AHMEDABAD/SHIMLA, Dec 8 (PTI): Riding high on the charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP on Thursday retained power in Gujarat for a record seventh straight term pulverising the opposition to secure the biggest majority ever in the state, even as the Congress wrested Himachal Pradesh from the BJP as it crossed the majority mark of 35 seats in the 68-member Assembly in the hill state which maintained its tradition of not voting any incumbent government to power since 1985.
While the BJP set new records in the home state of Modi and home minister Amit Shah with its “historic” victory, it lost Himachal Pradesh to the Congress after a close fight and the hill state continued with the tradition of nearly four decades of voting out the incumbent party. Congress leaders credited its general secretary Priyanka Gandhi for the win which came as a boost for the grand old party in the home state of BJP President JP Nadda.
As Modi continued to hold sway over voters and addressed 31 election rallies in Gujarat, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) crossed the three-fourths majority and in the process checkmated the new entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in triangular contests and also pushed the Congress down to it’s all time low.
The Gujarat state BJP president C R Paatil said Bhupendra Patel, the party’s 60-year-old soft-spoken face in Gujarat, would continue as the chief minister and his swearing-in ceremony would be held on December 12. Patel won the Ghatlodia seat in Ahmedabad by a huge margin of 1.92 lakh votes.
Getting support from all sections, the BJP got 147 seats and was leading in 9 in a House of 182 garnering a vote share of nearly 53 per cent which was the highest for any party in the western state.
The BJP, which bagged 99 seats in 2017 Assembly polls with a 49.1 per cent vote share, surpassed its previous best showing of 127 seats in 2002 when Modi was the chief minister. Congress holds the all-time record of 149 seats that it had won in 1985 under the leadership of Madhavsinh Solanki.
With a nearly 13 per cent vote share, the Arvind Kejriwal-headed AAP won five seats. In a video message, the Delhi chief minister said though the AAP has not won many seats the votes it got helped it attain the national party status.
Union defence minister Rajnath Singh and Gujarat chief minister Patel credited Prime Minister Modi for the party’s “historic victory”.
“The biggest credit for this victory goes to the public’s trust in the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his popularity and credibility. Congratulations to him and thanks to the public,” Singh said.
The BJP, which focused on a development agenda and overcame anti-incumbency yet again after being in power for 27 years without losing an election since 1995, also equalled Left Front’s feat of seven consecutive terms in West Bengal. The CPI(M)-led Front ruled the eastern state for 34 years from 1977 to 2011.
After giving a tough fight to the BJP in 2017 Assembly polls in Gujarat by winning 77 seats, the Congress has hit a nadir in the western state where the party’s campaign, mostly shouldered by local leaders, has leaned on door-to-door canvassing for votes as its leader Rahul Gandhi chose to stay away to focus on the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’. Rahul had aggressively campaigned in 2017. The AAP also appeared to have played spoilsport for the Congress which mustered a vote share of about 27 per cent.
With a vote share of nearly 28 per cent, the Congress won 16 seats and was leading in one. Firebrand Dalit leader and sitting Congress MLA Jignesh Mevani retained his Vadgam seat by a slim margin after trailing in the initial rounds of vote counting.
BJP also managed to improve its tally as the issues it faced in the 2017 state polls like the state-wide outburst of anger among the Patidar community and restlessness among the traders over the GST regime appear to have faded.
Hundreds of BJP workers thronged the party office in Gandhinagar as they danced and distributed sweets outside the Gujarat state party headquarters.
Though the opposition in Gujarat took on the Modi government over rising inflation, slowing growth and joblessness, the economic troubles apparently did not dent BJP’s popularity in the state that has been a bastion of the party for decades and where Modi was chief minister from 2001 to 2014.
While the Congress was not expected to replicate its creditable performance of the last Assembly elections in 2017, a good showing by the AAP could have helped Kejriwal cement his place as a key challenger to Prime Minister Modi in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The AAP is also in power in Punjab.
The AAP had carried out a high-decibel campaign to make it a three-way fight for the first time in Gujarat where the Congress and the BJP have been traditional rivals. Emboldened by the victory in the Delhi municipal elections, the AAP had hoped its politics of welfarism would be accepted by the people in Gujarat.
A number of sitting BJP MLAs were among the victors.
Himachal Pradesh chief minister Jai Ram Thakur, who won for the sixth time from Seraj assembly seat in Mandi district, said he respects the mandate of the people and submitted his resignation to Governor Rajendra Vishwanath Arlekar.
The vote share difference for the Congress and the BJP was less than one per cent. While the Congress polled 43.9 per cent votes, the vote share for the BJP was 43 per cent.
Anti-incumbency against the ruling BJP government coupled with the issue of price rise with Congress promising restoration of the old pension scheme and providing Rs 1,500 to every adult woman in the state seemed to be the main factors that worked in favour of the grand old party.
With the BJP slogan of ‘Raj nahin, riwaaj badlenge’ (changing tradition and not the government) being rejected by voters, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi thanked the people of the hill state for the “decisive win” and assured them that every promise made by the party will be fulfilled.
All India Congress Committee (AICC) in charge of Himachal Pradesh Rajeev Shukla hailed Priyanka Gandhi’s campaign and leadership, lauding the “hard work” put in by her.
Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma also complimented her for her “spirited” campaign in the state.
He said the Congress victory in Himachal Pradesh will have resonance and ripple effect in poll-bound states next year.
According to the latest Election Commission data for Himachal Pradesh, the Congress won 40 of the 68 seats followed by the BJP, which bagged 24 seats and was leading in one. Independents won three seats.
The AAP, which had fielded candidates in 67 seats, failed to make a debut and had a meagre vote share of 1.1 per cent.