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Hindu nationalists headed for victory in Gujarat state elections.

Hindu nationalists headed for victory in Gujarat state elections.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party was headed toward a sweeping victory Sunday in elections in the western Indian state of Gujarat after a bitter campaign fought in the shadow of deadly 2002 anti-Muslim riots that still scar the state.
With early results indicating success for the BJP under its contentious state leader Narendra Modi, the Congress party conceded defeat in a poll that many view as a test of party strength ahead of national elections.
"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 worse-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 spoke 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 to celebrate, setting off firecrackers and distributing sweets.
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 the 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 may have 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. More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the subsequent riots.
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 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."
The ruling Congress party, hoping to lure Muslim voters, brought the debate back to the riots, with party leader Sonia Gandhi 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 : 2021-06-15 09:01 GMT+08:00