It's Modi again in Gujarat, Congress bags Himachal

Ahmedabad/Shimla, Dec 20 (IANS) The score was one all in the crucial battle for political stakes Thursday with a hat trick of wins in Gujarat for Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Narendra Modi, who virtually equalled his 2007 tally, while the Congress wrested power in Himachal Pradesh.

In Gujarat, the BJP was poised to bag 116 seats, one less than the 117 it won last time, missing a two-thirds majority in the 182-member house. The Congress was set to get 60 seats, one more than 2007's 59.

Former BJP chief minister Keshubhai Patel's Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) was left with two seats, including his own.

In the hill state of Himachal Pradesh, the BJP's Prem Kumar Dhumal government conceded defeat to the Congress that won a comfortable victory of 36 seats in the 68-member assembly. The BJP, which had got 41 seats in 2007, was down to 26.

One all perhaps, but not really even stevens. The win in Gujarat, which sends 26 MPs to the Lok Sabha against Himachal Pradesh's four, dominated the political space, with the BJP exulting and the Congress looking for ways to explain its loss.

The drums rolled outside the BJP office in Ahmedabad and sweets were distributed as Modi, whose persona has dominated the party's politics even at the national level, readied for a third straight term as chief minister, with speculation mounting over whether he would be the BJP's man for prime minister in 2014.

Modi, who has ruled Gujarat since 2001 and used innovations like 3-D technology to reach out, visited his mother to get her blessings and even his arch-rival Keshubhai Patel after the results were out.

"No need of looking behind, FORWARD! We want infinite energy, infinite courage, infinite patience..." he said on Twitter even before the results were clear.

"Aaj ka CM, 2014 ka PM!" shouted his supporters as if on cue.

Triumphant at the important win, BJP leaders fought shy of responding to that most asked question.

"(The Gujarat election) is not about PM candidate but about who wins in Gujarat," BJP leader Balbir Punj said. "Let us savour this moment."

Rajya Sabha MP Smriti Irani said frankly that Modi, 62, would be her candidate for the country's top post on the strength of his governance in Gujarat.

Terming it a spectacular victory, Seshadri Chari of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) echoed that view. "This election is not to elect a PM candidate. We had expected the number to cross 125 but still we are very happy."

For Ahmedabad-based activist Shabnam Hashmi, the "victory was frankly very surprising".

"Social activists who stand by principles of democracies, who believe that Modi has finished all democracies, will continue to fight," Hashmi said.

"You need a Congress to lose like this," she added, angrily pointing to the party's inability to garner votes.

The Congress, which in complete contrast to the BJP had put forward no one leader as its chief ministerial candidate and had in fact consciously steered clear of bringing up the minority polarisation in the state, took solace in the fact that Modi had not won more seats.

Even after it became clear that the BJP had won an easy victory, senior ministers looked for ways to describe the loss. P. Chidambaram termed the Congress a real winner, Kapil Sibal said it was a "2D win for a 3D campaign" and Salman Khurshid was of the view that the results should worry Modi.

The Congress welcomed the "thumping victory" in Himachal Pradesh, where its veteran leader Virbhadra Singh steered it to power.

"I have left it on Soniaji (Congress president) to decide that who will be the next chief minister," Virbhadra Singh, 78, told IANS in Shimla, adding that "he has full faith in the high command".

The party will decide on its leader when the Congress Legislative Party (CLP) meets in the next two to three days -- 28 of 36 elected legislators owe alliance to Virbhadra Singh.