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Sunday, 15 December, 2002, 13:56 GMT
Q&A: Gujarat elections
India's ruling Hindu nationalist party has won a landslide victory in assembly elections held in the western state of Gujarat.

The state was the scene of serious religious violence earlier this year in which more than 1,000 people were killed.

BBC News Online looks at some of the key issues surrounding the elections, and the implications of the result.

Why have these elections been so important?

They were seen as a crucial test of the popularity of the Indian ruling party - the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Gujarat was the last state in which the BJP had a majority in the state assembly, having lost control of a string of states this year.

With a landslide victory, the BJP will be hoping to bolster its position nationally ahead of state elections in 2003 and general elections due by 2004.

The opposition Congress Party's efforts to cement the gains it made in the recent elections in Kashmir - where it emerged as the largest single party and has formed a coalition government - proved unsuccessful .

Will the elections bring peace to the state?

Lasting peace in Gujarat remains the priority for the state's residents.

Clashes between Hindu and Muslim supporters broke out even as results were being announced.

The authorities imposed an indefinite curfew in two areas, and declared the situation was under control.

Congress party scarves
Congress failed to repeat its recent successes
But restoring peace to the region will be one of the main challenges for Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who had been criticised for his poor handling of the rioting earlier this year.

In February, an attack on a train carrying Hindu activists in which almost 60 people died led to bloody communal violence - mostly directed against the state's Muslim population.

Official figures suggest around 1,000 people died in the violence, but estimates by human rights groups suggest the real figure could be higher than 2,000.

The elections were seen as a crucial test of communal relations in the state. The Hindu nationalists recorded big gains in areas which witnessed serious outbreaks of violence.

Why were the elections held now?

Chief Minister Modi resigned in July to seek a fresh mandate.

But the Election Commission initially rejected calls by the BJP to hold elections, saying that conditions in the state were not back to normal after the religious violence.

The commission ruled in August that the situation in Gujarat "was not conducive for conduct of free and fair elections in the state".

They said electoral rolls had become "substantially defective" due to the large-scale displacement of people following the violence.

But in October, Chief Election Commissioner JM Lyngdoh announced that the polls would be held on 12 December.

Special arrangements were made for those voters who have still not been able to return home after being displaced by the violence.

Who took part?

A truck on fire during riots in Gujarat's commercial capital Ahmedabad
More than 1000 people were killed in communal violence
The elections were a two-horse race between the BJP and Congress.

Both leading candidates - the BJP's Narendra Modi and the Congress Party's Shankersingh Vaghela - had strong Hindu credentials.

Chief Minister Modi is a key ideologue of the Hindu right wing in India.

He has been chief minister since October 2001.

Leader of the Congress party in the state, Shankersingh Vaghela, had a background to rival Modi's.

He is the former leader of the BJP in Gujarat and had a brief spell as a Congress-backed Chief Minister of Gujarat in 1997 after leading a palace coup against the BJP state government.

In the past, Vaghela's strength was thought to have been his appeal to lower and middle-caste Hindus and the state's Muslim population.

But none of these qualities seemed to have translated in winning him enough votes.

What were the main issues?

Chief Minister Modi campaigned on a Hindu nationalist and anti-terrorist ticket.

His aggressive campaigning surrounding the issue paid off.

He hoped that the Godhra attack in February - which sparked the months of religious violence - and the attack on a Hindu temple in Gandinagar in September will unite Gujarat's majority Hindu population behind him.

Opposition parties and human rights groups strongly criticised Mr Modi during the religious violence on charges ranging from political inertia, slowness in controlling the violence to complicity in "ethnic cleansing" of the state's Muslims.

The Congress Party called for his removal, accusing him of complicity in the violence.

But the Congress failed to capture the voters' mind with the issues, it was campaigning on.

Gujarat conflict in-depth

Key vote

Tense state

Background

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