Prime Minister Narendra Modi steered the BJP to a record sixth-term in Gujarat, albeit in a tight battle with the Congress, and a relatively more comfortable victory over the Grand Old Party in Himachal Pradesh on Monday.

The BJP was set to form the government with 99 seats, securing a vote share of 49.1 per cent, while the Congress’s tally stopped at 77 seats and a vote share of 41.4 per cent in the 182-member Gujarat assembly.

The BJP wrested Himachal Pradesh from the Congress by winning 44 of the 68 seats, although in a dramatic climax, its chief ministerial candidate, Prem Kumar Dhumal, lost from Sujanpur. The BJP has summoned senior party leaders from Himachal to Delhi and discussions are under way in the party’s highest decision-making body, the parliamentary board, to select Dhumal’s alternative in the hill State.

BJP President Amit Shah dismissed suggestions of Gujarat being a “close contest”, citing the 1.25 per cent increase in the party’s vote share this time. “Where is the close contest? Between the Congress and the BJP, there is a difference of 7.7 per cent in vote share. Ask any psephologist what that means. The BJP has registered an increase in its vote share this time,” said Shah.

The BJP had cornered a 47.85 per cent vote share in Gujarat in the 2012 assembly elections and won 115 seats. The Congress got 38.93 per cent and won 61 seats in the previous election.

More votes, less seats

This time, the BJP’s vote share increased to 49.10 per cent but its seats fell to 99. The Congress’s share has risen to 41.4 per cent and it won 77 seats. An increase of 2.47 per centage points in the party’s vote share led to it winning an additional 16 seats. However, even after an increase of 1.25 percentage points in its vote share, the BJP still dropped 16 seats — from 115 in 2012 to 99 in 2017.

This was partly explained by the fact that the BJP’s increased vote share came from an increase in the number of seats where its victory margin was over 50,000 votes. In 2012, there were 16 seats where its victory margin was over 50,000 votes. In 2017, there are 19 seats where the BJP’s victory margin is over 50,000 votes. Additionally, there are two seats — Ghatlodia and Choriyasi — where the BJP won by a staggering margin of over one lakh votes.

Narrow but widespread

At the same time, the Congress won only one seat where its victory margin is over 50,000 votes. In fact, the Congress’s victory margins were narrower but its winning streak was more evenly spread. Of the seven seats in Gujarat where the victory margin was just under 1,000 votes, the Congress won four. The principal opposition party picked up more seats with fewer votes.

Both the Prime Minister and the BJP President underlined that the BJP’s victory was a defeat of “casteism”, a reference to the Congress’s support to the Hardik Patel-led Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) whose main plank is to get reservation benefits for the Patel community. Modi asserted that this was rejected by the people. “Thirty years back, poison of caste was spread so badly in Gujarat that it took workers like me three decades to get rid of it. In the last few months there were attempts again to sow seeds of casteism, but people rejected it.”

Another significant point highlighted by Modi and Shah, who crafted the BJP’s twin victories, was that it was a “vote for reform”. “Support for the BJP shows that the country is ready for a reform agenda and every citizen wants India transformed,” said Modi. This was perceived to have been directed at criticism of GST implementation and demonetisation, the two factors attributed to the disenchantment and anger among those running small and medium businesses. Amit Shah, in a press conference at the BJP headquarters, highlighted the party’s successes in business hubs such as Surat, where it won all the 12 seats.

The results in Gujarat also showed that while the BJP held sway in big, prosperous cities, securing seats like Choriyasi in Surat and Ellisbridge in Ahmedabad with staggering margins of 1,10,819 and 85,205 votes, respectively, it did not fare well in rural areas. The Congress won overwhelmingly in districts with predominantly rural populations, such as Amreli, Surendranagar, Morbi in Saurashtra.

Launchpad The Congress, on its part, described the Assembly elections as a “launching pad” for the new leadership under Rahul Gandhi for the upcoming Assembly elections and the general elections in 2019. The party vowed to continue with its “issue-based” campaign under the new president’s leadership. “We have scared Modi in his den,” said AICC general secretary in charge of Gujarat Ashok Gehlot. “In the 2018 Assembly elections and in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the atmosphere in Gujarat will help us.”