It is a set of elections featuring a multiplicity of contests -
Narendra Modi versus the Congress, Virbhadra Singh versus the BJP,
and anti-incumbency versus governance record. The outcome of the
Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh polls will also show how issues of
corruption, price rise and economic reforms play out in the
Analysts say the results will have greater impact on inner
dynamics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) than of the Congress.
The assembly polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh also mark the
start of the poll season, with elections slated for nine states in
2013 followed by the Lok Sabha polls in 2014.
Ahead of Thursday's counting, the BJP appears more upbeat than the
Congress with exit polls predicting another victory for it in
Gujarat. Though surveys have predicted an edge for the Congress in
Himachal Pradesh, most of them have kept the BJP within striking
distance of forming the government.
The elections to the 68-member Himachal Pradesh assembly, held Nov
4, is crucial to the political future of Virbhadra Singh, a
five-time chief minister. He was appointed party chief in the hill
state days before the polling in a bid to improve the Congress'
The septuagenarian leader, who had to resign from the cabinet over
corruption allegations, faced a volley of charges from the BJP
over alleged wrongdoings related to the steel ministry he headed
and his income- tax returns.
In Gujarat, Modi drove the BJP campaign almost single-handedly.
Considered a potential prime ministerial candidate, he is likely
to emerge stronger if the party registers a resounding win in the
state which has 182 assembly seats. Polling was held in the state
Dec 13 and 17.
Political analyst Aswini K.Ray said Modi will emerge as a very
strong leader if the BJP wins in Gujarat, but it could lead to
more problems for the party.
"If the BJP wins Gujarat, he will emerge as a very strong leader.
The BJP already has powerful leaders... It could lead to new
problems and mean a lot more faction fighting," Ray, a former
professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University,
He said Modi's victory would not lead to his emergence as an
automatic prime ministerial candidate "but will strengthen his
The Congress, he said, was severely handicapped by absence of an
effective leader in Gujarat, but appears to have done better in
Himachal Pradesh and a victory there will help it salvage its
BJP leader C.P. Thakur said that victory for the party in the two
states will boost its morale and that Modi's victory will increase
his stature within the party.
"If a chief minister wins repeatedly, his stature grows," said
Thakur, a Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar.
He added that the BJP had not decided its prime ministerial
candidate and will take a call if the decision is to be taken
before or after the Lok Sabha polls.
The poll outcome is also expected to give feedback on some of the
hard economic decisions by the government including putting a cap
on subsidised cooking gas cylinders. The government also allowed
foreign equity in multi-brand retail against the opposition's
Almost conceding that the Congress will not win in Gujarat, Union
Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal claimed that "misgovernance" was the
issue in the polls, not corruption.
"We will win Himachal and improve in Gujarat," Jaiwal told IANS.
The elections in the two states were also marked by a high voter
turnout and led to expectations in the Congress that the
anti-incumbency factor will play a role.
The BJP also faced fights against regional parties floated by its
former leaders in both Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat.
Congress MP Karan Singh said that the outcome in Gujarat and
Himachal Pradesh will have an impact on national politics but the
"entire future" cannot be judged by state elections.
"Every state has its own special background, history. I don't
think they (the results) can be definitive," he said.
Expressing agreement with Karan Singh's views, George Mathew,
chairman, Institute of Social Sciences, also said Modi's victory
will add to his political weight but there was no certainty he
will be the BJP's prime ministerial candidate.
(Prashant Sood can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)