Result lauded in tense Gujarat
Muslims and Congress party leaders last night hailed the big reverses suffered by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the flashpoint state of Gujarat, raising hopes for an easing of communal tensions.
The BJP is accused of masterminding anti-Muslim riots two years ago which left more than 2,000 people dead in Gujarat.
'I am very, very thrilled that the BJP has lost. I think the bad days are over for the Muslims and I can see days of relief and hope that there will be no repetition of what happened in 2002,' said Mehboob Sheikh, a teacher at an Islamic school in Ahmedabad.
The BJP won only 14 parliamentary seats in the state, its worst showing in 20 years, down from 20 seats in the previous election in 1999. The Congress party doubled its seats in the state from six to 12.
'Nothing gives us more satisfaction than the BJP's debacle in Gujarat, which witnessed the worst anti-Muslim violence since independence,' senior Congress aide Ambika Soni said.
'The results prove that secular forces are staging a comeback in a state which was a blot on India's secular fabric.'
But state Chief Minister Narendra Modi, whose hardline policies are being blamed for the BJP's poor showing, will remain in power.
India's Supreme Court vehemently criticised Mr Modi's government for its failure to prosecute Hindus accused of killing and raping Muslims.
The BJP had looked unassailable in Gujarat after the December 2002 state elections in which it won 126 of 182 seats in the provincial legislature.