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Congress party concedes defeat to Hindu nationalists in Gujarat state elections.

Congress party concedes defeat to Hindu nationalists in Gujarat state elections.

The Congress party conceded defeat Sunday in elections in the western Indian state of Gujarat after early results indicated a large victory for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party under its contentious leader Narendra Modi.
The two parties had fought a bitter campaign in the shadow of the 2002 anti-Muslim riots under Modi's government, which left more than 1,000 people dead and still scar the state.
"It is a great victory for him, it is a remarkable victory," Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi told reporters, adding his party was disappointed with the lower-than-expected results.
Singhvi was speaking after election officials said the BJP was leading in 117 constituencies for the 182-seat state assembly. The Congress party, which heads the federal government, was ahead in 59, while independents looked to take six seats.
The officials were speaking on condition of anonymity because the results were not final. Results were expected later Sunday.
As the results came in, thousands of BJP supporters took to the streets, setting of firecrackers and distributing sweets in celebration.
The battle between India's two main political parties was being keenly watched as an indication of their strength ahead of national elections set for mid-2009 following speculation that Congress _ under fire from its key communist allies over a civilian nuclear deal with the United States _ could call a snap poll.
For the BJP, it was a crucial fight in one of their last remaining strongholds amid predictions their Hindu nationalist policies were a spent force.
Analysts and exit polls had predicted a much closer result.
Senior BJP official M. Venkaiah Naidu said the results augured well for his party in national elections. "It is a big victory for the BJP and an indicator of how things are going to shape up in future," he said.
However, Congress downplayed the national importance.
"The victory is certainly limited to Gujarat and a certain kind of divisive politics has worked there," Singhvi said.
While the elections had national bearing, the campaign was dominated by local issues, particularly the anti-Muslim violence that swept Gujarat in 2002 after 59 Hindus were killed when a train car burst into flames in Godhra, a town in the state.
Modi, who was in power at the time of the riots, has been accused of not doing enough to stop them. In the last elections, the BJP swept the polls with 128 seats after Modi fought the election on an aggressively anti-Muslim platform in the aftermath of the riots. Congress won just 51 seats.
This time, Modi played up Gujarat's economic miracle _ the state reportedly attracted more than 25 percent of India's total foreign investment of US$69 billion (euro48 billion) last year.
"We are sure of this result," BJP spokesman Yamal Vyas said Sunday as preliminary results came in. "It is a vindication of Narendra Modi and his development oriented governance."
However, Congress, hoping to lure Muslim voters, brought the debate back to the riots, with Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling Congress party, calling the Modi administration "peddlers of religion and death."
Both Gandhi and Modi were censured by the national election commission for incitement during the bitter campaign.
Modi has maintained his administration acted responsibly during the massacre, but has never issued an outright denial.
Singhvi said his victory Sunday could still not remove the "blot" of the riots from Modi's record.


Updated : 2021-03-05 00:56 GMT+08:00