Modi wins India election

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NEW DELHI, India (AP) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party was heading to a landslide victory, with preliminary election votes last night showing his Bharatiya Janata Party winning 92 seats and leading in 211 others. Its main rival, the Indian National Congress, had won 25 seats and was leading in 26 others.

A total of 542 seats make up the lower house of Parliament.

The final tally isn’t expected until today, but the leader of the main Opposition party conceded a personal defeat that signaled the end of an era for modern India’s main political dynasty.

Modi tweeted, “India wins yet again.”

Addressing thousands of party workers celebrating the outcome, Modi urged the world to “recognise India’s democratic power”. He attributed the party’s showing to his pro-poor policies, including free medical insurance and relief for distressed farmers.

The election was seen as a referendum on the 68-year-old Modi, whose economic reforms have had mixed results but whose popularity as a social underdog in India’s highly stratified society has endured. Critics have said his Hindu-first platform risks exacerbating social tensions in the country of 1.3 billion people.

On the campaign trail, Modi presented himself as a self-made man with the confidence to cut red tape and unleash India’s economic potential, and labeled Congress party President Rahul Gandhi, the scion of a political dynasty that lost national power in 2014, as an out-of-touch member of the elite.

Gandhi conceded defeat for his own parliamentary seat to his BJP rival in Amethi, a constituency in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh that had for decades been a Congress party bastion. But Indian election rules allow candidates to run in more than one constituency, and Gandhi was ahead in the race for another seat he contested in the southern state of Kerala.

Asked if he would quit the party’s top post to take responsibility for its dubbing, Gandhi replied, “That’s something between me and my party’s policy-making body which is going to meet soon.”

Congress, the party of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and peace activist Mahatma Gandhi, ruled India for nearly half a century after it achieved independence from Britain in 1947. In 2014, it won only 44 seats.

The BJP’s performance “is absolutely stunning. Modi is the predominant leader in India today. He has pushed everybody else aside. Nobody in the Opposition is a match for him,” said political commentator Arti Jerath.

A party or coalition needs a simple majority of 272 seats, or just over half the seats in Parliament’s lower house, to govern.

World leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, congratulated Modi on Twitter.

“I congratulate Prime Minister Modi on the electoral victory of BJP and allies. Look forward to working with him for peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia,” Khan tweeted.

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.

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.

Outside BJP headquarters in New Delhi, hundreds of people cheered and shouted party slogans, lifting cardboard cutouts of Modi and BJP President Amit Shah into the air as other people played drums and set off fireworks.

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