Modi prevails

Narendra Modi’s hat trick of victories in the Gujarat Assembly elections has significance far beyond the boundaries of the state, not only because he has proved yet again that incumbency can in fact be turned into an advantage rather than being a negative, but also because it propels him to the national stage of politics with less than two years to go for the crucial Lok Sabha elections.

As Modi is being projected by a section of the media as a possible rival to Rahul Gandhi for the prime minister’s post,  any setback for him in Gujarat elections would have been the end of such speculations.

Apart from the Congress party which tried every trick to stop the Modi juggernaut, including propping up Keshubhai Patel to eat into his vote base, there were leaders in his own party who wished that the BJP would merely scrape through in the elections so that he could be contained to Gujarat politics. In the event, BJP’s victory in 115 seats, just two less than the tally in the 2007 elections and the Congress being a distant second with 61 seats – its fifth consecutive defeat in Gujarat – showed that Modi’s development and good governance plank could not be dismissed as a mere hype. Interestingly, the BJP won in eight of the 12 Muslim-dominated constituencies as well.

Modi possibly realises that despite repeated endorsement in his own state, his image at the national level and perceptions among the Muslims across the country is permanently scarred by the horrendous 2002 Gujarat riots which took place when he was the chief minister.

Though there has been no concrete evidence so far suggesting his direct or indirect abetment to the riots, his political rivals have used the tragic events to paint him as a communal bigot who, given a higher responsibility, would destroy the secular fabric of the nation. Aware that he needs to make amends, Modi used his victory speech on Thursday to “apologise to six crore Gujaratis for any mistakes that may have occurred.”

He needs to do more than offer lip-sympathies to gain acceptability across the board.
   While it could not stop Modi, the Congress gained a consolation prize by displacing the BJP government in Himachal Pradesh. The party won a wafer-thin majority of 36 seats in a House of 68 on the strength of campaign by veteran leader Virbhadra Singh, a five-time chief minister. It’s an irony that Singh had been sent to Himachal Pradesh after he had resigned from the Union cabinet on corruption charges.

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