After some surprise early morning trends, matters seemed to settle along expected lines by 10.30 am in both Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, where counting of votes is being held. Narendra Modi looks set to get his hat-trick; what is being watched keenly is whether he will be able to match his 2007 tally of 117 seats. In Himachal Pradesh, the Congress now seems set to win comfortably.
In Gujarat, projections based on leads at 10.45 am show Narendra Modi could after all stretch to reach 117 seats. He needs only 92 of the 182 seats in the state to get his third straight term as CM. Mr Modi was widely favoured to win with a bigger margin than before this time.
Celebrations have begun in the BJP office in Ahmedabad, where Narendra Modi's supporters seem clear where he is headed next. They are holding up posters that say, "This is the trailor, watch the film in 2014" and "CM in 2012, PM in 2014" and even "Hit & Fit for PM." Senior party leader Balbir Punj said today, "Mr Narendra Modi was always a very important factor and he will have even more say now, even if the Congress continues to demonise him." But the Congress' Abhishek Singhvi dismissed it saying, "Victory in Gujarat polls makes Narendra Modi unstoppable in the BJP. He is very important Chief Minister for BJP but that has nothing to do with his national acceptability." Many in the BJP have been seeking a bigger role for Mr Modi on the national stage, and there has been much talk of him being projected as the party's candidate for Prime Minister in the 2014 general elections. But Mr Modi is not universally acceptable to allied parties like the JD(U). A big win in Gujarat would give Mr Modi much bargaining power.
The Congress seemed in the morning to be making some gains, especially in north Gujarat, a BJP stronghold, but those are now down to only about two to three seats right now. The Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) headed by BJP rebel and former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel has failed to make a dent.
The Congress has surged ahead in the hill state of Himachal, which has 68 seats. Early morning trends had showed the ruling BJP ahead, but the Congress soon caught up. It needs 35 seats to register a sole majority to form government and could end with a little more than that number.
Himachal Pradesh has never returned a party to power and the Congress has been counting on the anti-incumbency vote. The state also saw a record 74 per cent voter turnout, giving the Congress hope that it was a vote for change. This is a crucial election for Congress stalwart, 78-year-old Virbhadra Singh, who had to resign as a Union Minister this year over corruption charges. He has been CM of Himachal Pradesh five times.