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India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Supporters of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) celebrate as early results indicated the party leading in the Maharashtra state Assembly elections in Mumbai, India, Oct. 19, 2014.

India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has wrested control of two key states, trouncing the Congress Party and consolidating its position as the country’s dominant party, and likely strengthening Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who won a landslide victory in national elections five months ago.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals put it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states.

In Haryana, it was positioned to secure an outright majority, while it emerged as the largest party in Maharashtra, although short of the half-way mark.

The BJP has been a marginal political force in both states, which have long been bastions of the Congress Party and its allies.

Importance of states

Both are significant states - Maharashtra is home to India’s financial hub, Mumbai, while Haryana is one of India’s fastest growing.

Independent political analyst Neerja Chowdhury said the two elections, the first major polls in the country since national elections in May, demonstrate the BJP is on a political roll.

“The BJP is moving ahead by leaps and bounds. If you look at Haryana, it is a 12-fold increase in seats, more than double the increase in vote share,” Chowdhury said. “In Maharashtra, again, the number of seats is more than two and a half times.”

The BJP was set to win 122 of 288 seats in Maharashtra, after having won 47 of 90 seats in Haryana, enough to rule alone.

BJP head Amit Shah called the victories an endorsement of Modi. Shah said the results are an expression of people’s faith in his government.

Shah said people have put a stamp of approval on the programs and the manner in which the BJP has been running the federal government for the past four months.

In a tweet, the prime minister called the win “historic” and a matter of immense happiness and pride.

Many attributed the BJP’s performance to Modi, a charismatic orator who campaigned extensively for the regional polls.

Modi repeated the promises that put him in power in New Delhi five months ago - development, good governance and an overhaul of India’s faltering economy.

Chowdhury, the analyst, said Modi continues to benefit from widespread anger with the Congress Party.

“There is a fatigue with existing faces, with the kind of politics we have had and people are tired of stagnation,” she said.

“Therefore, anybody like Modi who brings with him huge energy, and huge promises, the moon he is promising, selling dreams, and that has caught the imagination of people. People still have faith that he will do something and they are giving him a long rope,” Chowdhury said.

Strengthen party

The election results will strengthen Modi's position.

With more states under its control, the BJP will get a larger share of seats in India’s Upper House of Parliament by 2016, where it presently is a minority. Moving to the majority would make it easier to move ahead with legislation on economic reforms considered crucial for reinvigorating India’s economy.

Some steps have already been announced in the days after the polls.

On Saturday, the government scrapped price controls on diesel and raised the price of natural gas, reducing the government subsidy.

Modi has also announced labor reforms, cutting down on cumbersome regulations that have been a hurdle to setting up manufacturing operations in India.

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