Modi wins landslide victory in Indian election

After five weeks of voting and more than 550-million votes cast across India, preliminary results suggest an historic rout for the ruling Indian National Congress party and an astonishing, though widely predicted, victory for Narendra Modi and the country’s right-wing, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

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With a note of triumph, Mr. Modi tweeted: ‘India has won!’ Friday.

Television channels aired footage of an emotional Mr. Modi meeting his mother and touching her feet, a traditional gesture when Hindus seek the blessings of an older relative.

His mother then marked his forehead with vermilion and fed him sweets.

Mr. Modi and his party appeared set to win more than enough seats to form a majority government in the world’s largest democracy, ending a decade of rule by the center-left Congress party – which has ruled nearly uninterrupted since the country gained independence from Great Britain.

As results flooded in on Friday morning, a senior Congress leader conceded defeat.

“We are accepting the people’s verdict in all humility,” party spokesman Shakil Ahmed said. “Trends of the counting are certainly not in our favour. The trends point out that the country has decided to vote against us.”

The results so far indicate that Indians have grown incredibly dissatisfied with the political status quo and a stagnating economy under the Congress party and have chosen to take the country down a dramatically different path by electing a right-leaning, pro-business party that campaigned on economic development.

The BJP was leading in a remarkable 238 constituencies and won 43, while Congress was leading in just 50, which would suggest the party of Jawaharlal Nehru – India’s first prime minister – appeared set for its worst defeat ever, a result that would be a stark rejection of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, the scion of India’s venerated Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

With 543 constituencies across India, the early results suggest that the BJP is likely to break through and reach a clear majority on its own – something no party has done since 1989 – ending an era of unstable governance in which parties have had to cobble together loose coalitions. With coalition allies, the BJP’s lead is even stronger – and it is likely that they could, perhaps, implement their economic agenda without the long periods of policy paralysis that hobbled the previous Congress-led coalition.

The final results are expected by around 4 p.m., but Indian stocks rose sharply in early morning trading as a victory appeared decisive for the pro-business Mr. Modi and his BJP – who had many cheerleaders among the corporate boardrooms of India. Almost every poll had predicted a BJP victory and a Congress defeat.

Mr. Modi, who has been chief minister of the prosperous state of Gujarat since 2002, campaigned on an economic platform that promised to deliver development after years of corruption under the Congress-led coalition government. His party’s sophisticated public relations machine emphasized his strong economic track record and pointed to scandals under the incumbent government.

Mr. Modi was still dogged on the campaign trail for refusing to apologize for anti-Muslim violence that occurred in Gujarat in 2002, for which he was denied a visa to visit the United States.

But Mr. Modi, a decisive politician who is known as a meticulous perfectionist, appeared set for a victory on a scale which the party has never seen. Despite his own history within right-wing Hindu organizations, and the fear many Indian Muslims feel about his candidacy, the early results suggest Mr. Modi has taken the BJP from a marginal standing to a truly national party – demolishing Congress and its hold on power as it went.

Voting began in India on April 7 and continued in staggered phases for five weeks until May 12, mainly because of the enormous security precautions and nearly unfathomable logistics. The Election Commission of India, which is widely respected internationally even though elections often involve illicit cash and vote-buying, set out to ensure that there would be ballot boxes within two kilometers of every voters – an unbelievable challenge in a country with villages scattered across mountain ranges and jungles.

For Congress, India’s historic ruling party, the scale of their defeat appears immense. Though briefly out of power between 1998 and 2004, the Congress has steered India since independence with a trademark mix of secularism and Nehruvian socialism, which birthed the Indian welfare state. But the past five years have been rough for Congress. Scandal after scandal – in the telecommunications and coal industries, to name just two – have battered the party’s reputation, and its standing has fallen as ministers and others were marched off to jail.

But to many, the scale of Mr. Modi’s likely victory can be chalked up to one thing: The depth of dissatisfaction with the status quo in a rapidly modernizing and urbanizing India.

In dozens of interviews over the course of three weeks during the voting process in April, impoverished Indians – from shopkeepers to rickshaw drivers – told The Globe and Mail that they were fed up with the lack of progress and development in India.

In Mr. Modi – a man many Muslims fear and distrust because of Hindu-Muslim tension in his home state of Gujarat – a lot of Indians see the promise of a brighter future for their country, which they feel has not yet met its enormous potential.

– The Globe and Mail


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