AHMEDABAD - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was set to win the biggest majority by any party at elections in his home state of Gujarat on Thursday, a big boost to the Hindu nationalists ahead of general elections in 2024.
The western industrial state of Gujarat is a bastion of the BJP, which has not lost a state assembly election there since 1995. Modi was Gujarat's chief minister for 13 years before becoming prime minister in 2014.
With the final results likely to be announced in the next few hours, the BJP was ahead in 156 seats out of 182 in Gujarat's state assembly elections and was set to surpass its best results when it won 127 seats in 2002.
The final count was set to become the highest won by any party in Gujarat, bettering the 149 seats that the Indian National Congress won in 1985.
At the last state election in 2017, the BJP had bagged 99 seats.
"Thank you Gujarat," Modi wrote on Twitter as hundreds of supporters danced to the beat of drums in celebration at the BJP office in state capital Gandhinagar.
"I am overcome with a lot of emotions seeing the phenomenal election results. People blessed politics of development and at the same time expressed a desire that they want this momentum to continue at a greater pace. I bow to Gujarat's Jan Shakti (people power)."
Modi remains widely popular in the country due to economic growth and also his strong base among India's Hindu majority population, despite critics pointing to rising inflation, unemployment and growing religious polarisation.
He is eyeing a third term as prime minister in 2024 and campaigned extensively across the state in the run-up to the Gujarat vote.
"Modi's popularity, which he has systematically built since he was the chief minister, is very much the factor behind BJP's victory," said Ghanshyam Shah, former director of Centre for Social Studies in Surat, Gujarat's second largest city.
"His direct relationship with people has translated into votes for the BJP."
The landslide win in Gujarat will come as a welcome boost for the BJP, which lost control of the municipal corporation in the national capital Delhi to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), in results announced on Wednesday.
At 1130 GMT, the count showed India's main opposition party Congress will secure 17 seats, far below the 77 seats it won in 2017, while the AAP, which emerged in 2012 out of an anti-corruption movement, was leading in five constituencies, having won none the last time.
However, the BJP lost control of the small northern state of Himachal Pradesh to Congress, which is set to win 40 out of 68 seats in the state election held last month and whose results were announced on Thursday.
BJP was hoping to ride on Modi's aggressive campaign to retain power in Himachal Pradesh but was clearly behind, winning 18 and leading in seven seats as counting neared its end.
The defeat will leave the party and its allies in control of 15 states and one federal territory in India.
(Writing by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Raissa Kasolowsky and Arun Koyyur)