NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi swept to a huge election victory on Thursday (May 23), on course to increase his majority and give his party the mandate to pursue business-friendly policies that put Hindus first and take a hard line on national security.
Official data from India's Election Commission showed Modi's Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead in 298 of the 542 seats available, up from the 282 it won in 2014 and more than the 272 seats needed for a majority in the lower house of parliament.
That would give it the first back-to-back majority for a single party since 1984. The main opposition Congress Party was ahead in 52 seats, figures showed.
Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, also a senior BJP leader, said on Twitter the BJP had won a "massive victory", while Amarinder Singh, a senior Congress leader, said that party had "lost the battle" for power.
India's allies, including Sri Lanka and Israel, congratulated Modi, who is due to meet party workers at 5.30pm local time (8pm Singapore time).
The mood was upbeat at BJP headquarters in New Delhi, with party workers setting off firecrackers and cheering as TV channels reported the margin of victory.
"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 leaders were sombre.
"It's obviously not in our favour at all," said Salman Soz, a Congress spokesman. "We need to wait for the full results but right now it doesn't look good."
The NDA's predicted margin of victory, at 348 seats to 85 for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, according to TV channel NDTV, is much larger than surveys indicated in the run-up to the vote, when most polls showed it would be the largest alliance but would fall short of an overall majority.
Final results are due by Thursday evening.
Modi was under pressure when he began campaigning, losing three state elections in December amid rising anger over farm prices and unemployment.
However, campaigning shifted towards India's relationship with nuclear-armed rival Pakistan after a suicide car bomb killed 40 Indian police in the contested Kashmir region in February, to the benefit of the right-wing BJP, analysts said.
Members of his party now want him to take a harder line on national security, as well as build a controversial temple on the site of a mosque that was demolished by a Hindu mob in Ayodhya in 1992.
"I want Modi to finish terrorism from Kashmir (and) make Pakistan bite the dust again and again," Shekhar Chahal, a BJP worker from New Delhi said on Thursday. "I am confident that Modi will also make the temple in Ayodhya."
Long-time foe Pakistan has signalled a willingness to open peace talks with India, but in a possible warning, it announced that it has conducted a training launch of a surface-to-surface ballistic missile, which it said is capable of delivering conventional and nuclear weapons at a range of up to 1,500 miles.
The BJP has also capitalised on the star power of Modi, a frenetic campaigner, as well as superior financial resources.
It outspent Congress by six times on Facebook and Google advertising, data showed, and by as much as 20 times overall, sources told Reuters this month.
The poor showing from Congress, which has failed to make inroads against Modi despite widespread voter dissatisfaction, will lead to questions over the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, a scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty whose father, grandmother and great grandfather all served as prime minister.
Gandhi, who is expected to address media at 4pm, trailed the BJP candidate in the Amethi constituency that his family has held almost continuously for the last four decades.
"The Congress party has not been able to improve at all," said Rahul Verma, a fellow at the centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.
"One big story is the emerging challenge for the Congress to remain a national alternative to the BJP. That now is under question."
BATTLE OF BENGAL
The BJP performed strongly in several states where it has previously struggled, including in West Bengal, where it targeted the Trinamool Congress, a powerful regional party in campaigning that often turned violent.
The BJP was leading in 17 of 42 seats in the state, which sends the third largest number of lawmakers to parliament, significantly better than the two it won in 2014, Election Commission data showed.
"The party is heading for a stunning victory in West Bengal," said Jayprakash Majumdar, a BJP vice president in the state.
Indian stocks surged to historic highs as Modi headed for victory. The broad Nifty index rose as much as 2 per cent, continuing a strong run after exit polls showing a Modi victory were released on Sunday.
The rupee headed towards 69.20 to the dollar, up from the 69.67 close on Wednesday, while the yield on the 10-year bond dropped 3 bps to 7.23 per cent.
"For global investors, political stability and continuity is an important factor while taking a view on investing in any country," said R Sivakumar, head of fixed income at Axis Mutual Fund in Mumbai. "This will keep India on the radar of global equity investors."