The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, was given a significant boost as his Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) won a landslide victory in his home state of Gujarat, a sign of the party’s enduring popularity before a general election due in 2024.
Gujarat has long been a stronghold of the Hindu nationalist BJP, which has won seven consecutive elections there since 1995, but Thursday’s results were the BJP’s biggest electoral success in the state on record. It looks on course to win a record 156 seats out of 182, giving it an 80% majority, the highest achieved by any party in the state’s history.
The BJP pulled out all the stops in election campaigning, and in recent weeks Modi held more than 30 rallies to bolster support. Amit Shah, the home minister who is also from Gujarat and is Modi’s closest ally, appeared at several campaign roadshows.
The opposition National Congress party, once India’s dominant political force, lost more than 60 seats as it continues to flounder nationally. The relatively new Aam Aadmi party, which controls Delhi and Punjab, fought hard to build up a presence in Gujarat and secured four seats in the face of the powerful BJP political machinery.
The state’s BJP chief minister, Bhupendra Patel, said of the result: “This is a victory of the unwavering faith of people of Gujarat in BJP’s good governance.”
However, the BJP was also dealt a blow as it lost state elections held in the small northern state of Himachal Pradesh on Monday. The state is known for swinging back and forth between parties every election – it has not re-elected an incumbent government for 30 years – and this time it was handed back to Congress, in a silver lining for the embattled party.
The Gujarat results are an important victory for Modi, who became prime minister in 2014 and has his sights set on winning a third term in 2024.
Modi is extremely popular in his home state, where he was chief minister for 13 years and is still celebrated by many for bringing in business and raising prosperity. Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda has also proved popular among majority Hindu voters, despite criticism that it is causing religious polarisation and a steep increase in communal violence, particularly targeting the Muslim minority.
In April, the homes of several Muslim families in Gujarat were demolished by bulldozers on instruction of the state, one of hundreds of demolitions that Muslim families and activists across India have been subjected to. The BJP played on the divisions between Hindus and Muslims as part of its election strategy.
“This was certainly a historic victory for the BJP,” said Rahul Verma, a fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, a Delhi thinktank. “They are, in all senses, the dominant party with very robust organisational machinery on the ground presided over by a charismatic leader at the top. The connect that Modi continues to have with his home state is phenomenal.”
However, while concerns over inflation, unemployment and the government’s failures during the Covid pandemic have done little to dent overall support for Modi in his home state, Verma said the BJP’s strident victory in Gujarat was also due to the local opposition Congress party being in disarray and the vote being fragmented by the entry of AAP into the fray.
Verma said there were signs from Gujarat that younger voters, who are more affected by the economic issues and a lack of jobs for graduates, were turning away from the BJP, having previously made up a solid part of the BJP’s base.
“It seems that the younger generation is not voting for the BJP in the same proportion as the older generation, and the younger voters are a bit shy and turning away because of the economic concerns,” he said.
Nonetheless, even after the loss of Himachal Pradesh and a recent defeat in local elections in Delhi, Verma said that nationally the BJP remained in a “formidable position”.
“Even if at state level the BJP faces some issues going forward, when Modi is on the ticket, given his level of popularity, he pulls the BJP up nationally,” Verma said.