India election results 2019: Narendra Modi takes commanding lead

Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves at supporters during a road show in Varanasi.Image copyright

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Many see the election as a referendum on Mr Modi who won a landslide in 2014

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governing party has taken a decisive lead as votes are counted after the country’s marathon general election.

The alliance led by his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is ahead in well over 300 seats and Mr Modi is on course to keep his commanding majority.

India’s stock markets surged to record highs on early results.

Mr Modi was up against a resurgent main opposition Congress party and powerful regional rivals across the country.

Counting began at 08:00 local time (02:30 GMT) after six bitterly fought weeks of voting ended on Sunday.

This election is seen as a referendum on Mr Modi, a polarising figure adored by many but also blamed for increasing divisions in India.

Supporters of the Hindu nationalist BJP have begun celebrating what they see as a decisive win. But Mr Modi is only expected to arrive at the party HQ in Delhi later on Thursday.

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Modi supporters in Assam celebrate the results

What are the numbers?

While Mr Modi’s BJP is ahead in hundreds of seats, the main opposition alliance headed by Rahul Gandhi’s Congress party is ahead in fewer than 100.

A party or coalition needs at least 272 seats to secure a majority in the 543-member lower house of parliament, or Lok Sabha.

In 2014, the BJP won 282 seats – the biggest victory by any party in 30 years – and with its allies, it secured 336 seats in that parliament.

India votes 2019

The Congress, which won just 44, suffered its worst defeat in 2014 and with its allies took up just 60 seats in the lower house.

This year, there were 900 million voters eligible to take part in seven rounds of voting, making it the largest election the world had ever seen.

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The fate of more than 8,000 candidates and some 670 political parties hangs on the ballot.

Results are being released in phases by the Election Commission but a final result may not be known for several hours, or longer.

Extra checks matching printed ballots against electronic voting machine results could delay the process.

What the results so far tell us

It is becoming increasingly clear – the BJP is heading for landslide victory. So what does this tell us?

Firstly, we see that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma has remained intact.

He remains the BJP’s main vote-getter, and his assertion that a vote for his party was actually a vote for him seems to have worked.

Secondly, backed by enormous resources, the BJP’s organisational machinery, employing all modern methods of communication, is now difficult to beat.

We also see that the opposition failed to build an alternative narrative to take on the BJP’s campaign, which deftly combined nationalism, development and religious polarisation.

The Congress needs to reinvent itself to take on a powerful and committed adversary like the BJP. It will need to become a much more hard-working party, and need to grow its own regional leaders and grassroots networks.

A lack of jobs in cities and villages is not a strong enough message to win elections against a powerful trope like nationalism, which Modi has been able to mine well.

Who are the main contenders?

Mr Modi, with his tough image, remains the BJP’s main vote-getter and exit polls had predicted he would win a majority. Critics say promises of stellar economic growth and jobs have not been met, and India has become more polarised along religious lines under his leadership.

His main rival, Mr Gandhi, has been trying to win over an India weary of his family’s dynastic grip on politics but his party’s chances of winning a majority always appeared slim. Its failure to stitch up a pre-vote alliance in crucial states in the east and the south is a sign of its waning influence, analysts say.

If no party were to win a majority, powerful regional parties could play the role of kingmakers in a hung parliament. But based on early results this appears unlikely.

Mr Gandhi is behind in his family’s political stronghold of Amethi, in northern Uttar Pradesh state. But he is also contesting another seat in the southern state of Kerala where he is ahead.

Mr Modi is leading in his constituency of Varanasi.

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Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka must improve on a dismal Congress performance last time

Where are they key contests?

It’s often said that whoever wins Uttar Pradesh, wins the Indian election. The huge northern state sends 80 MPs – more than any other – to parliament. In 2014 the BJP won 71 seats there. It is currently leading in more than 50 seats in the crucial state.

This is despite a tie-up between two powerful regional parties, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP). The bitter rivals banded together to form a so-called “grand alliance” against Mr Modi and and they were expected to win more seats than the governing party.

The BJP had hoped to make up for any losses in West Bengal, where it holds just two of the 42 parliamentary seats. Here, the BJP is up against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee – a strident critic of Mr Modi – and appears to be doing much better than expected. It is leading in 17 seats.

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West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has emerged as one of Mr Modi’s fieriest opponents

Four of India’s five southern states – Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala – have long eluded the BJP and appear to have done so again in this election.

Of the 91 seats in these states, the BJP holds just four. In this part of the country, the party contests few seats, relying instead on alliances with regional heavyweights.

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Media captionJourney of a vote

What are the key issues?

The economy is perhaps the biggest issue, with farming in crisis, unemployment on the rise and fears growing that India is heading for a recession.

A crop glut and declining commodity prices have led to stagnant farm incomes, leaving many farmers saddled with debt.

Under Mr Modi, the world’s sixth-largest economy has lost some of its momentum. Growth hovers around 7% and a leaked government report this year said the unemployment rate is the highest it has been since the 1970s.

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India has seen huge protests by farmers in recent years

Many also see this election as a battle for India’s identity and the protection of minorities. A strident – and at times violent – Hindu nationalism has become mainstream in the past five years, with increased attacks against minorities, including the lynching of dozens of Muslims accused of smuggling cows.

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And national security is in the spotlight after a suicide attack by a Pakistan-based militant group killed at least 40 paramilitary police in Indian-administered Kashmir in February. India then launched unprecedented air strikes in Pakistan, prompting it to respond in kind and bringing the two countries to the brink of war.

What Indian voters are being promised

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