Hindu nationalists said to win in India

December 24, 2007 - 0:0

AHMADABAD, India (AP) -- The Congress party conceded defeat Sunday in elections in the western Indian state of Gujarat after early results indicated a large victory for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party under its contentious leader Narendra Modi.

The two parties had fought a bitter campaign in the shadow of the 2002 anti-Muslim riots under Modi's government, which left more than 1,000 people dead and still scar the state. The vote also was being watched as a sign of the strengths of the parties ahead of national elections.
""It is a great victory for him, it is a remarkable victory,"" Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi told reporters.
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 were speaking on condition of anonymity because the results were not yet final.
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 that their Hindu nationalist policies were a spent force.
But while the elections had 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.
Modi, who was in power at the time of the riots, has been accused of not doing enough to stop them and rode to a landslide victory in the last elections, months after the riots, on a wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric.
This time, Modi played up Gujarat's economic miracle — the state reportedly attracted more than 25 percent of India's total foreign investment of $69 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.""
However, Congress, hoping to lure Muslim voters, brought the debate back to the riots, with Congress 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.