The Economic Times easily had the best commentary: direct and to the point (do read it in full: it is only a little longer than what we are quoting below, and easily the most succinct commentary on the verdict yesterday): Narendra Modi emerges as strong contender for PM's post; still constrained:
...By not specifically excluding the 54-lakh Muslim population from those from whom he sought forgiveness, he has held out quenching sweetness for those who have been thirsting for a reason to forget the killings of 2002. By claiming that he owes his victory to 'development' that transcends caste and community, Modi wants to foster the narrative that sees growth and prosperity as being divorced from the practice and discourse of politics. The real world, however, is not so simple.
In the 1930s, Stalin, Hitler and Roosevelt were all promoting vigorous development in their own countries, each to legitimise a different kind of politics and associated values. What politics is sought to be legitimised defines the political imperative of the development undertaken. Modi and the BJP have sought to legitimise the exclusive politics of Hindu majoritarianism, which offers Muslims security conditional on their suitable conduct rather than as a right devolving from their citizenship. This is what makes rates of growth political rather than mere matters of economics and arithmetic. Unless this politics is explicitly disowned, development cannot serve as a passport to power at the Centre, thanks to India's teeming diversity.
The Hindu: King of his jungle
...the real issue at stake in these polls was not the electoral map of Gujarat but the political future of Mr. Modi. Egged on by pre-poll surveys and exit polls which gave him as many as 130 of 182 seats — more than the BJP’s best ever tally of 127, achieved in 2002 in the aftermath of the horrific anti-Muslim pogrom — the Chief Minister’s cheerleaders believed NaMo was on the cusp of national greatness. As it turned out, the party ended two short of 117 — the number of seats it won in 2007 and the magic figure that analysts believe Mr. Modi needed to cross to establish his invincibility and stake his claim to lead the BJP and consequently the National Democratic Alliance into the 2014 general election. To be sure, this statistical detail cannot detract from the larger story which is that Mr. Modi has joined the ranks of Mohanlal Sukhadia, Jyoti Basu, Sheila Dikshit and Naveen Patnaik in leading his party to victory in a State three times in a row. But by themselves raising the bar in the run up to the election, his supporters have weakened their hero’s claim to a leading role on the national stage.
The Telegraph: Growth Wins:
Mr Modi is the secularists’ ogre and this perception of him tends to rather obfuscate the fact that he has never compromised on his project to bring economic development and growth to Gujarat. This commitment of Mr Modi defies the economic policies advocated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an organization to which Mr Modi owes umbilical loyalty. Mr Modi has welcomed capital, foreign and indigenous, and has facilitated its entry into his home state. It is this success that is paying dividends to Mr Modi in electoral terms. Conventional wisdom has it that development is not a vote catcher in India: the thrust to industrialize leads to loss of popularity. Mr Modi’s win goes against this wisdom... Throughout his election campaign, in the course of which Mr Modi launched a high-decibel attack on the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance, he uttered not a single line against the decision to allow foreign direct investment in retail trade. This silence was eloquent testimony to Mr Modi’s commitment to economic development.
The Business Standard: Beyond the fog of spin:
Invincible as he appears in his western stronghold, can he sweep forth from it and take New Delhi for an insurgent BJP? The good news for Mr Modi’s rivals in his party is that these results don’t even begin to suggest he can. Even in Gujarat, Mr Modi has been unable to deliver the 19 and 20 (out of 26) Lok Sabha seats his predecessors gave Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Indians vote differently at different levels, frequently for sub-nationalist strongmen at the local level and pushed by national-level issues in general elections... The spin will tell you this was a referendum of one sort or another, or a setback to Mr Modi or to Rahul Gandhi, or a reminder that economic growth is a political vote spinner. The truth is that these elections were a salutary reminder that, in India, state politics is a local and not a national affair, and that every state’s history and dynamics are different and fascinating in their own way.
The Times of India: Modi’s back for the third time, but can he go beyond Gujarat?
Is it now 'Dilli chalo' for Modi? If yes, the transition to the national stage won't be easy. First, who'll take charge in Gandhinagar will be a concern for the BJP. Second, the RSS-led saffron family appears divided on giving Modi top rank in the BJP central leadership. Viewed as an abrasive lone ranger, he isn't quite the team player Nagpur would want so as to maintain its grip on the party. Third, despite his popularity in Gujarat, Modi's a deeply polarising figure. He hasn't proactively sought to make his development agenda more inclusive of Muslims. Nor can he claim to have healed the wounds of the post-Godhra violence by providing speedy succour to its victims.
Modi's image as Hindutva hardliner therefore remains and it can't but impact his national ambitions. His rivals in the faction-ridden BJP will lay claim to greater all-round acceptability. It's likely that the NDA will split if he's pitched as the BJP's mascot for 2014. Clearly, Modi needs more than sadbhavna rallies and 3D self-projections to widen his appeal across the social and political board. His hat-trick in Gujarat is no mean feat. But taking strike beyond Gujarat will be a tougher challenge.
The Hindustan Times: The next stop could be Delhi
The victory belongs solely to Mr Modi who worked with super-human energy in this campaign, his hologram filling in for his physical presence in many areas. He did not raise any divisive issues whether of caste or religion. He focused solely on his development record, Gujarati pride and, of course, took several swipes at the Congress. In contrast to the BJP’s single-minded determination to make its voice heard and to project the leadership of Mr Modi, the Congress seemed directionless, even agenda-less...
...He has delivered time and again against severe odds at times. He has inspired investor confidence in the state and also put development at the forefront. Both have yielded huge returns for him. Whether anyone likes his Moditva brand or not, Narendra Modi cannot be described as a just another regional leader anymore. This is particularly true of a party which does not have too many tall leaders left. So, downplaying this as a modest victory is neither credible nor productive for the party. Narendra Modi is the brightest star in the BJP’s firmament today and he is certainly not modest about it.
The Indian Express had two editorials, one: Gujarat's Choice:
Modi has fought this election with remarkable energy, taking on opposition from every corner. He was fighting not only the Congress and its fellow-travellers on the left, he was also dealing with deserters from his own party and parivar functionaries positioned to his right.
These election results, and Modi’s performance, have affirmed that an aspirational idiom combined with a language of regional assertion can be a compelling reason for a pro-incumbency vote in the state.
So far, Modi has displayed scant respect for the party organisation’s hierarchies. In Gujarat, he destroyed the internal opposition to himself and consolidated his grip, presiding over an unabashed personality cult. He successfully sidelined sangh outfits and the RSS. The central BJP, already in unceasing turmoil over the leadership question, will now have to deal with the formidable claimant from Gujarat, who disdains not just the opponent across the political fence, but also the opposition within.
The second editorial in the Indian Express is on where the Congress failed: No Name Campaign
The day after, the Congress would do well to wonder if there is a lesson in the difference in its performance in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, one that resonates beyond these two states. While its campaign in Himachal benefited from the all but formal anointment of the veteran Virbhadra Singh as its mascot, no leader was allowed to take ownership of the party’s exertions in Gujarat. The resultant facelessness of the Gujarat campaign was an extension of the dominant party culture that remains in denial about a defining imperative of Indian politics after the one-party dominance system splintered in the ’90s: the regionalisation of politics and of political leadership.
The New Indian Express: Modi's hat-trick a result of good governance
Modi’s substantial sway in Gujarat was essentially an urban phenomenon with the old warhorse virtually sweeping the urban constituencies where the benefits of the rapid industrialization, streamlined administration and improved law and order were felt most. Though the minorities as a whole continued to feel sore with the BJP for the handling of the 2002 riots and its failure to allocate even a single seat to the Muslims, a section of Muslims especially those who had benefited from his reforms did endorse him. In the rural constituencies, the Modi factor did not work as well since Modi’s policies did not benefit the farmer directly. The mini-revolt by Keshubhai Patel made no difference to Modi’s juggernaut.
The Pioneer: Modi Magic Once More:
For weeks in the run-up to the election, detractors of Mr Modi, and that included the Congress and so-called civil rights activists who have created a career of sorts out of demonising the Chief Minister, had been spreading the message that Mr Modi was a polarising figure and that he was absolutely reviled by the Muslims in the State. Although the Congress, scared as it was after the 2007 experience, did not once raise the issue of the 2002 violence or the ‘persecution' of the minorities by the Modi-led Government, the fact remains that its workers had continued to spread venom against the Chief Minister throughout the election campaign at the grassroots level. But the results seem to suggest that even that strategy of the Congress has failed. The BJP has managed to make significant inroads into the minority votes as well, and which clearly indicates that the Muslims of the State are by and large disgusted by the hate propaganda unleashed by the Chief Minister's critics. They are willing to leave the past behind and move forward. Additionally, neither the dreaded anti-incumbency factor nor the Keshubhai factor has worked to the advantage of the Congress. The BJP has held on to its support base in Saurashtra region which has a significant Patel community presence that was supposed to shift to the Chief Minister's arch rival Keshubhai Patel, and the party has performed no less better than it did in 2007, as the number of seats and the share of votes plainly indicate.
As for the op-eds and columns, in the Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta makes the pertinent point that those worried about Narendra Modi first need to set their own house in order: Modi-fied politics:
Modi cannot be exonerated of marginalising minorities or worse. But consider this. The secular-communal divide in India, except at the extremes, is not so much a divide between two different species of citizens as a fissure running through most of them. This divide is activated by circumstances. It is not a structural fact. Second, we hope that the law will take its course and deliver justice. But Gujarat has, at least, been subject to serious court scrutiny, direct SIT investigations and so on. Even if they technically exonerate Modi, the political culpability remains. It is a political handicap he still needs to overcome. You can look at the convictions of Modi’s cabinet colleagues and point to those as proxy proof of his culpability. You can also look at them and wonder why so many Congress cabinet ministers still have not been made to answer for 1984. The point is not to use 1984 to politically exonerate Modi. The point is that it is hard to attack evil when we so widely condone it in other contexts. Third, the social and political isolation of Muslims is a large, complex phenomenon, in part a product of the tyranny of the compulsory identities the Congress has produced. It is also exacerbated by the fact that friends of minorities like the Samajwadi Party are running no more than protection rackets for them, depending on a permanent tutelage. Unfortunately, attacking Modi has become a way of disguising our larger complicities. It is more about assuaging our guilty conscience than setting things right. No wonder the attacks lose their sheen.
Swapan Dasgupta in the Telegraph: Towards Greater Heights
In spite of all the rhetorical flourishes that characterize every time the voters are asked to choose, the 2012 election was really a test of bread-and-butter issues. Had the development process in Gujarat been utterly skewed and left the so-called aam admi untouched, it is doubtful that Modi would have been re-elected in an election where voter turnout touched a 70 per cent high. The absence of any focused anti-incumbency would suggest that the indictment of the Gujarat model did not correspond to people’s lived experiences. In presiding over high economic growth and the improvement in the quality of life, Modi could be said to have delivered. To those who have long argued that a high growth strategy centred on infrastructure, capacity building and state efficiency is a certain election loser — witness the examples of Vajpayee, Chandrababu Naidu and even Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee — Modi is proof that the opposite also holds good. Perhaps Manmohan Singh should take heart.
‘Prime Minister Modi’ is still a distant dream. But if the momentum generated by his political victory in Gujarat gathers pace, India could yet witness the unravelling of politics as we know it. At every stage since 2002, the bar on assessing Modi has been raised. Each time Modi has both met the challenge and readied himself for greater heights.
Ashok Malik in the Times of India: The rise of Modi 2.0:
How expansive is Modi's popularity when one leaves Gujarat? It is sobering that the surge in interest and possible backing for him in the past two or three years is largely due to the failures of the UPA government. If the economy had still been growing at 8.5%, if inflation were low, if economic optimism and job creation were still coasting along and if India felt it had a deft, confident prime minister on Race Course Road, perhaps Modi would not be the phenomenon he is. He represents India's urging for an authoritative leader, though not for an authoritarian one. That difference is crucial and needs to be appreciated by his friends and foes alike.
The Modi that excites India is the one who has made Gujarat India's Shenzhen, who has converted a trading society into a manufacturing economy and who has sold his voters the dream of becoming India's first middle-class state. Such aspirations are not unique to Gujarat and should, really, be the bedrock of an all-India right-wing party. It is this Modi who is the BJP's natural face for 2014. It is this Modi who has now become an undeniable power centre in the party and probably holds a veto as to the choice of its next president. It is this Modi who the BJP awaits.
He has till the spring of 2014 to conclusively demonstrate he is also the man India awaits.
Vir Sanghvi lists three principal reasons for Modi’s victory in the Hindustan Times: Onto the next campaign
The first is that, contrary to what secularists like to believe, politicians accused of complicity in riots against minorities usually benefit from a consolidation of majority votes... The second factor is the ineffectual nature of the fight put up by the Congress in Gujarat... Finally, of course, there’s the Modi factor. Though his followers in Delhi portray him as a national icon, Modi’s own appeal to his electorate is framed in strictly regional terms. He tells voters that he represents the pride and hopes of millions of Gujaratis who have been ignored and insulted by the ‘Delhi Sultanate’. As the Congress has no leaders of stature in the state, it is easy to portray it as a party of servile pygmies who take orders from Delhi.
To see Modi’s appeal solely in Hindu vs Muslim terms is to miss the point. In Gujarat, Narendra Modi is the one significant political leader to emerge in the last 40 years. Why is it, ask Gujarati voters, that the state of Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and even Morarji Desai has virtually no representation on either the Congress or BJP front benches in Delhi? Can anyone name a major national politician from any party who is a Gujarati? Neglected for decades, the state is now sending its favourite son to do battle with the Delhi Sultanate.