India’s main Hindu nationalist party appeared to make strong electoral gains in four heartland states on Sunday, sidelining the ruling Congress party in a race seen as a test before next year’s general election.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, has waged a fierce campaign fronted by its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, who has charmed businesses but worried critics that his rise could worsen sectarian tensions between India’s majority Hindus and its 138 million Muslims.
Preliminary results released yesterday showed BJP trouncing Congress in the Indian capital, northwest Rajasthan and landlocked Madhya Pradesh. The race for Chhattisgarh was neck-and-neck.
As the votes were being counted, dozens of BJP supporters held an impromptu street party outside its Delhi headquarters, dancing to drum beats and setting off fireworks, while the area outside the Congress headquarters was deserted.
A Congress spokesman, Randeep Singh Surjewala, called the results disappointing but conceded that “we have lost” in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Mr Modi offered congratulations by Twitter to Madhya Pradesh’s incumbent chief minister “for BJP’s wonderful performance”, and to the party in Rajasthan for “the historic victory” in that state.