Election Commission data shows Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was on course to increase its grip on parliament with 303 out of 542 elected seats – up from 282 in 2014.
Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to build an inclusive India on Thursday after scoring a landslide election win that he hailed as the “biggest event in world democracy.”
“Together we grow. Together we prosper. Together we will build a strong and inclusive India. India wins yet again!” Modi declared amid nationwide celebrations by his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (or BJP).
The 68-year-old leader, who built a formidable campaign based on his tough national security stance, was showered with petals when he arrived flashing the “V” for victory sign at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi, where thousands of supporters waited.
A rolling election commission vote count showed the BJP was on course to increase its grip on parliament with 303 out of 542 elected seats – up from 282 in 2014.
The commission cancelled the election in the Vellore constituency on the ground of excessive use of money power.
Praises for Modi
US President Donald Trump sent Twitter congratulations on the “BIG” win and added, “Great things are in store for the US-India partnership with the return of PM Modi at the helm.”
Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia, Emmanuel Macron of France and prime ministers Shinzo Abe of Japan, Scott Morrison of Australia, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Imran Khan of Pakistan were among world leaders to call Modi before the final results were even released, the foreign ministry said.
The vast size of India made the world’s biggest election a marathon six-week endeavour.
The campaign, estimated to have cost more than $7 billion, was awash with insults – Modi was likened to Hitler and a “gutter insect” – as well as fake news in Facebook and WhatsApp’s biggest markets.
Gandhi tried to attack Modi over a French defence deal and high unemployment and said the prime minister was dividing the officially secular country.
There has been a rise in lynchings of Muslims and low-caste Dalits for eating beef and slaughtering and trading in cattle, with critics saying extremists have been emboldened by the BJP coming to power.
It will be the first time in almost five decades that an Indian premier has been voted back with an increased majority.
“The voting numbers in India’s election is the biggest event in the history of [the] democratic world. The entire world has to recognise the democratic strength of India,” Modi told cheering crowds.
Humiliating defeat for Congress
The opposition Congress party was on just 52 seats, with Rahul Gandhi – the great-grandson, grandson and son of three premiers – conceding defeat and congratulating Modi.
The Congress tally only improved marginally from its historic low of 44 in 2014 polls.
In an added personal humiliation Gandhi, 48, also lost Amethi, a seat long held by his storied family, to a former television star running for the BJP.
The BJP headquarters in Delhi erupted in celebration with drummers, firecrackers, dancing and singing as thousands of party faithfuls waited in heavy rain for their leader.
“Modi will make India great again. Modi is the strongest prime minister India has ever had and will get. We need to support his policies to prosper,” said one supporter, Santosh Joshi.
At Congress headquarters, a handful of dejected supporters sat in groups.
“We are sad but we will rise again. Modi won because of his lies and false promises. The country is in danger now,” Rajesh Tiwari, a Congress supporter, told AFP news agency.
Jagdish Sharma, 50, blamed the counting method, using electronic voting machines, saying “Rahul Gandhi is the crowd’s favourite, but has always lost only due to EVMs.
While EVMs exist even Lord Vishnu can’t defeat Modi,” he said, referring to a powerful Hindu god.
India’s main Sensex index breached the 40,000-point level for the first time as the count pointed to a Modi win, adding to strong gains since Monday.
Seizing upon Kashmir bombing
But Modi deftly turned the election into a referendum on his rule while depicting himself as the only one able to defend India.
He seized upon a suicide bombing, claimed by a Pakistan-based and proscribed militant group, that killed 40 Indian paramilitaries in India-administered Kashmir on February 14. India launched a cross-border air raid and Pakistan hit back the next day downing an Indian jet and capturing its pilot who was returned later.
But the strike helped Modi style himself the country’s “chowkidar” (“watchman”).
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday congratulated Modi and said he looked forward to working for “peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia.”
Modi responded in a Twitter message thanking his arch-rival for his “good wishes” and saying he wanted peace in the region.
The messages came just hours after Pakistan said it tested a surface-to-surface ballistic missile capable of carrying conventional and nuclear warheads. India tested its latest supersonic cruise missile on Wednesday.
Analysts say Modi’s victory could improve relations between the arch foes.
“The expectation in Pakistan is that there will be an incremental improvement in Pakistan-India relations as Modi’s attitude would be more relaxed,” retired Pakistani general Talat Masood told AFP.
Trends in the election data suggest that BJP’s strategy of pursuing an aggressive campaign in eastern India paid off, with the party breaking into the citadels of Trinamool Congress Party in West Bengal state and the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha state.
Picking up seats in these two states would compensate for projected losses in Uttar Pradesh in northern India.
The biggest losers appear to be the communists who ruled West Bengal state for 34 years until they were ousted by Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress Party in 2011.
Coalition partners of the Congress-led government in New Delhi between 2004 and 2008, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was leading in only three constituencies and the Communist party of India in two constituencies.
The BJP harnessed social media, including Twitter, where Modi has 47.4 million followers, and WhatsApp to reach out to millions of supporters.
Fraught with controversy
In the world’s largest democratic exercise, voters cast ballots on some 40 million electronic voting machines, a method India began using 15 years ago after complaints that the manual count of paper ballots was tainted by fraud and abuse.
Losing candidates and political parties have raised doubts about the accuracy and reliability of the electronic method, however, noting the machines are not used in Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States.
The issue hit the headlines again this week.
Top opposition leaders met with Election Commission officials on Tuesday after videos appeared on social media showing some electronic voting machines being moved.
The party officials alleged that the machines were being moved in order to be altered, but the commission said the images showed unused machines being moved into storage.
Source: TRTWorld and agencies