Hindu party wins polls in India's riot-scarred Gujarat state
Dec 23, 2007, 18:44 GMT
New Delhi - India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won Sunday's elections in religiously divided Gujarat state in a key regional poll considered an indicator for national elections, officials said.
After the counting of votes in the western state, India's Election Commission said the BJP had won 117 seats in the 182-member assembly.
Congress Party, the leading partner of India's ruling coalition, secured 59 seats while other parties and independent candidates took six seats.
The trend was similar to the 2002 elections in the state, when BJP had won 127 seats and the Congress 51 seats.
It was the fourth consecutive win for the Hindu nationalist BJP in Gujarat, led by controversial Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
The right-wing leader has been praised for economic development of the state but criticized by human rights groups for making little effort to control the Hindu-Muslim riots in 2002 in which over 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed.
Congress Party officials conceded defeat.
'It is a great victory for (Modi), it is a remarkable victory. We congratulate him,' Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi told the NDTV channel.
The elections were considered a referendum on the fate of Modi - often described as the poster boy of Hindu machismo - who swept state elections held soon after the 2002 riots, playing the communal card of Hindus under threat from Muslim terrorism.
This time too, the polls saw tense campaigning on communal divisions - marred by controversy as issues of development gave way to a war of words over Hindu-Muslim rancour.
Sonia Gandhi, Congress Party chief, called Modi's BJP government 'merchants of death' at an election rally, referring to his role in the 2002 riots.
Modi also stirred controversy when he reportedly justified the staged killing of suspected Muslim terror suspect Sohrabuddin Sheikh by the Gujarat police during a rally.
Gujarat is a Hindu majority state but has a sizeable population of Muslims - roughly 9 per cent of about 50 million total.
The elections were keenly watched as a test of the popularity of the Congress Party, with general national elections scheduled to be held in India in 2009.
Political analysts said the victory will give new impetus to the BJP as it takes on Congress and its left-wing allies in the election.
Gujarat police were also on high alert after intelligence reports by security agencies warned that terrorist outfits might target Modi in a suicide attack.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur