The world’s largest democracy has voted in unprecedented numbers for dramatic change.
After five weeks of voting and more than 550-million votes cast across India, preliminary results suggest an historic rout for the ruling Indian National Congress party and an astonishing, though widely predicted, victory for Narendra Modi and the country’s right-wing, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
But even though Mr. Modi had long been considered the front-runner, the scale of his apparent victory is simply breathtaking: He has not only led his party to its best-ever electoral result, but in the process he has almost single-handedly wiped out the ruling Congress party across the subcontinent – a dramatic political upheaval that will redefine modern India and set the world’s second most populous nation on a strikingly new path.
Mr. Modi’s epochal accomplishment has also wrenched the country from the grasp of India’s dynastic Nehru-Gandhi family, which has ruled Congress – and the country – almost uninterrupted since independence from Great Britain.
With a note of triumph, Mr. Modi tweeted: ‘India has won!’ on Friday, as television channels aired footage of an emotional Mr. Modi meeting his mother and touching her feet, a traditional gesture when Hindus seek the blessings of an older relative. His mother then marked his forehead with vermilion and fed him sweets.
Mr. Modi and his party appeared set to win more than enough seats to form a majority government in the world’s largest democracy, ending a decade of rule by the center-left Congress party.
As results flooded in on Friday, senior Congress leaders conceded defeat. Party president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, the party vice-president who led the party into the elections, accepted both defeat and blame for the almost unbelievable scale of their organization’s defeat.
“As Congress vice-president, with all humility, I take responsibility for this,” Mr. Gandhi told reporters at the party headquarters, without taking any questions.
The results indicate that Indians have grown incredibly dissatisfied with the political status quo and a stagnating economy under the Congress party and have chosen to take the country down a starkly different path by electing a right-leaning, pro-business party that campaigned hard on economic development.
With 543 constituencies across India, the early results suggest that the BJP is likely to break through and reach a clear majority on its own – something no party has done since 1989 – ending an era of unstable governance in which parties have had to cobble together loose coalitions. With coalition allies, the BJP’s lead is even stronger – and it is likely that they could, perhaps, implement their agenda of economic reforms without the long periods of policy paralysis that hobbled the previous Congress-led coalition.
By early evening in India, the BJP had already won 202 constituencies and was leading in 80 others, for a total of 282 seats – which would indicate the party, by itself, was set for a simple majority that few polls had predicted they would reach without accounting for political allies. By contrast, Indian National Congress had won just 31 ridings and was leading in 13 others, for a tally of 44 seats – numbers that hint at the worst ever defeat for the traditional ruling party of India, a result that would suggest the party of Jawaharlal Nehru – India’s first prime minister – a stark rejection of Congress rule over the past decade and of Mr. Gandhi’s leadership.
In one state alone – Uttar Pradesh, which has 200 million people and 80 seats – the BJP had won or was leading in 71 ridings, more seats than Congress had across the entire country.
Final results were expected by around 6 p.m., but Indian stocks rose sharply in morning trading as a victory appeared decisive for the pro-business Mr. Modi and his BJP – who had many cheerleaders among the corporate boardrooms of India. Almost every poll had predicted a BJP victory and a Congress defeat.
Mr. Modi, who has been chief minister of the prosperous state of Gujarat since 2002, campaigned on an economic platform that promised to deliver development after years of corruption under the Congress-led coalition government. His party’s sophisticated public relations machine emphasized his strong economic track record and pointed to scandals under the incumbent government.
Mr. Modi was still dogged on the campaign trail for refusing to apologize for anti-Muslim violence that occurred in Gujarat in 2002, for which he was denied a visa to visit the United States. The campaign was also far from clean, offending many Indians as politicians dragged the democratic debate through the gutters of class, caste and communal politics.