Ahmedabad/Shimla: The BJP today headed for a record sixth straight victory in Gujarat assembly polls, and was set to evict the Congress in Himachal Pradesh, widening the party's grip over the country's politics with general elections only 18 months away.
The BJP called the results a vote for development pushed by Prime Minister Narendera Modi, who was the tireless star campaigner in both states. The Congress took solace in the fact that it bettered its tally in Gujarat, the home turf of Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah.
Still, when the final results are in later today, it will be clear that another Congress-ruled state has slipped from its grasp into BJP control. It now rules only Karnataka and Punjab among the major states.
"This is a vote for development and trust for Narendra Modi," Union minister Jitendra Singh told reporters.
"We have set a record in the history of the BJP by winning consecutive assembly polls. Anti-incumbency is not working there. The prime minister's popularity is intact. Amit Shah's strategy has worked," BJP vice president Shyam Jaju said.
As the victories became clear, party workers gathered in the streets and headquarters, distributing sweets and bursting firecrackers.
According to Election Commission results and trends for all the 182 seats in Gujarat, the BJP won eight and was ahead in 94. It needs 93 to form a majority government. The Congress won five and was leading in 69.
Congress had won 61 seats in the 2012 elections while the BJP had got 115.
The BJP's dip this time was touted by the Congress as a reflection of Congress President Rahul Gandhi's efforts during the campaign, when he appeared to have improved his stature as a politician.
"The Congress' tally has gone up there, while the BJP's numbers have fallen. This is the start of Rahul Gandhi's political story," senior Congress leader Kamal Nath told reporters outside Parliament.
His colleague, Renuka Chowdary, added: "Congress has done brilliantly. Our strength has increased. Morally, it has been a brilliant intervention of Rahul Gandhi."
In Himachal Pradesh, the BJP won two seats and was ahead in 41 seats while the ruling Congress won one and was ahead in 20 in the 68-member house. A majority will come with 35 seats. In the outgoing house, Congress had 36 seats, and BJP 26.
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, who was earlier trailing after the count of postal ballots, has a strong lead over Congress' Indranil Rajyaguru in Rajkot West seat.
However, Prem Kumar Dhumal, BJP's chief ministerial candidate in Himachal Pradesh, was trailing behind 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 pollling.
At this stage, the BJP had a vote share of 49.1 per cent while it was 41.5 per cent for the Congress in Gujarat. Its vote share in 2012 was 38.93 percent. The BJP's margin of victory in a dozen constituences was said to be 2000 to 3000.
The Dec. 9 and 14 elections took place in the backdrop of GST and demonetisation, which the opposition had claimed would inflict a huge dent in Modi's popularity.
Modi and Shah campaigned vigorously, crisscrossing the state to hold scores of rallies in what appeared to be a trailer for the next Lok Sabha elections, which should be held before May 2019.
The victories establish not only the BJP's supremacy but also Modi's apparent invincibility. Yet, it also made Gandhi, who recently assumed Congress presidentiship, a serious challenger as he appeared more confident in taking on the BJP stalwarts.
Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel is ahead in Mehsana against Congress candidate Jivabhai Patel by 3,000 votes. Mehsana was the epicentre of the Patidar reservation agitation.
The BJP has won every election since 1995. However, it was out of power for a couple of years due to party infighting and rebellion by Shankersinh Vaghela. BJP came back to power in 1998, and has ruled uninterrupted since then.
In Himachal Pradesh, Congress veteran and six-time Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and his son Vikramaditya Singh are leading from Arki and Shimla(Rural) respectively.
Himachal Pradesh has a tradition of changing the government in every election.
The BJP ousted the Congress in 1990 and the Congress avenged the defeat in 1993.
The BJP formed the government with the help of Himachal Vikas Congress in 1998 and the Congress was back in power in 2003. The BJP made a comeback in 2007. PTI