India Election Results: Narendra Modi Powers to a Landslide – The New York Times

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Bhartiya Janata Party supporters celebrating in New Delhi as the vote count increased on Thursday.CreditSaumya Khandelwal for The New York Times

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, one of the most powerful and divisive leaders India has produced in decades, appeared easily headed for another five-year term, according to election returns so far.

The Election Commission reported that Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., was ahead in at least 300 parliamentary districts, far beyond the 272 seats it would need for a majority in the 543-seat Parliament. At this pace, the party would actually expand on its current majority — a development no one was predicting in recent months.

The main opposition Congress Party was ahead in 49 seats, according to Election Commission data.

Before the election, most analysts predicted that the B.J.P. would lose seats overall, mostly because of dissatisfaction with the economy.

But that was before tensions with Pakistan handed Mr. Modi an issue he could command. He campaigned heavily on national security and on a forceful foreign policy, and it’s now clear that played well among India’s 900 million registered voters.

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Amit Shah, president of B.J.P., during victory celebrations in New Delhi, on Thursday.CreditMoney Sharma/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s small inner circle, the B.J.P.’s president, Amit Shah, is perhaps his closest confidante. And outside of Mr. Modi himself, Mr. Shah is also the party operative most credit with helping to engineer this victory.

For much of the election campaign, Mr. Shah, 54, a Hindu hard-liner who is projected to win a parliamentary seat in the state of Gujarat, focused his attention on the state of West Bengal, home to many of India’s Muslims. And his rhetoric has been bluntly anti-Muslim.

In countless speeches there, he painted his rivals as soft on illegal immigration from Muslim-majority Bangladesh, which borders West Bengal. He accused opposition politicians of funding Islamic schools that jeopardized India’s Hindus.

Mr. Shah, who some analysts believe is in line to become home minister, vowed to remove every “single infiltrator from the country, except Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs.” In another apparent swipe at Muslims, he called immigrants “termites.”

Mr. Shah also mocked Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the Congress Party, for running in a Muslim-dominated part of the southern state of Kerala. “When a procession is taken out there, it is difficult to make out whether it is an Indian or a Pakistani procession,” he said, suggesting that Muslims were not Indian citizens.

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Muslims gathered on Wednesday to break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan at a mosque in New Delhi.CreditNoemi Cassanelli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The number of Muslims in Parliament is expected to fall to a historic low, a function of B.J.P’s dominance and antipathy to running Muslim candidates.

Since Mr. Modi and his Hindu nationalist supporters rose to power, Indian Muslims say violence against them has risen.

Before Thursday’s vote count, Muslims held just 24 seats in Parliament, about 4.4 percent of the total, and the fewest the community has held since 1952.

In Uttar Pradesh, the country’s largest state and home to 43 million Muslims, not a Muslim single candidate was elected to the Indian Parliament. And the B.J.P. there did not field any Muslim candidates this year.

The party is led in the state by Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu nationalist who has been accused of organizing religious riots.

Aftab Syed, 33, a student at Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh, said the election’s outcome was troubling.

“The very idea of keeping Muslims out of Parliament means you want to disempower them,” he said.

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Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, center, is a B.J.P. candidate and accused terrorist. She appears headed to win a seat in Parliament.CreditSanjeev Gupta/EPA, via Shutterstock

There were few candidates more divisive — or more talked about — than Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, a member of the B.J.P. who is likely to win a parliamentary seat in central India.

Ms. Thakur is awaiting trial in a 2008 terrorism attack. Prosecutors believe Ms. Thakur and other Hindu extremists blew up a motorcycle that killed six people in a Muslim-majority city in the state of Maharashtra.

On the campaign trail, Ms. Thakur, 49, who is running for a seat in the city of Bhopal, created waves. She claimed she beat breast cancer by drinking cows’ urine, and called Mohandas Gandhi’s assassin a “patriot.”

Even Mr. Modi, a Hindu nationalist and the leader of B.J.P., distanced himself from Ms. Thakur’s comments about the assassin, saying he would “never be able to forgive her fully.”

Neelanjan Sircar, a senior visiting fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, said Ms. Thakur’s candidacy was intended to send a message to the B.J.P.’s “very hard-core Hindu nationalist base.”

“They want to say, ‘We’re still on your side,’ ” he said.

Hundreds of people with ties to India gathered in Edison, N. J., on Wednesday night to watch the initial election results trickle in, and celebrate a potential win for Mr. Modi, a leader whom many see as strengthening India’s image in the world.

The crowd, a mix of expatriates and American citizens, posed for selfies with a cardboard cutout of the prime minister, and cheered each time results favoring Mr. Modi’s B.J.P. were announced.

“There’s a more heightened interest this year,” said Krishna Reddy Anugula, 50, president of Overseas Friends of the B.J.P. The organization has about 4,000 members across the United States.

“People saw that this is a leader who is doing good for the country,” said Mr. Reddy, citing Mr. Modi’s economic proposals and pledges to improve the lives of the poor.

Indian-Americans — a population of about 4 million — cannot vote in the election unless they still retain their Indian citizenship. Then, too, citizens must be in India to cast their ballots.

Yet many Indians in America have sought to participate by organizing rallies, and calling friends and family members in India to encourage them to vote.

“Let’s elect them for five more years and see what they do,” Mr. Reddy said of the B.J.P.

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The Bombay Stock Exchange in Mumbai.CreditDivyakant Solanki/EPA, via Shutterstock

As the early results suggested a strong victory for Mr. Modi and the B.J.P., India’s stock market rose 2 percent to an all-time high.

Mr. Modi is viewed as good for business. He has simplified the tax system and cut down on corruption, and one of the signature achievements of his term was an overhaul of the country’s corporate bankruptcy system.

India’s stock market has been a bright spot in Asia, particularly as Chinese shares have suffered amid that country’s escalating trade war with the United States.

“For the markets, it’s like a vote of relief,” Jyoti Jaipuria, founder of Valentis Advisors, an investment advisory firm in Mumbai, said earlier this week, when exit polls showed that Mr. Modi’s party was likely to win again. “Politics is out of the way, and everybody can be back to fundamentals.”

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Rahul Gandhi, president the Congress Party, and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in New Delhi on Tuesday.CreditManish Swarup/Associated Press

India’s politically powerful Gandhi family has represented Amethi, in Uttar Pradesh, in Parliament for decades. Rahul Gandhi, 48, who leads the Indian National Congress party, has personally held the seat since 2004.

That suddenly appears at risk. Early results indicate that he is running neck and neck with Smriti Irani, a B.J.P. candidate and former soap-opera star whom Mr. Gandhi defeated in 2014.

Ms. Irani is the textiles minister in Mr. Modi’s government. She has been an advocate for women’s rights, but tried to curb press freedoms during a brief stint as information minister. Recently, she has struck a populist tone, cultivating a glamorous image on Instagram, where she is frequently shown in locally made garments.

The B.J.P. has been campaigning intensely in Amethi, hoping to embarrass Mr. Gandhi. But even if he ultimately loses there, he will almost certainly remain in Parliament. Under India’s electoral system, candidates can run for multiple seats simultaneously, and Mr. Gandhi is also running for a seat from Wayanad, in Kerala State, and he is expected to win handily there.

Overall, Congress is expected to pick up more Parliament seats than it did in its poor showing in 2014. But that would still leave it hundreds of seats behind Mr. Modi’s B.J.P., and it appears the party will not be returning to its old glory anytime soon.

As news of Mr. Modi’s impending win picked up in India, Pakistan’s powerful military establishment announced on Thursday that it had successfully test-fired a Shaheen II ballistic missile, which is capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

The two countries went to the brink of war this year after a terrorist attack killed Indian soldiers in the disputed territory of Kashmir — in a surge of tensions that many political analysts believe helped Mr. Modi’s showing in the election.

But Pakistan is not the only one of the nuclear-armed neighbors to use missiles to make a point.

After the two countries’ showdown over Kashmir — and just two weeks before Indian elections were to begin — Mr. Modi announced that India had successfully used a missile to shoot down an old satellite. That test made it just the fourth country in the world to have that kind of antisatellite capability.

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Electoral staff preparing to count votes inside a tabulation center in New Delhi.CreditAnushree Fadnavis/Reuters

In seven phases over 39 days, hundreds of millions of voters cast ballots nationwide at a million polling stations, spread across densely populated megacities and far-flung villages.

Turnout percentage also reached a record high, with more than 66 percent of eligible voters participating.

Though more than half a billion people cast ballots, there are just 1.63 million “control units,” the computerized brains of the electronic voting machines that are used to cast votes. The machines are toted across the country for use during each geographic phase of the election. Each machine records up to 2,000 votes at any given polling station.

A team of at least three Election Commission officials are now unsealing and inspecting each machine. If they conclude the machines have not been tampered with, they press a button marked “results,” which tabulates the votes.

The machines are audited in batches, and the results are released throughout the day as each batch is concluded.

The machines are each equipped with a printer that creates a paper trail and deposits a printout in a locked box. A small percentage of the secure boxes — about 5 percent — will be opened on Thursday and their contents checked against the computerized results. The time it takes to count the paper ballots is expected to delay the results by several hours.

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A B.J.P. supporter waving the party flag as he celebrates initial election results in New Delhi.CreditAdnan Abidi/Reuters

At B.J.P. headquarters in New Delhi, the mood was ebullient as the early returns suggested a victory for the Hindu nationalist party.

Men and women waved giant flags, blew conch shells, fired canisters containing bright blue powder and chanted, “Hail Modi! Hail Modi!”

In Delhi, the capital, and Mumbai, India’s largest city, party members prepared sweets to distribute to throngs of supporters.

At a sweet shop in Mumbai, a group of men wearing Modi masks spent two days to churn out 8,000 pounds worth of laddoos — soft, sweet balls made of chickpea flour and cashew nut paste.

— Reporting was contributed by Jeffrey Gettleman, Vindu Goel, Russell Goldman, Hari Kumar, Mujib Mashal, Suhasini Raj, Kai Schultz, Sameer Yasir, Ayesha Venkataraman, Shalini Venugopal, and Douglas Schorzman.