BJP takes lead in Gujarat, trends seesaw in Himachal

The counting of votes polled in assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh as well as a Lok Sabha and six assembly by-polls across five states began on Thursday with. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in a comfortable lead while the trends seesawed in Himachal.

Exit polls have predicted a clear BJP win in Gujarat, where the party has been in power since 1998 and has not lost an election since 1995. Prime Minister Narendra Modi served as the Gujarat chief minister from 2001 to 2014.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) sought to make inroads into Gujarat, making the 2022 polls the first three-cornered contest in at least 30 years there. Opinion polls showed AAP was likely split in the opposition vote of the Congress, the traditional opposition to the BJP in Gujarat. AAP was expected to benefit the BJP, which got its lowest winning tally of 99 seats in 2017.

The Gujarat polls are crucial to AAP’s national relevance and the BJP’s ability to battle anti-incumbency and assert itself as the national hegemon. They seem to reinforce Congress’s continuing struggle for relevance.

Exit polls have predicted AAP may get enough votes to help it become a national party. The AAP’s victory in the Delhi civic polls on Wednesday was a major shot in the arm for AAP despite the Bharatiya BJP’s aggressive campaigning.

The AAP has sought to expand its influence nationally since it returned to power in Delhi by winning 62 seats in the 70-member assembly in 2020. It became the first regional party to have governments in two states when it swept to power in Punjab this year.

The AAP hopes to make significant inroads into Gujarat. It is expected to contest more polls in 2023 when elections are due in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Telangana.

The win in MCD polls and decent performance in Gujarat are expected to bolster AAP’s position as a serious national alternative.

The results in Himachal Pradesh were expected to be much tighter. Exit polls predicted a close battle as chief minister Jairam Thakur seeks to break an over 30-year cycle of the incumbent losing the assembly elections.

The Congress fought the Himachal elections on promises including reinstatement of the old pension scheme, gas subsidy, and relief against rising inflation. In the 2017 polls, the BJP won 44 of the 68 assembly seats, with the Congress winning 21.

The polls in the Himalayan state were a straight contest between the BJP and the Congress, which fought its first election without veteran Virbhadra Singh.

Counting of votes in the by-poll to Mainpuri Lok Sabha was also underway. Samajwadi Party (SP) founder and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav’s death necessitated the by-poll. Mainpuri has been a Yadav family pocket borough. The SP fielded Yadav’s daughter-in-law, Dimple Yadav, against BJP’s Raghuraj Singh Shakya.

Bypolls were also held for Rampur Sadar and Khatauli assembly seats. The Rampur Sadar by-poll was a prestige battle between the BJP and the SP. The disqualification of SP leader Azam Khan necessitated it.

The Kurhani by-poll in Bihar was the first since Janata Dal (United) parted ways with the BJP to form the government with Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Congress and the Left parties. RJD hopes to retain the seat.

The other assembly seats that went to by-polls were Sardarshahar in Rajasthan, Padampur in Odisha, and Bhanupratappur in Chhattisgarh.