New Delhi, Dec 19: It is a set of elections featuring a multiplicity of contests - Narendra Modi versus the Congress, Virbhadra Singh versus the BJP, and anti-incumbency versus governance record. The outcome of the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh polls will also show how issues of corruption, price rise and economic reforms play out in the political arena.
Analysts say the results will have greater impact on inner dynamics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) than of the Congress.
The assembly polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh also mark the start of the poll season, with elections slated for nine states in 2013 followed by the Lok Sabha polls in 2014.
Ahead of Thursday's counting, the BJP appears more upbeat than the Congress with exit polls predicting another victory for it in Gujarat. Though surveys have predicted an edge for the Congress in Himachal Pradesh, most of them have kept the BJP within striking distance of forming the government.
The elections to the 68-member Himachal Pradesh assembly, held Nov 4, is crucial to the political future of Virbhadra Singh, a five-time chief minister. He was appointed party chief in the hill state days before the polling in a bid to improve the Congress' poll prospects.
The septuagenarian leader, who had to resign from the cabinet over corruption allegations, faced a volley of charges from the BJP over alleged wrongdoings related to the steel ministry he headed and his income- tax returns.
In Gujarat, Modi drove the BJP campaign almost single-handedly. Considered a potential prime ministerial candidate, he is likely to emerge stronger if the party registers a resounding win in the state which has 182 assembly seats. Polling was held in the state Dec 13 and 17.
Political analyst Aswini K.Ray said Modi will emerge as a very strong leader if the BJP wins in Gujarat, but it could lead to more problems for the party.
"If the BJP wins Gujarat, he will emerge as a very strong leader. The BJP already has powerful leaders... It could lead to new problems and mean a lot more faction fighting," Ray, a former professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University, told IANS.
He said Modi's victory would not lead to his emergence as an automatic prime ministerial candidate "but will strengthen his claim".
The Congress, he said, was severely handicapped by absence of an effective leader in Gujarat, but appears to have done better in Himachal Pradesh and a victory there will help it salvage its pride.
BJP leader C.P. Thakur said that victory for the party in the two states will boost its morale and that Modi's victory will increase his stature within the party.
"If a chief minister wins repeatedly, his stature grows," said Thakur, a Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar.
He added that the BJP had not decided its prime ministerial candidate and will take a call if the decision is to be taken before or after the Lok Sabha polls.
The poll outcome is also expected to give feedback on some of the hard economic decisions by the government including putting a cap on subsidised cooking gas cylinders. The government also allowed foreign equity in multi-brand retail against the opposition's reservations.
Almost conceding that the Congress will not win in Gujarat, Union Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal claimed that "misgovernance" was the issue in the polls, not corruption.
"We will win Himachal and improve in Gujarat," Jaiwal told IANS.
The elections in the two states were also marked by a high voter turnout and led to expectations in the Congress that the anti-incumbency factor will play a role.
The BJP also faced fights against regional parties floated by its former leaders in both Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat.
Congress MP Karan Singh said that the outcome in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh will have an impact on national politics but the "entire future" cannot be judged by state elections.
"Every state has its own special background, history. I don't think they (the results) can be definitive," he said.
Expressing agreement with Karan Singh's views, George Mathew, chairman, Institute of Social Sciences, also said Modi's victory will add to his political weight but there was no certainty he will be the BJP's prime ministerial candidate.