Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi scored a dramatic election victory yesterday, putting his Hindu nationalist party on course to increase its majority on a mandate of business-friendly policies and a tough stand on national security.
His re-election reinforces a global trend of right-wing populists sweeping to victory, from the United States to Brazil and Italy, often after adopting harsh positions on protectionism, immigration and defence.
Official data from the Election Commission showed Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was ahead in 302 of the 542 seats up for grabs, up from the 282 it won in 2014 and more than the 272 seats needed for a majority in the lower house of parliament.
That would give his party the first back-to-back majority for a single party since 1984. Votes will be fully counted by today morning.
The Lok Sabha has 545 seats. 543 seats were up for grab in the polls. An additional two seats are filled by nominees from the Anglo Indian community. Election Commis-sion of India cancelled polls in Vellore constituency in Tamil Nadu on charges of in-volvement of money power.
The BJP kept its core states -- the Hindi heartland, Gujarat and Maharashtra -- while posting fresh victories in Bengal, Odisha and the northeast. It also scored a huge win in Karnataka - a state the Congress rules jointly with HD Kumaraswamy.
The BJP’s main rival Congress were on just 51 seats, with Rahul Gandhi -- the great-grandson, grandson and son of three premiers -- conceding defeat and congratulating Modi.
In an added personal humiliation, Gandhi, 48, also admitted he had lost Amethi, a seat long held by his famous family, to a former television star and minister of Modi government.
“I can’t comment on the results today. I want to say that our fight is a fight for ideology. I want to tell our leaders, who won and lost, don’t worry, don’t lose confidence. We will fight together for our ideology,” Gandhi told a news conference.
“It doesn’t matter what I think went wrong. Frankly people of India have decided that Modi should be the prime minister, as an Indian person I accept it,” he said.
Gandhi was, however, expected to win from Wayanad, Kerala, from which he is also running for parliament.
NDTV reported that Gandhi had reportedly offered to resign as president of the Congress. However the party is unlikely to accept it.
Modi was showered with rose petals by some of the thousands of cheering supporters who waited for hours in a thunderstorm for his arrival at party headquarters yesterday evening.
“Whatever happened in these elections is in the past, we have to look ahead. We have to take everyone forward, including our staunchest opponents,” he said in a televised address.
Modi has slashed red tape in the world’s fifth-largest economy, though some overseas firms, including Amazon, Walmart and Mastercard, have complained about policies they say are designed to benefit domestic rivals.
He will face demands to provide jobs for the tens of millions of young people coming on to the market in the next few years and to boost depressed farm incomes.
“The immediate challenges are to address employment, the issue of agricultural income and revive the banking sector,” said Madan Sabnavis, chief economist at Care Ratings in Mumbai.
But making good on his promise of unity will be difficult as the BJP campaign was often divisive, and India’s Muslim minority has expressed fears that policies aimed at pleasing the Hindu majority could imperil their livelihoods.
Modi’s pledge of a strong stand against a separatist movement in Muslim-majority Kashmir has fuelled tension with nuclear-armed rival Pakistan, although its prime minister, Imran Khan, congratulated Modi on his win.
“Look forward to working with him for peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia,” Khan added on Twitter.
Shortly after a victory speech before thousands of supporters gathered outside the BJP’s headquarters, Modi thanked Khan.
“I warmly express my gratitude for your good wishes. I have always given primacy to peace and development in our region,” he said in a tweet.
“Congratulations to Prime Minister @narendramodi and his BJP party on their BIG election victory!” US President Donald Trump tweeted.
“Great things are in store for the US-India partnership with the return of PM Modi at the helm. I look forward to continuing our important work together!” he added.
Other neighbours and foreign leaders to congratulate Modi on his polls win include Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Japanese PM shinjo Abe, President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani, Portugal Prime Minister António Costa, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu , Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong , Bhu-tan’s Prime Minister Lotay Tshering.
Besides a harder line on national security, BJP members will look to Modi for progress on a project to building a Hindu temple on the site of a mosque demolished by Hindu zealots in the northern holy town of Ayodhya in 1992.
The NDA’s predicted margin of victory, at 349 seats versus 93 for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, according to broadcaster NDTV, far exceeds survey fore-casts in the run-up to the vote. Non-aligned parties are projected to win 100 seats.
Most polls indicated a victory for Modi’s alliance but expected it to fall short of an overall majority.
Modi was under pressure when he began campaigning, losing three state elections in December amid rising anger over farm prices and unemployment.
However, campaigning shifted towards India’s relationship with Pakistan after a suicide bomber killed 40 Indian police in February in the Himalayan region of Kashmir claimed by both countries.
Modi ordered an air strike on what India said was a militant training camp on the Pakistani side of the border, a tough response that benefited the right-wing BJP, analysts said.
“After the air strike on Pakistan, almost all these important issues started fading and farmers decided to cast their ballot for the BJP,” said Raghubar Das, 55, who grows rice and wheat on the outskirts of Ayodhya, which many devout Hindus believe to be the birthplace of the God-king Rama.
“Mind you, they didn’t vote for the BJP, they voted for Modi. Everyone loves a strong leader.”
Besides capitalised the star power of Modi, BJP also used its superior financial re-sources.
It outspent Congress by six times on Facebook and Google advertising, data showed, and by as much as 20 times overall, sources told Reuters this month.
“The Congress party has not been able to improve at all,” said Rahul Verma, a fellow at the centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.
“One big story is the emerging challenge for the Congress to remain a national alternative to the BJP. That now is under question.”
Among the states, the BJP made a clean sweep in Gujarat, Delhi and Rajasthan and is ahead in 38 of 40 seats in Bihar and 41 of 48 seats in Maharashtra. The party is also expected to win 28 of the 29 seats in Madhya Pradesh. In Chhattisgarh, it is marginally behind - leading in nine of the state’s 11 seats.
Among the southern states, the BJP is ahead on 25 of 28 seats in Karnataka - ruled by the alliance government of the Congress and HD Kumaraswamy’s Janata Dal Secular.
In the populous northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends the largest number of lawmakers to parliament, the BJP was leading in 63 of the 80 seats in the fray, out in front of a powerful alliance of caste-based parties campaigning to improve rural conditions, reported NDTV. The Mayawati-Akhilesh Yadav alliance is trailing with16.
The party also won seats in several states where it has long struggled, including West Bengal, where it took on the Trinamool Congress, a powerful regional party. Data showed it leading in 18 of 42 seats, surpassing the two it won in 2014, data showed.
The Congress is ahead in eight of Punjab’s 13 seats. It is also ahead in Tamil Nadu, where it is partnering the DMK led by MK Stalin and in Kerala, where it is ahead in 19 of 20 seats.