BJP retains Gujarat, wrests Himachal

BJP retains Gujarat, wrests Himachal
Fighting an exceptionally tough battle, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was retained power in Gujarat where it has ruled for the last 22 years. It also wrested power from the Congress to form the next government in Himachal Pradesh.

The victories in the two states in the run-up to the next Lok Sabha polls in 2019 showed the BJP remained powered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi whose personal appeal helped to continue its winning spree since it came to power in 2014.

With these two states under its kitty, the BJP and its allied would be controlling 19 of the 29 states.

But the win in Gujarat had a downside. Unlike the last time in 2012, it was a close battle between the ruling BJP and the Congress following a bitter campaign.   The BJP secured a simple majority of 99 seats in the 182- Gujarat Assembly fending off a serious challenge from a resurgent Congress, which followed closely behind with 79 seats.

While the saffron party's vote share rose marginally, its tally was down by 16 seats compared to 115 it got in 2012. At the start of the campaign, the BJP had said it was aiming for 150 seats.

In Himachal Pradesh, the BJP easily won 42 seats while the Congress bagged 21 seats. The majority mark in the state is 35. In the outgoing House, Congress had 36 seats, and BJP 26.   However, Prem Kumar Dhumal, BJP's chief ministerial candidate in Himachal Pradesh, lost to Congress's Rajinder Rana in Sujanpur, after he changed his traditional constituency of Hamirpur. He was made the CM face only nine days before the polling.

Even as a beaming Modi flashed a victory sign to celebrate the victory in his home state, an aggressive campaign by new Congress president Rahul Gandhi left many BJP leaders to read bigger lessons in the mandate.

The improved tally for the Congress in North Gujarat showed that the coming together of Hardik Patel, OBC leader Alpesh Thakor and Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani helped in moving youth votes away from the BJP.

The BJP succeeded, however, in not letting its vote share drop. In fact, its vote share went up marginally, as it retained its influence in urban centres, especially in central and south Gujarat. It made inroads in tribal constituencies, which helped cut some of the losses in the Saurashtra region.

Rahul showed a new-found aggression to boost the Congress campaign to raise issues like farmer distress, unemployment and problems in implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST).

Consequently, the Congress, aided by its alliance with three young caste-based leaders, ensured its vote share shot up from 33.45% of 2014 to 41.5%.

However, all Congress CM contenders lost -- Shaktisinh Gohil (Mandvi), Arjun Modhwadia (Bokhiria) and Siddharth Patel (Dabhoi). 

Patidar leader Hardik Patel too showed his ability to cause a dent in the BJP's hold. He mobilised hundreds of people in support of quota for his community and backed the Congress, which promised to help his demand. The BJP lost most ground in the Saurashtra region, but was also trailing in a few seats in north and central Gujarat, which were won in 2012.

It appeared that the BJP emerged victorious despite anti-incumbency issues against several ministers and MLAs, and a rebellion among its traditional supporters like Patidars, thanks to Modi retaining his status as the most influential leader in Gujarat. 

The Gujarat election, which was held on December 9 and 14, was marked by one of the worst acidic campaigns the country had seen. It was the first assembly election in Gujarat after Modi shifted to New Delhi as PM in 2014.

In Gujarat, almost 2% of the voters chose the "none of the above" (NOTA) option, rejecting candidates across the political spectrum.  

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