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Modi tsunami sweeps Gujarat; Congress wrests power in HP

The BJP shattered all previous records to retain power in Gujarat for a seventh consecutive term, but the saffron party failed to buck the anti-incumbency trend in Himachal Pradesh.

Ashok Tuteja | New Delhi |

The Narendra Modi magic worked wonders for the BJP as it shattered all previous records to retain power in Gujarat for a seventh consecutive term on Thursday, but the saffron party failed to buck the anti-incumbency trend in Himachal Pradesh where the Congress returned to power after a gap of five years.

BJP’s performance was so impressive in the prime minister’s home state of Gujarat that it was close to winning 156 seats in the 182-member Assembly, breaking the electoral record of 149 seats achieved by the Madhav Sinh Solanki-led Congress in 1985. The Congress finished a poor second while the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was third.

The election outcome in Gujarat is seen as a shot in the arm for the BJP as the saffron party gears up for the Assembly elections in nine other states next year and the Lok Sabha polls in 2024. Modi yet again proved that he is the biggest mascot for the BJP and that anti-incumbency is not a factor in his home state as long as he leads the saffron outfit.

Even though Modi left Gujarat after becoming prime minister in 2014, he continues to exercise his sway on the state. This time around, the presence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the poll fray in the state also helped the BJP to almost eliminate the Congress which had performed quite well in the last Assembly polls. The AAP largely cut into the Congress vote bank, thus benefiting the BJP.

Political observers say the poll outcome may lead to an exodus of Congress members to the BJP or the AAP, which now poses a formidable challenge to the grand old party in the state.

Modi and the BJP left no stone unturned in the election, fully conscious of the fact that an upset in the state could have a bearing on national politics. For the second phase voting, Modi even undertook a 50-km roadshow covering 13 Assembly constituencies in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar.

AAP’s aggressive campaign, led by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, obviously did not work while the Congress put up what never looked like a fight for returning to power in the state after spending 27 years in hibernation. Another factor that went against the Congress was that the party was not united to take on the challenge of wrest power from its archrival.

On the other hand, the people of Himachal Pradesh again voted for change in the hill state by bringing the Congress back to power.

Political observers in the hill state say the Congress campaign was focused largely on local issues and the ”failures” of the Jai Ram Thakur Government. The grand old party was fully aware of the fact that highlighting national issues and targeting Modi would prove counterproductive given the PM’s mass appeal and the party might have to face defeat again. BJP’s last-ditch bid to use Modi’s face during the campaign does not seem to have paid off.

There was clearly a strong yearning for change in the state which has never voted an incumbent government back to power.