Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a press conference at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi, India, May 17, 2019. (T. NARAYAN / BLOOMBERG)
NEW DELHI/KOLKATA — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to win a majority on his own in India’s general election, with his Bharatiya Janata Party surging to a commanding lead in early vote counting.
BJP supporters have begun celebrating in the streets as the party extended its lead in more than 292 seats -- easily ahead of the 272 seats needed to form government -- while Congress is ahead in 50 seats, official election commission results show as of 11:36 am local time.
Indian equities jumped, with the benchmark S&P BSE Sensex hitting the 40,000 milestone as the election results rolled out. The rupee strengthened 0.2 percent to 69.5175 per dollar, while the yield on benchmark 2029 bonds slid six basis points to 7.2 percent, the lowest since last April.
Official data from India's Election Commission showed the BJP ahead in 292 seats, with the main opposition Congress Party ahead in 50. There are 542 seats available
The outcome is a validation of Modi’s hardline Hindu nationalism and populist economic policies, and a major setback for Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, whose party has failed to make significant inroads following it’s trouncing in the polls in 2014, when it won just 44 seats.
"We need to definitely go back to our drawing board and understand if the country has really changed so drastically and we haven’t changed," Congress spokesman Pawan Khera said on CNN News18.
The Election Commission of India began counting at 8 am local time after a six- long week-process that began on April 11. India uses electronic voting machines, so counting should be completed on the same day. There’s roughly 900 million registered voters and with turnout at around 67 percent, that’s more than 600 million people casting ballots.
Ahead of counting, opposition leaders -- as well as the country’s former president -- have raised questions about the integrity of the electronic voting machines. The agency has rejected these accusations, but complaints may continue as results roll in.
Nearly all exit polls predicted Modi’s BJP and its allies in the National Democratic Alliance would sweep to a comfortable victory over the rival Congress party and its United Progressive Alliance.
The election in India, the world’s fastest-growing major economy, took place amid rising concerns about unemployment, protests by impoverished farmers and in the wake of a deadly suicide bombing and military confrontation with Pakistan that darkened the national mood. Campaigning quickly got ugly, with Modi calling an assassinated former prime minister corrupt and rival political party supporters clashing violently in eastern India.
Under the BJP, the government has launched sprawling welfare programs to benefit the poor and surprised markets by sparring with central bank chiefs and eradicating 86 percent of currency overnight. His government gradually pivoted to a more populist economic program after launching structural reforms, such as a landmark goods and services tax.
India paramilitary soldiers guard a vote counting center in Prayagraj, India, May 22, 2019. (RAJESH KUMAR SINGH / AP)
Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, also a senior BJP leader, said on Twitter the BJP had won a "massive victory".
It’s a huge mandate for positive politics and the policies of Narendra Modi
GVL Narasimha Rao, BJP spokesman
The mood was upbeat at BJP headquarters in New Delhi, with party workers cheering as TV channels reported a growing lead.
"It’s a huge mandate for positive politics and the policies of Narendra Modi," said GVL Narasimha Rao, a BJP spokesman.
"It’s a huge win for India, we are humbled by the magnificence of this victory."
Congress spokesman Salman Soz said "It's obviously not in our favor at all."
"We need to wait for the full results but right now it doesn't look good."
An Indian election official shows an open Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) to polling agents at a counting centre in Ghaziabad, India, on May 23, 2019. (PRAKASH SINGH / AFP)
If Modi is returned to power, he’ll likely spend the next five years focusing on the promises he made in 2014 that targeted the aspirations of the middle class and business community, said Sandeep Shastri, a political scientist and Pro Vice Chancellor at Jain University in Bangalore.
"While they will continue to have the pro-poor stance that they’ve followed for the last five years, I think they’ll expand their bag of policies to focus much more on the middle class, the upper middle class and the business class," Shastri said.
India began counting hundreds of millions of votes in its general election on Thursday, with a coalition led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi''s party taking an early lead, India's Election Commision said.
(With Reuters report)
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