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Hindu icon Narendra Modi sweeps back to power

December 24, 2007


NEW DELHI, Dec 23: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, admired by corporate India as a model politician and feared by Muslim and Christian minorities as a messianic Hindu icon not averse to violence, scored an emphatic victory on Sunday against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s centrist Congress party in state elections held last week.

Political pundits had said the assembly elections were a referendum on Mr Modi. By that yardstick he has won resoundingly.

Mr Modi’s BJP won 117 seats in the 182-member assembly, slightly less than the 127 it got in 2002. The Congress won 59 seats, eight more than in 2002 but it was no match to the Modi juggernaut.

The verdict, which had been widely anticipated by pollsters, has thrown nearly all-political equations into disarray. Its most far-reaching impact is expected to bring an end to speculation about national mid-term polls that was prompted by an ideological tiff between Dr Singh and his leftist allies.

“If hardcore Hindutva becomes the main plank of the BJP as it is, I firmly believe that then there will be a compulsion for all secular parties to work out some mechanisms to be together, to stop that juggernaut,” said CPI-M politburo member Sitaram Yechury in an interview published on Sunday.

“Sometimes fascist do win elections,” said Congress spokesman Kapil Sibal. “But the verdict won’t get me to change our views on Narendra Modi’s politics.”

Mr Modi’s victory is also believed to have upset calculations of senior BJP leaders like Lal Kishan Advani, who had projected himself as the next prime ministerial candidate. Mr Modi’s supporters on Sunday were eager to see him as the next candidate for the top job.

For the moment Mr Modi will be sworn in as the chief minister of Gujarat for the third time on December 27. And, to keep up appearances, senior BJP leaders, including party president Rajnath Singh, Mr Advani and party in-charge of Gujarat affairs Arun Jaitley, are expected to participate in the ceremony.

Mr Modi’s victory found an echo in the United States where many Gujartis live. As results started pouring in, Indian Americans across the country remained glued to television sets and computers for live election results from Gujarat. And as the verdict became clear, BJP supporters were seen opening champagne bottles to celebrate yet another victory for Mr Modi.

“This will set the trend for national politics. Our next goal is Delhi,” said Chandra Kant Patel, a former president of the Overseas Friends of the BJP.