Guj, HP counting on Monday

Guj, HP counting on Monday

Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh will know who will rule them for the next five years by Monday afternoon, when counting of votes concludes after a months-long campaign.

The results, which will forecast the fortunes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi 15 months ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, will have a huge impact on national politics.

It would set the tone for upcoming Assembly elections in other states, including the one in Karnataka, while it will also indicate whether Modi would go ahead with the plan to advancing the Lok Sabha elections by 6-7 months, as some speculate.

The counting of votes will begin at 8 am in both states.

Exit polls have predicted comfortable wins for the BJP in the two states, meaning it will retain power in Gujarat and dethrone the Congress in Himachal.

All eyes will be on Gujarat, where both Modi and Gandhi - who took over as the Congress chief on Saturday - campaigned vigorously.

The campaign saw Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah targeting the Congress on issues such as Ram temple and alleging that Congress leaders used Pakistan to influence polls, while Rahul attacked Modi for not talking about development.

At least eight exit polls have predicted a clear victory for the BJP by winning 99-146 seats in the 182-member Gujarat Assembly.

Analysts, however, said the Congress is likely to fare better than what the pollsters have predicted - they had said it would only be between 36 and 82 seats.

Saurashtra, where traders were upset with the BJP over demonetisation and GST, and North Gujarat, where its MLAs were facing anti-incumbency, would be watched keenly as performance in these regions would seal its fate.

For the Congress, an impressive show would increase people's confidence in Rahul, besides boosting the Opposition prospects of taking on the BJP.

The result will also show whether Congress' rainbow coalition of Patidars, OBCs and Dalits and its reliance on the three youth icons, Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani, worked in its favour.

It is also to be seen whether Rahul's strategy to visit temples, which had invited criticism that the party was indulging in soft Hindutva, worked for him.

An adverse result for the Congress could mean that it gets alienated from secular and Left parties, who already have silently expressed reservations.

However, an impressive show would obviously benefit the efforts to stitch an umbrella Opposition coalition for the Lok Sabha polls.

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