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24 December, 2007

Modi leads the BJP back to power almost single-handedly

Confounding critics, Chief Minister Narendra Modi led his party to a resounding victory in the Gujarat Assembly elections, almost single-handedly. Pollsters had forecast that Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which won a two-thirds majority in the Assembly in 2002, will return to power with a reduced majority. While they thought he would lose up to 20 seats, the actual loss was less than 10.

This was BJP’s third successive electoral victory under Modi’s leadership. Modi faced a major internal revolt on election eve and his relationship with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological fountainhead of the Sangh Parivar, was less than cordial. That makes his victory all the more glorious.

Modi’s record victory in 2002 came when Gujarat stood communally polarized after the riots which resulted in the death of several thousand people. This time the campaign began on a healthy note with the Chief Minister projecting himself as a champion of development. As the Congress openly courted BJP dissidents, the media discussed the possibility of a change of administration. After Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s ‘merchant of death’ speech, Modi abandoned the development plank and settled for the old Hindutva card.

The failure of the Congress's comeback bid raises the question whether the party has gone out of reckoning for power in State, as in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.

In the new 182-member Gujarat Assembly, there are just five Muslims, all elected on the Congress ticket. The party had put up six Muslims. One of them, a woman, lost. It appears many Muslim voters did not take kindly to the idea of a woman of the community entering the contest. The BJP did not put up a single Muslim candidate. Muslims account for nine per cent of the State’s population.

NDTV reported that Indian Americans remained glued to television sets and computers to follow live reports from Gujarat as the election results poured in BJP supporters opened champagne bottles to celebrate Modi’s victory.

The channel quoted Chandrakant Patel, a former President of the Overseas Friends of the BJP as saying, “This will set the trend for national politics. Our next goal is Delhi.”
Voice of America correspondent in New Delhi Steve Herman echoed similar sentiments when he said the BJP victory has ramifications beyond the borders of Gujarat.

The attempt to project the Assembly results on to the national stage needs to be approached with caution. The BJP which took more than two-thirds of the Assembly seats from the State in 2002 had to concede 12 of the 26 Lok Sabha seats to the Congress in 2004.

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