NEW DELHI (AFP) – India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party claimed victory in Assam elections Thursday, marking the first time the Hindu nationalist party has won control of a state in the country’s restive northeast.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said it was a historic victory and promised to “fulfil the dreams and aspirations” of people in Assam, where ethnic and religious tensions and a myriad of rebel insurgencies have held back development.
The win is a boost to the BJP after a slew of state election defeats, and a major blow to the Congress party, its main rival on the national political stage.
Counting is not yet complete, but partial results showed the Congress, formerly in power in the state, had just 28 of the total 126 seats and the BJP had 55.
“This win is historic by all standards. Phenomenal!,” Modi tweeted.
India’s seven northeastern states, joined to the rest of the country by a narrow sliver of land, are culturally distinct from the rest of the country and have a long history of separatist insurgencies.
The charismatic premier had led a fierce campaign in tea-growing Assam, promising to support indigenous rights and crack down on illegal immigration from neighbouring Bangladesh.
Migrants have long been accused of illegally entering the state from Bangladesh and grabbing land, causing tensions with local people and sporadic outbreaks of communal violence.
“People were fed up and they wanted a change… that’s why this time they’ve voted for BJP and its alliance partners,” said Sarbananda Sonowal, BJP’s Assam chief ministerial candidate.
Modi’s party swept to power in a general election two years ago promising business-friendly reforms to overhaul the economy, but lost out in two critical state polls in 2015.
Early results from five states whose results will be announced later Thursday showed the BJP trailing regional parties in Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the south, and in the eastern state of West Bengal.
West Bengal’s feisty Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, 61, declared victory after early trends showed her winning a landslide 213 seats of the available 294, calling the feat “unprecedented”.
In Tamil Nadu, the hugely popular Jayalalithaa Jayaram announced her win to scores of jubilant supporters, while the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was seen leading in Kerala.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi tweeted his “best wishes” to the victors and said his party would “work harder till we win the confidence & trust of people”.
The party, in power nationally until 2014, was leading in only one state — the southern Indian seaside town of Puducherry, a former French colony with under a million eligible voters.