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'Congress wasn't in the picture!'
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi

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December 23, 2007
The Bharatiya Janata Party's election victory in Gujarat may have been on the plank of Narendra Modi's [Images] charisma, the promise of development and a curfew-free Gujarat, but the Hindutva issue has not entirely disappeared from the Gujarati mind.

The Sarkhej constituency, which is virtually divided on communal grounds, has once again elected Gujarat Minister of State for Home Amit Shah by a huge margin of more than 235,000 votes. The constituency has communally charged areas like the Hindu-dominated Vejalpur and the Muslim-dominated Juhapura.

In a telephone conversation with Managing Editor (National Affairs) Sheela Bhatt, Shah, above, spelled out the meaning of the BJP's victory.

How do you analyse the BJP's victory today?

The popularity of Narendra Modi, our stance on the issue of terrorism and the development work that we have heralded all over the state helped us win this election.

Why is Modi so popular?

He is honest. He is providing an efficient administration.

Did you expect to win as many seats?

We expected 12 to 15 seats more. We lost 12 seats only by around 500 votes. If the media had not written such lies about us, we would have won those seats too.

What message does the BJP victory send outside Gujarat?

We are sending one clear message: Political leaders and the government will have to provide security to people. Governments can't escape from taking tough steps. One can't be populist about it. You can't flirt with such serious issues like security.

Where did the Congress make mistakes?

The Congress wasn't in the picture! A national party cannot win an election riding piggyback on the rebels of the rival party. In BJP rebel areas like Surat, we have won four seats. In Amreli we have won six and in Kutch we have won four out of six seats.

Keshubhai Patel's influence has been completely wiped out. Remember, the Congress contest only 165 out of 182 seats. We would have won Central Gujarat too, but I think the lies of the Congress through the media hurt our candidates.

In the 2002 election, we had won seats in the Congress stronghold of Central Gujarat; maybe it has slipped back a little. However, we have lost by a very thin margin there.

Where does Modi go from here?

What remains to be done. He will rule the state.

How about a role in national politics for him?

I will have to ask Modi about it.

Photograph: Rashmin Sondrawa

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