The ruling party of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to have held onto power in his home state of Gujarat, despite a stronger-than-usual challenge in a state election.
By late afternoon Monday, India’s Election Commission showed that Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party was ahead in the counting for 99 seats, which would clear the 92 needed for a majority in the 182-seat state assembly.
The main opposition Congress party was on track to make inroads, though, leading in 77 seats, a jump from the 61 it held previously.
A loss would have been a major embarrassment for both Modi and the BJP, which has ruled the state in western India for two decades, with Modi himself as leader for 10 years until he became prime minister in 2014.
The election was also the first real test for Rahul Gandhi, the new president of Congress and the 47-year-old heir to India’s most famous political dynasty. Gandhi was chosen party president last week, taking over from his mother, Sonia Gandhi.
The BJP appeared poised to wrest power from Congress in another state, leading comfortably in Himachal Pradesh in north India. Cheerful BJP leaders flashed victory signs outside Parliament in New Delhi.
Final results in both races were expected Monday evening. Gujarat voted in two phases on Dec. 9 and 14. Himachal Pradesh voted on Dec. 9.
The election in Gujarat was bitterly fought, with campaigning marked by some of the sharpest verbal duels seen in recent Indian elections.
Modi implied at one point, without presenting any evidence, that the Congress party may have been conniving with rival Pakistan to impact the voting. The allegation was angrily denied by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a Congress party leader.
Modi led his party’s campaign, especially in Gujarat, headlining dozens of rallies. Many analysts said it was the closest fight Modi and his party have faced.
The Congress party has steadily lost ground since the BJP swept to power in national elections in 2014. Congress has lost a series of state elections over the last three years, winning only the state of Punjab.
The BJP wins come as it gears up for national elections in 2019.unb