Hindutva poster-boy Narendra Modi on Sunday powered BJP to a near two-thirds majority in the Gujarat Assembly elections and for a record fourth term giving himself a third stint as Chief Minister.
In the elections that were seen as a referendum on Modi, the ruling BJP trounced main rival Congress securing 117 seats, five less than a two-thirds majority in the 182-member Assembly and ten less than it had notched in the 2002 elections.
The Congress marginally improved its position bagging 59 seats, increasing its tally by eight while its ally NCP won three. The party's defeat triggered a debate whether its president Sonia Gandhi's controversial "merchants of death" remarks was a factor that contributed to saffron consolidation.
Modi, who had replaced Keshubhai Patel in 2001 and had led the party to a sweeping victory in 2002, will be sworn in as Chief Minister on December 27.
The 57-year-old former RSS pracharak's performance bettered Exit Poll projections by TV channels, the highest of which was 110, and enthused the party's Prime Ministerial candidate LK Advani to claim that the BJP was on a "comeback trail" at the Centre.
The JD(U) won one seat while the Independents accounted for the remaining two. The BSP, with ambitions of expanding its presence outside Uttar Pradesh, the CPI-M and the Lok Jan Shakti of Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan drew a blank.
Factors like incumbency and challenge from party rebels could not stop the Modi juggernaut which swept Saurashtra, North and South Gujarat holding on to BJP's existing seats.
The saffron party suffered reverses in Central Gujarat, the theatre of post-Godhra riots in 2002, where it lost about a score of seats to Congress which was made up by wins elsewhere.
The saffron victory, analysts feel, may lead the Congress-led UPA and its crucial Left allies to close ranks and reduce the chances of much-speculated mid-term Lok Sabha elections on the controversial Indo-US nuclear deal.
Modi's impressive performance triggered questions whether he would be pitchforked to the national political scene but the BJP's strategist in Gujarat Arun Jaitley said for the moment the Chief Minister is committed to serving the people of Gujarat.
"Politics does not accept any form of stagnation. Politicians, personalities evolve over a period of time. What will happen ten years down the row or five years down the row I don't know," senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley said.
"As for a role for him in the national party is concerned, certainly he is one of our foremost leaders in the country. He has a great amount of charisma and he is there," Jaitley said.
The BJP's splendid showing did not help Modi's five ministerial colleagues including Bhupendra Singh Chudasama (Agriculture), Kaushik Patel (Revenue) and Prabhatsinh Chauhan (Tribal Development) who bit the dust at the hustings.
The other ministerial losers were IK Jadeja (Urban Development) and Chattrasinh Mori (Public Distribution).
Thanking the five crore people of Gujarat, Modi said the victory was the outcome of a "positive vote" to bring back the state government despite what he called "negative propaganda, language and tricks," an apparent reference to Gandhi's "merchants of death" remarks.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had done a spirited campaign attacking the Modi government's performance, called the Chief Minister over phone and congratulated him on his victory.
Modi led the victory trail vanquishing Union Minister and Congress leader Dinsha Patel by 87,000 votes in Maninagar to consolidate the saffron's party hold in its Hindutva laboratory.
Modi staved off the BJP rebels' challenge in Saurashtra led by veteran Keshubhai Patel where in fact his party added a couple of seats to its kitty. Even in Modi's bastion in the North, the Chief Minister improved his position.
Prominent losers from the Congress was former deputy chief minister Narhari Amin in Matar. Bechar Badani, BJP rebel, who was contesting on Congress ticket from Lathi constituency, also lost. Jayant Patel Bosky, NCP state unit president won from Sarsa.