May 23, 2019
By Alasdair Pal and Mayank Bhardwaj
NEW DELHI/AYODHYA (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi scored a dramatic election victory on Thursday, 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 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 Friday morning.
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 on Thursday 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.
He was critical of the many people that doubted the BJP could increase its majority.
“The political pundits of India have to leave behind their ideas of the past,” he added.
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.
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.
“I want Modi to finish terrorism from Kashmir (and) make Pakistan bite the dust again and again,” said Shekhar Chahal, a BJP worker from the capital, New Delhi.
“I am confident that Modi will also make the temple in Ayodhya.”
The NDA’s predicted margin of victory, at 351 seats versus 93 for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, according to broadcaster NDTV, far exceeds survey forecasts in the run-up to the vote.
Among the winners for the BJP was a Hindu ascetic accused of plotting a bomb attack on Muslims.
Most polls indicated a victory for Modi’s alliance but expected it to fall short of an overall majority.
(Click https://reut.rs/2VXBoxz for graphic of live updates of election results)