Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 17 September 2019

Early count in India's election shows BJP heading for outright majority

Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi trailing BJP candidate in family stronghold Amethi

BJP supporters celebrate in New Delhi after learning the initial election results on May 23, 2019. Reuters
BJP supporters celebrate in New Delhi after learning the initial election results on May 23, 2019. Reuters

Indian Prime Minister Narendra's Bharatiya Janata Party appeared on course to comfortably win an outright majority in parliament, according to early vote counts on Thursday.

Four hours after counting began on Thursday, the BJP was leading in 294 seats, easily passing the 272 seats required for a majority and more than the 268 seats the party won in 2014. The main opposition Congress party was leading in 50 seats, on course to better its 2014 tally by just five seats.

While Mr Modi was comfortably ahead in the Varanasi constituency, Mr Gandhi was facing the prospect of an embarrassing defeat in Amethi, a family stronghold, where the BJP candidate Smriti Irani was marginally ahead with about 49 per cent of the vote compared with 44 per cent for Mr Gandhi.

Although the final results are only expected by the evening, the BJP Foreign

"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 8am local time after a marathon six-week-long voting process held in seven stages since April 11. Turnout among India's roughly 900 million registered voters was about 67 per cent. All of the roughly 600 million ballots cast are expected to be counted by evening as the votes are cast electronically.

Ahead of counting, opposition leaders questioned the integrity of the electronic voting machines. The election commission has rejected these accusations, and on Wednesday turned down an opposition request to delay counting while the votes were tallied with a backup paper audit.

While pre-election polls predicted a victory for the BJP and its allies in the National Democratic Alliance, but with a smaller margin than in 2014, exit polls after the final round of voting on Sunday showed the NDA would sweep to a comfortable victory over the Congress 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.

Mr Modi came into the campaign under pressure, losing three state elections in December amid rising anger over farm prices and unemployment.

But after a suicide car bomb killed 40 Indian police in the contested Kashmir region in February, campaigning shifted towards India's relationship with nuclear-armed rival Pakistan, to the right-wing BJP's benefit, analysts said.

Updated: May 23, 2019 11:09 AM