India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) yesterday clinched a spectacular state election victory in Gujarat after conducting an emotionally-charged campaign on a hardline Hindu platform. Analysts believe the victory will boost Hindu hardliners in local and national politics. The BJP, which heads the national coalition government in New Delhi, was swept back to power - in a region scarred by religious bloodshed this year - after humbling its main challenger, the Congress party, and winning two-thirds of seats in the 182-member state assembly. Although the Hindu nationalist party did well in all regions of the industrially-advanced western Indian state, its performance was particularly convincing in districts that had seen some of the most brutal attacks on Muslims by Hindu mobs in March. Most of these districts were traditional Congress strongholds where the BJP gained Hindu support after voters were polarised along religious lines. About 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the sectarian violence. The Congress party said the BJP owed its success to the 'fear and terror' generated by the religious violence, for which human rights groups have blamed state Chief Minister Narendra Modi, a hardline Hindu leader. 'The BJP played the communal card, and that's why it got more seats where religious riots took place,' said Kamal Nath, who directed the Congress electoral campaign in Gujarat. BJP leaders rejected the accusation. 'I don't think we have benefited because of the riots,' said spokesman Arun Jaitley. 'The BJP's victory shows that the people of Gujarat strongly reacted to the negative campaign by the Congress discrediting the state.' Mr Jaitley was referring to how Congress criticised the way the state government handled the religious riots. The BJP's victory has renewed concern for Gujarat's minority Muslims. Police opened fire yesterday in the industrial city of Vadodara after Hindus and Muslims clashed as a BJP victory procession passed through a Muslim-majority area. Shops and homes were attacked, and a curfew imposed. 'Our real task now is how to protect the community,' said J. S. Bandukwala, a physicist who runs a Muslim non-governmental organisation in Vadodara. 'In this election campaign, Mr Modi and other radical Hindu leaders have successfully sold the idea to Hindus that Muslims are terrorists, anti-national and pro-Pakistan. 'We have little hope that this election victory will make Mr Modi focus attention on issues of governance, development and justice, since he appears to harbour a strong hatred for Muslims,' Mr Bandukwala said. The BJP's triumph in Gujarat is certain to boost hardline Hindu leaders within the party at national level, creating problems for Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, a moderate who has headed the national coalition by adopting an ambiguous policy and appeasing the political camps. The result will also strengthen the position of Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani, the acknowledged leader of hardliners within the BJP. The question now is whether the prime minister, who is not in good health, will withdraw further, or adopt a more right-wing posture. 'Mr Vajpayee will now be forced to emulate the likes of Narendra Modi to retain his following in the BJP,' said political analyst Narasimha Rao. 'The BJP will now shed moderation and pursue a strong Hindu nationalist agenda.' The prospect of a rightward swing by the BJP has clearly become a matter of concern for the secular parties in the national coalition after the Gujarat result. 'I'm not happy with this victory,' said Digvijay Singh, the junior Foreign Minister and a prominent leader of the Samta Party, a crucial BJP ally. 'I do not support the Gujarat model of politics.' At the same time, he was confident India would retain its secular traditions. 'This nation will remain secular. Gujarat is an isolated case.' Some political analysts appear to agree that Gujarat does not necessarily signal a rightward shift in Indian politics nationally. Political scientist Balveer Arora, of Jawaharlal Nehru University, said: 'The kind of religious polarisation we saw in Gujarat cannot be replicated elsewhere, since social and political conditions vary from region to region.'