He seeks national role, but party leadership may balk

Narendra Modi swept back to power in Gujarat for the third time in a row but the 115 seats he won in the State — two less than the Bharatiya Janata Party’s tally in the current 182-member Assembly — has put the sangh parivar at the national level in a dilemma.

The “below expected” score allows his opponents within to resist the clamour to make Mr. Modi the BJP's prime ministerial candidate for 2014; but the fact that he has registered his third decisive win is enough to get all the party's national leaders to brace themselves for a challenge.

Belying predictions of an improvement in its electoral fortunes, the Congress party was routed yet again, managing just 61 seats, while the Gujarat Parivartan Party’s Keshubhai Patel could get only two of its candidates elected.

Savouring his victory at a public meeting on Thursday afternoon, the Chief Minister, who spoke in campaign mode in Hindi with an eye on a national audience, thanked the people of Gujarat for “voting for development in the State and country.”

Some of his supporters kept chanting “PM, PM” but Mr. Modi took care to reiterate his desire to work for the State for the “next five years.”

Though Mr. Modi’s supporters are taking the hat-trick he has delivered as a bugle call for a march to Delhi, the first sign that this would be no plain sailing was provided on Thursday itself by a key BJP ally, the Janata Dal (United).

Its Gujarat state leader Vashist Narayan Singh declared that though the victory would strengthen the BJP as a party at the national level, the JD(U) was clear that the candidate for Prime Minister should have a secular image.

The BJP managed to get as many as 35 seats in the 54-member Saurashtra-Kutch region that had got some 38 seats to the ruling party in the region in 2007 polls. The result in this region is a reason to rejoice for the BJP given that former BJP patriarch and Gujarat Parivartan Party leader Keshubhai Patel belongs to Saurashtra and had given a tough fight here with his Leuva Patel caste base.

Similarly, the ruling party got 28 out of 35 seats in South Gujarat, which also has tribal seats, while it managed 20 out of 40 seats in central Gujarat.

The outcome of the elections is clearly a mandate for Narendra Modi, who had created a debate around “Modi versus Who” and the Congress had no answer to this. But the outcome took a heavy toll of some sitting ministers like Jay Narayan Vyas, Fakir Vaghela as well as State BJP president R.C. Faldu who lost the elections.

Chief Minister Narendra Modi beat his nearest rival Shweta Bhatt by a margin of over 86,000 votes in Maninagar.

Shankersinh Vaghela, a former chief minister and BJP stalwart-turned Congress leader in Gujarat, won from Kapadwaj seat in central Gujarat. He defeated the BJP.