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India's Hindu nationalists hang on to stronghold in crucial state election

India's Hindu nationalists hang on to stronghold in crucial state election

Hindu nationalists won a crucial test of political support with a resounding victory in a state election, fought in the shadow of anti-Muslim riots that left more than 1,000 people dead in 2002.
Sunday's vote in Gujarat, in western India, was also a personal victory for Narendra Modi, arguably India's most divisive politician, who was re-elected to the state's top job.
Throughout the often bitter campaign, Modi cast the election as a referendum on his rule _ a tenure best known for the riots, which began after a mysterious train fire killed 59 Hindu pilgrims. Many in India say Modi stood idly by as Hindu mobs butchered Muslims, who were blamed for the fire.
"This vote is a positive vote to bring back the government," he told thousands of supporters after results were announced Sunday. "All the negative propaganda used in the campaign has been rejected by the people."
With persistent talk of early elections, analysts had predicted a close race between Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, India's main opposition party, and the Congress party, which heads the federal government.
Congress' poor showing in Gujarat could keep the party from calling snap national elections before the end of its term in 2009.
Some in Congress had even hoped to pull off an upset and unseat the BJP in Gujarat. Instead, the BJP won 117 seats in the 182-seat state assembly in elections held in two phases earlier this month. Congress won 62 seats, and independents took 3.
It was a key fight for the BJP in one of its last remaining strongholds. The party governed India from 1998 until 2004, but its national leadership is now in disarray and Hindu nationalism no longer has the ideological draw it had in the 1990s. Voters these days are more concerned with benefiting from India's economic boom, which has left wide swaths of the country behind.
BJP leaders in New Delhi, the capital, celebrated the victory, even though Modi's continued dominance in Gujarat makes it harder for the party to sell itself as an organization that can cut across religious and ideological fault lines in India and govern nationally.
Modi, clearly aware of what issues play in contemporary India, sought during the campaign to highlight Gujarat's economic achievements during his tenure.
He cast himself as the common man, a teetotaler and one-time tea vendor well acquainted the everyday struggles of ordinary Indians. His supporters, for their part, were often seen wearing Modi masks.
But Modi also occasionally made the kind of statements that seemed to confirm the worst fears of his critics, who consider him a dangerous firebrand all too comfortable inciting India's Hindu majority against Muslims, who make up about 14 percent of the country's 1.1 billion people.


Updated : 2020-12-05 11:13 GMT+08:00