India's Opposition On Track to Sweep National Elections

May 16, 2014

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has scored a major victory in India’s national elections and appears on track to have won a majority of seats in India’s lower house of Parliament, paving the way for Narendra Modi to become the nation’s next Prime Minister.

Partial counting indicates that the Hindu-nationalist party has pulled off the best performance by a single party in decades, buoyed both by Modi’s well-received campaign and a profound anti-incumbency sentiment felt across the nation after 10 years of government under the outgoing Congress Party. According to partial results at 9:30 E.T., the BJP was leading with 283 out of 543 seats in India's lower house of parliament, according to India's Press Information Bureau, a number that would give the party an absolute majority and clear mandate in the next government.

Though final results have yet to be announced, many foreign heads of state are reportedly already scrambling to congratulate Modi. " Good days are coming," Modi said in a speech before supporters in Gujarat on Friday evening. "From today for next five years, the journey has started."

A record number of voters participated in world’s largest election, a mammoth five-week process that ended on May 12. Over 66% of eligible voters cast their ballots, compared with 58% in the last vote in 2009.

The results so far are a massive blow to Congress, very likely facing its worst showing ever with only 45 seats, according to partial results. The party has already conceded defeat, with analysts blaming it on the poor performance of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi in leading the party’s campaign and, more broadly, an overall crisis in party leadership.

“We have to introspect,” Kapil Sibal, a Congress minister who appeared set to lose his New Delhi parliamentary seat to a BJP candidate, told NDTV. “We have to [make] corrections and look at it positively.”

In its first national contest, the Aam Aadmi Party, led by former bureaucrat Arvind Kejriwal, is on track for a relatively muted showing — leading in just four seats at 9:30 E.T. — compared with its successful first state elections in New Delhi in December. After taking control of the New Delhi government, Kejriwal stepped down from the chief minister’s post after less than two months in office, a move widely seen as damaging to the fledgling party in its national debut.

Markets, meanwhile, surged on the strong BJP indicators, with the Sensex reaching an all-time high and the rupee gaining strength. Indian industrialists have long been clambering for more pro-business policies from Congress and its allies, and have said Modi’s decisive leadership style will help get the economy back on the high-growth path.

Modi’s fast climb in national politics has taken many in India by surprise since his appointment as the BJP’s prime-ministerial candidate in September. Having famously sold tea as a boy on the train platforms of his hometown in the western state of Gujarat, Modi rose through the state’s political machine to become its powerful chief minister in 2001. It’s a narrative that resonates with many Indian voters, but he has also been a divisive figure since a wave of bloody religious riots took place on his watch in Gujarat in 2002, in which over 1,000 Muslims were killed. Though Modi has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the courts, many, particularly within India’s large Muslim community, remain apprehensive about the prospect of a Modi-led government.

Aware of these sensitivities, the BJP was careful to downplay its Hindu roots throughout its campaign, focusing instead on issues of stable governance, development and job creation as Modi set out to reinvent himself as a national leader. His team ran a tireless and well-organized campaign, holding hundreds of rallies around the nation and making astute use of social media and carefully targeted advertising.

The party’s resounding win reflects the more conservative mind-set of provincial as opposed to metropolitan India. “It’s the first time you have a regional leader come to power in the center on his own gumption,” says Pradeep Chhibber, a political scientist at University of California, Berkeley. “This is a victory for small-town conservative India.”

An Indian Muslim voter waits in line to vote at a polling station on May 12, 2014 in Varanasi.
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A Muslim voter waits in line to vote at a polling station on May 12, 2014 in Varanasi.Kevin Frayer—Getty Images
An Indian Muslim voter waits in line to vote at a polling station on May 12, 2014 in Varanasi.
An Indian Muslim woman votes at a polling station on May 12, 2014 in Varanasi.
Supporters of BJP leader Narendra Modi run as a helicopter carrying Modi takes off after a rally on May 10, 2014 in Robertsganj, near Varanasi.
Supporters of the Congress Party stand in fron of a poster showing Rahul Gandhi and his mother and party president Sonia Gandhi as they wait before a rally on May 10, 2014 in Varanasi.
Veiled Muslim supporters of AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal wait for his convoy to pass during a rally by the leader on May 9, 2014 in Varanasi.
Supporters run passed a banner showing BJP leader Narendra Modi at a rally by the leader on May 8, 2014 in Rohaniya, near Varanasi.
BJP leader Narendra Modi gestures to supporters while driving through the streets on May 8, 2014 in Varanasi.
Muslim residents watch the convoy of BJP leader Narendra Modi as he drives in the street on May 8, 2014 in Varanasi.
BJP leader Narendra Modi greets supporters as he is surrounded by bodyguards while driving through the streets on May 8, 2014 in Varanasi.
Supporters of BJP leader Narendra Modi cheer during his speech at a rally by the leader on May 8, 2014 in Rohaniya, near Varanasi.
Buddhist monks from the Drukpa lineage hold their voting cards as they wait outside a polling station to vote near the Hemis Monastery on May 7, 2014 in Hemis, Ladakh.
Ladkahis wait inside a polling station to vote near the Thiksey Monastery on May 7, 2014 in Thiksey, Ladakh.
Ladkahis wait outside a polling station to vote near the Thiksey Monastery on May 7, 2014 in Thiksey, Ladakh.
Indian security force soldiers on election duty sit in a bus as they leave a central collection point to head for a polling station, on May 6, 2014 in Leh, Ladakh.
Indian security force soldiers on election duty wait to leave a central collection point to head to secure polling stations, on May 6, 2014 in Leh, Ladakh.
Villagers and supporters listen to a speech by BJP leader Narendra Modi at a rally on April 27, 2014 in Sidhuali near Lucknow.
A disabled boy wears a mask of BJP leader Narendra Modi as he walks past a police checkpoint at a rally by Modi on April 25, 2014 in Bathinda, Punjab.
An Indian Sikh man wears a mask of BJP leader Narendra Modi as they crowd to hear his speech on April 25, 2014 in Bathinder, Punjab.
Transgender Candidate Hijra Guru Baseer Kinnar aka Kamala Kinnar speaks to a resident while campaigning in a Muslim neighbourhood on April 23, 2014 in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi.
AAP leader and anti-corruption activist Arvin Kejriwal is surrounded by police bodyguards as he greets supporters from an open jeep on his way to file his nomination papers on April 23, 2014 in Varanasi.
Supporters of India's ruling Congress Party listen during a speech by leader Rahul Gandhi during a rally on April 20, 2014 in Mumbai,.
A supporter of India's ruling Congress Party wears a mask of leader Rahul Gandhi during a rally on April 20, 2014 in Mumbai.
Indian women wait to vote at a polling station on April 17, 2014 in the Jodhpur District in the desert state of Rajasthan.
Indian women wait to vote at a polling station on April 17, 2014 in the Jodhpur District in the desert state of Rajasthan.
An Indian woman casts her ballot at a polling station on April 17, 2014 in the Jodhpur District in the desert state of Rajasthan.
An Indian woman casts her ballot at a polling station on April 17, 2014 in the Jodhpur District in the desert state of Rajasthan.
Indian women arrive to vote at a polling station on April 17, 2014 in the Jodhpur District in the desert state of Rajasthan.
An Indian family listens as Rahul Gandhi, leader of India's ruling Congress Party speaks at a rally on April 6, 2014 in New Delhi.
A Muslim voter waits in line to vote at a polling station on May 12, 2014 in Varanasi.
Kevin Frayer—Getty Images
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