India’s ruling party loses seats but still wins in Gujarat

India’s ruling party loses seats but still wins in Gujarat

NEW DELHI — The ruling party of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi lost some seats but held onto power in his home state of Gujarat, despite a stronger-than-usual challenge in local elections.

In near-final results, India’s Election Commission said Monday that Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party had won 97 seats and was ahead in the races for two others. It needed 92 seats to retain a majority in the 182-seat state assembly.

The main opposition Congress party made inroads, winning 75 seats and leading in the contests for two others, a jump from the 61 it held previously.

A loss would have been a major embarrassment for Modi, as both parties look ahead to national elections in 2019. His BJP has ruled Gujarat in western India for two decades, with Modi himself as leader for more than 10 years until he became prime minister in 2014.

The election was also the first real test for Rahul Gandhi, the new leader of the Congress party 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 to have wrested 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.

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.