BJP captures UP after 15-year hiatus; Cong takes Punjab

BJP captures UP after 15-year hiatus; Cong takes Punjab
The BJP secured today a stunning victory in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand assembly elections, trampling a fragmented opposition, as party leaders hailed it as a vindication of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity and his pro-poor policies.

With vote counting nearly over, the BJP remained locked in a close contest in Goa and Manipur with the Congress, which won the consolation prize of Punjab where it will form the government.

Modi's party returns to power in Uttar Pradesh _ possibly with a three-quarter majority _ after a 15-year gap during which regional parties such as the SP and BSP had held sway. By 5.30 p.m. BJP had won 248 seats in the 403-member Legislative Assembly, and was leading in 63 more -- the biggest mandate any party has ever received in Uttar Pradesh.

Party leaders attributed the success to Modi, who along with BJP president Amit Shah had also marshalled the cadres for a landslide victory in the 2014 parliamentary elections.

Kashmiri leader Omar Abdullah  called today's results a "tsunami," and predicted that the BJP is not only in a position to win the parliamentary elections in 2019 but also in 2024.

Shah, who crafted and conducted the election strategy in UP, said the results have capauluted  Modi to the stature of the "tallest leader" since independence.

"The only factor for the win is the performance of the Modi government," Shah told a press conference. "The outcome has shown the faith the poor have reposed in Modi... Even his political rivals will have to admit that he has emerged as the tallest leader in the country since independence," he said.

"This is the victory of the corruption-free rule and pro-poor polices under the leadership" of Modi, he tweeted earlier.

In Uttarakhand, the BJP had grabbed 50 seats and was leading in seven in the house of 70. Congress was trailing in second position with 11. The popular Congress Chief Minister Harish Rawat lost both seats that he contested.

Congress was the clear winner in Punjab with 73 seats in the bag and leading in four in the 113-member assembly. BJP was in fourth position with three seats. AAP was second with 20 seats and Akali Dal took 15.

The results in Manipur and Goa remained a cliffhanger with counting still going on. In Manipur, BJP won 19 and Congress had 23 in the 60-member house. In the 40-seat Goa assembly, Congress had a slight edge, winning 14 seats and leading in three. BJP got 12 seats and was leading in one.

The results set off celebrations in BJP offices and strongholds. Party members danced and distributed sweets on streets and BJP offices. Women, gathered in groups to watch results on TV, danced as the results came in. One party leader said Holi, which will be celebrated on Sunday and Monday, has come a day early.

"BJP has reached new heights in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh and changed the political picture of the country," Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said amid scenes of jubilation at party offices in UP.

Terming the BJP victory as "shocking" and "difficult to swallow", BSP leader Mayawati hinted at vote fraud in the elections that were spread over seven phases during the last two months in the five states.

She provided no evidence for her allegation, and it is unlikely to be taken seriously. Her party finished a distant third in UP.

BJP had not put forward any chief ministerial candidate. The chief minister will be selected tomorrow by the BJP parliamentary board and the legislature party in the state.

The BJP, which had just 47 seats in the outgoing Assembly, garnered 40 per cent of votes in the most riveting contest seen as a gamechanger and a virtual referendum on Modi's popularity and demonetisation.

The party also went to the elections without fielding any Muslim candidate.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi acknowledged that the party's defeat was massive.

"Yes, UP is a bad loss, it hurts...I agree that, in UP, we need fundamental restructuring thinking for the Congress as a whole. These have to be hard, tough decisions about strategy," Singhvi said.

Another Congress leader, Shakeel Ahmad, attributed the party's poor show in UP to "public mood" and said its performance will be "scrutinised".

The previous best showing by BJP in UP was in 1991, at the height of Ram Janam Bhoomi movement, when it got majority on its own winning 221 seats out of 425 in an undivided state.

SP leader and a state minister, Gayatri Prajapati, who is wanted in an alleged gangrape case and attempt to rape a minor, was trailing in Amethi, where Garima Singh (BJP), the first wife of Congress leader Sanjay Sinh, was leading.

Kailash Vijaywargia, a BJP general secretary, said that the perception that the BJP was a party of the upper castes has been demolished as all sections of the society including Dalits and Muslims voted for it.

"The central government schemes have benefitted everyone. Muslim women have also benefitted from the schemes. Modi has created confidence in every section," he said.

In Punjab, the ruling SAD was demolished. Punjab Congress President Amarinder Singh, who is the party's chief ministerial face and who celebrated his 75th birthday today, thanked the people of the state for their overwhelming support.

The Congress legislature party will meet tomorrow to elect its leader, he said.

In Goa, the BJP suffered a big reverse when Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar lost to his Congress rival from Mandrem. Former Chief Minister Digambar Kamat (Congress) won from Margao constituency.

In Manipur, Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh won from Thoubal Assembly seat by a margin of 10,400 votes. Rights activist Irom Sharmila, making her poll debut, was relegated to the fourth position, winning only 90 votes.

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