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Gujarat Victory To Strengthen India's Ruling Party, say Analysts

In India, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has elected Narendra Modi as its leader in Gujarat, where the party has won a huge victory - 126 of 182 seats - in last week's state elections. Political analysts say the BJP's decisive win in Gujarat will strengthen the hands of Hindu nationalists in the party.

Virtually all political analysts and newspapers gave the credit for the BJP's huge victory in Gujarat to caretaker Chief Minister Narendra Modi. They say the politics of hardline Hindu nationalism he adopted has paid rich electoral dividends.

Mr. Modi had campaigned on a right-wing Hindu platform, saying he was the only person who could protect the state's people from Islamic Pakistan and radical Muslim militants.

His critics accused him of playing heavily on Hindu fears and anger towards the Muslim minority that followed the killing of 58 Hindu activists, earlier this year, in a train fire allegedly started by a Muslim mob. The incident sparked bloody riots in which nearly 1,000 people were killed.

Political analysts say the Gujarat verdict will strengthen the hands of BJP's right-wing allies and hardliners in the party.

The success in the prosperous western region reversed a sting of electoral losses the party had faced, earlier in the year.

Independent political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan says the BJP will now be under pressure to adopt "Hindutva," a term literally meaning the Hindu way of life, but now being used to describe a Hindu fundamentalist ideology.

"There will be much more pressure on the Bharatiya Janata party nationally to pay more attention to its core ideological agenda. This victory in Gujarat - unprecedented in scale - will be interpreted by many party strategists as an endorsement of the ideology of Hindutva," Mr. Rangarajan Rangarajan explained. "And, in the forthcoming assembly elections, there are five in the Hindi-speaking belt nest year, there will be a growing chorus of voices calling for similar sorts of campaigns in these states. There is a major choice, and those who are in favor of that have won a victory," he said.

But most newspapers say a strategy of Hindu nationalism is unlikely to help the BJP rebuild its political fortunes outside Gujarat. The Hindustan Times newspaper says BJP's right-wing allies may conclude that the way ahead is "to polarize the electorate and trample on India's secular traditions." But it warns such tactics would not work in other areas.

Meanwhile, senior BJP leaders played down such fears, saying future elections will be fought on "development issues." In Gujarat, Mr. Modi also spoke the language of conciliation, saying he will work for all people in the state.

All agreed Mr. Modi has emerged as an important leader in the BJP, representing a younger leadership that will play a key role in setting the party's future agenda.