Staving off a Congress challenge in its citadel, the BJP retained power in Gujarat with a record sixth straight win and trounced its rival in Himachal Pradesh on Monday. In Gujarat, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi spearheaded a high-octane campaign in his home state, the BJP was leading on 99 seats, going past the halfway mark in the House of 182 where it had a strength of 115 in the last assembly. The Congress was leading on 77 seats while Others accounted for the remaining six. In Himachal Pradesh, the BJP handed the ruling Congress a drubbing, and was coasting to a two-third majority, leading on 44 of 68 seats. But the defeat of Prem Kumar Dhumal, its chief ministerial face, posed a new problem for the BJP on who should lead the state now. While Himachal Pradesh gave the BJP plenty to cheer about, it was the outcome in Gujarat that was keenly tracked, both by the BJP and its rivals. Given that the Congress had made the roll-out of the goods and services tax a major campaign issue and hoped to cash in on what it called resentment among traders, the mandate for the BJP, though somewhat reduced, deflected any setback to its reform measures. A loss in the prime minister’s home state would have created new problems for the BJP-led government at the Centre. Yet the victory in Gujarat has sent a clear message to the BJP leadership that it will have to tread carefully in future, because its core Hindu vote base seems to have developed cracks after the Congress shed its “pro-minority” position to draw up a “soft Hindutva” strategy.
Both Shah and Modi called the results a victory of the development agenda. Addressing jubilant party workers at the BJP headquarters on Monday evening, Modi coined a slogan” “Jeetega bhai jeetega, Vikas hi jeetega”. Speaking to reporters, Shah said: “We have won Himachal with a massive margin. We have won 48.5% votes. It is a 10% jump over our figures in 2012. Himachal wanted to join the vikas bandwagon and this is a result of that.” He said the election was a verdict on the “politics of performance” and the “pro-poor welfare initiatives” of the Modi government. Modi called the results a green signal for his reform agenda. “Support for BJP shows the nation is ready for the reform agenda… Every citizen wants India transformed,” he said. The BJP attributed the fall in its number of seats in Gujarat to a schism over caste lines — Shah and Modi blamed the Congress for it — and the “low level of campaign by the Congress in which the prime minister was abused”.
“Sadly, a few people who were hungry for power, they tried to sow the seeds of casteism. Gujarat has been rejecting those people and have rejected them again. We also have to be move carefully now on. Our mantra remains ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’,” Modi said, adding: “Thirty years ago, the poison of caste was spread so badly in Gujarat that it took workers like me 30 years to get rid of it. In the last few months, there were attempts again to sow the seeds of casteism, but people have rejected it. I congratulate them.” Shah said the victories had brought one more state to the BJP kitty of party-ruled states and would precede its “wins” in Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura and Karnataka that go to polls early 2018. “This will also ensure that Modiji’s dream of ushering a New India by 2022 will be fulfilled,” he said.