Gandhinagar: The end of polling in Gujarat on Thursday brought the curtains down on one of the most bitterly fought elections in the last quarter century with Prime Minister Narendra Modi facing a tough fight on home ground from emergent challenger Rahul Gandhi of the Congress, even as exit polls unanimously voted the BJP to power in Gujarat.

Though assessments varied in terms of quantification but the common thread was a convincing lead of the BJP, predicting its return. The Times Now-VMR exit poll has predicted 115 seats for the BJP and 64 for the Congress while the Republic-C/Voter exit poll gave the BJP 108 seats and the Congress 74; the ABP-CSDS survey by ABP news predicted a BJP victory in 117 seats, as against Congress’ 64, and India Today’s Aaj Tak also predicted BJP would retain Gujarat. In fact, all exit polls, barring one, predicted more than 100 seats for the BJP.

(In Himachal Pradesh, too, where the electorate has chosen the Congress and the BJP alternately in Assembly polls, the exit polls projected a clear majority for the saffron party, unseating the Congress.)

The 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections, however, will remain etched in national memory as one which saw Modi stretched to the limits and hurling every arrow in his varied armoury in a desperate bid to ward off a determined challenger.

Rarely has a prime minister given up on key national functions to devote so much time to a state election but he pulled out all stops in a bid to retain Gujarat, aware as he is, that a breach of his home citadel will provide the bridge-head for a 2019 assault on his Indian empire.

Amid the usual claims and counter-claims of victory and a preliminary voting percentage of around 68.70 per cent at the end of the final phase of polling on Thursday, the scene has shifted to December 18 when the results of Gujarat as well as Himachal Pradesh will be declared.

At stake is the prestige of PM Modi, more so since Gujarat is his home state while for Rahul, who took over charge as the Congress president mid-way through the poll campaign, the results will calibrate the nature of the challenge the party under his command will provide against his wily opponent.

A victory for the BJP, particularly in Gujarat, will not only be a personal one for the Prime Minister, but also an endorsement of his two decade long rule of the state and also those of his policies pursued at the Centre, including demonetisation and GST.

On the other hand, the defeat of the BJP will mark the emergence of Gandhi as his principal opponent and a rallying point for the opposition in their fight against the Modi led NDA in 2019.

Reports streaming in from voting centres spoke of relatively peaceful polling with some complaints of EVMs and VVPATs not working which were promptly attended to, said Gujarat Chief Electoral Officer BB Swain.

Meanwhile, chief minister Vijay Rupani exuded confidence that the BJP will cross it’s targeted tally of 150 seats. Senior Congress leader Arjun Modvadia, however demurred. ‘‘The end of BJP rule in Gujarat is near”, he said.

If the results are going to be as predicted by the exit polls then what really are the takeaways?

Moving BJP out of their home base is a task, and a difficult one but BJP hoping for 150 plus seats is way too farfetched. People in the interiors of Gujarat seemed pretty upset with the BJP, though BJP has lost some support, a storng campaign by Modi made sure that BJP does not slip beyond the 100 seats mark.

The Congress on the other hand will be more than content to get as close as possible to 75-80 seats.
Considering that just a month ago Congress had lost around 20 MLAs through defection and resignation. Basically, Congress was in their mid-20s and now managing to come up to a respectable number is indeed good for Congress. However, a big take away for Congress from Gujarat Assembly elections is the return of Rahul Gandhi.

Hardik, Alpesh and Jignesh lent their support to Congress, but if the results are going to be, what the exit polls are predicting then maybe their support was not good enough and something needs to be rectified.

Inputs from PTI

Pollsters give Himachal to BJP

The BJP will sweep Himachal Pradesh, predict exit polls. A poll of exit polls – an aggregate of eight surveys by television channels – shows the BJP getting 47 of the hill state’s 68 seats. It shows the Congress ceding power and having to settle for 20 seats. A party needs 35 seats or more to cross the halfway mark and form government in Himachal Pradesh. In 2012, the Congress had won 36 seats scraping past the half-way mark. The BJP had won 26.  Two polls give the BJP 51 seats, three others show it touching 50 seats in the upper range of their band, and only one shows it at just over the halfway mark at the lower end.

Source                  BJP+ Cong+ Others

Times Now          109       70       3

Republic TV         115       62        1

India Today         106        75       1

News X                 115        65       2

India TV              109        70       3

ABP News           117        64        1

Today’s Chanakya 135    47        0