won an outright majority with 36 of the 68 seats under the leadership of Virbhadra Singh. The BJP got 26 seats whereas its breakaway faction HLP won 1.
The BJP in Himachal Pradesh has vowed to work on women’s safety and to “save the state from the Virbhadra government’s mafia rule”.
Himachal Pradesh registered a record vote of 74.61 per cent, breaking the previous best of 75.28 per cent in 2003.