Counting of votes begins for Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly elections

Counting of votes begins for Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly elections
Counting of votes begins for Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly elections.

By 9 am, we will know the first trends regarding who will rule them for the next five years.

The results, which will forecast the fortunes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi 15 months ahead of Lok Sabha polls, either way, will have a huge impact on national politics. It would set the tone for the Assembly elections in mid-2018, including in Karnataka, while also indicating whether Modi would think of preponing the Lok Sabha elections by 6-7 months, as speculated by some quarters.

Exit polls have given the BJP a comfortable edge in Gujarat, where it is predicted to retain power, and in Himachal Pradesh where it is expected to dethrone Congress.

All eyes will be on Gujarat where both Modi and Gandhi, who took over as Congress chief on Saturday, campaigned vigorously. The campaign saw Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah targeting the Congress on issues like Ram Temple and allegations of Congress leaders using Pakistan to influence polls while Gandhi attacked Modi for not talking about development.

At least eight exit polls have suggested a clear victory for BJP with 99 to 146 seats in 182-member Gujarat Assembly. Analysts, however, said the Congress is likely to fare better than what the pollsters have predicted (36 to 82 seats).

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

For the   Congress, an impressive show would increase the confidence of Gandhi 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 three youth icons Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani worked in its favour. Gandhi will also be tested on his strategy to visit temples, giving rise to accusations that the Congress was indulging in soft Hindutva.

An adverse result for the Congress could mean that it may get alienated from secular and Left parties, who already have silently expressed objections. However, an impressive show would obviously add more power to the efforts to stitch an umbrella Opposition coalition for the Lok Sabha polls.

On the other hand, a victory in Gujarat would further boost the confidence of BJP to face the Assembly polls in Karnataka and other states. This would also come 15 months ahead of the Lok Sabha polls while some speculate that Modi may think of advancing the General Election in case BJP gets a decisive mandate.

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