India's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has easily defeated the opposition Congress Party in state assembly elections in the western state of Gujarat. The BJP won at least 127 seats in the 181 seat state assembly, giving the party the two-thirds majority it needs to form a government on its own.
The BJP confounded its critics and swept to victory in Gujarat, just months after religious rioting in the state left more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead.
The BJP victory is a personal triumph for Narendra Modi. The state's Chief Minister has been harshly criticized by opposition politicians and human rights groups. They say he did not do enough earlier this year to control violence that followed the deaths of 58 Hindu activists in a train fire allegedly set by a Muslim mob in the town of Godhra.
Speaking in New Delhi, Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani defended Mr. Modi, saying the BJP benefited from a public backlash against the criticism. "I would say riots are always unfortunate, and the riots in Gujarat are also regarded as unfortunate by us," said Mr. Advani. "But the kind of campaign that was unleashed against the government against the people, the police, the administration it is this that was rejected by the people of Gujarat, and in fact they reacted in anger against those making these allegations."
In his campaign Mr. Modi referred repeatedly to the Godhra incident, saying only the BJP could protect Gujarat's Hindus from terrorism he said is sponsored by neighboring Pakistan.
For their part Congress Party candidates warned a BJP victory could serve to further divide Gujarat along religious lines. Kamal Nath, the General Secretary of the Congress Party says many voters in Gujuarat were clearly influenced by the violence earlier this year.
"Well, I am disappointed," saud Nr. Nath. "The Congress Party campaign was alright. But, the silent atmosphere of fear, which was there as an aftermath of the incidents over the last 10 months, prevailed over the issues which we raised on progress, development, peace, and security."
Post-election analysis indicates Mr. Modi's tactics struck a responsive chord. The BJP did best in Hindu-dominated areas where rioting took place earlier this year. Many analysts say the BJP's victory in Gujarat could lead the party to follow the same Hindu-nationalist campaign tactics in national elections scheduled to take place in 2004.