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Modi celebrates victory in India vote, but falls short of landslide

New Delhi, India | June 5, 2024, Wednesday @ 07:00 in World » GENERAL | By: AFP | Views: 2420
Modi celebrates victory in India vote, but falls short of landslide

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) flashes victory sign as he arrives at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters to celebrate the party’s win in country's general election, in New Delhi on June 4, 2024. Modi claimed election victory for his party and its allies on June 4, but the opposition said they had "punished" the ruling party to confound predictions and reduce their parliamentary majority. (Photo by Arun SANKAR / AFP)

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi's political alliance won India's weeks-long general election on Tuesday, but the opposition said voters had sent a clear message after his Hindu nationalist party lost its parliamentary majority for the first time in a decade.

Commentators and exit polls had projected an overwhelming victory for Modi, whose campaign wooed the Hindu majority to the worry of the country's 200-million-plus Muslim community, deepening concerns over minority rights.

The alliance led by Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won an overall parliamentary majority, results on the election commission website showed late Tuesday.

But the BJP itself was projected to secure only 240 seats of its own, well down on the 303 it won at the last polls five years ago, meaning it would need to rely on its alliance partners to pass legislation.

India had given the party and its allies a mandate "for a third consecutive time", Modi told a crowd of cheering supporters in the capital New Delhi.

"Our third term will be one of big decisions and the country will write a new chapter of development. This is Modi's guarantee."

But in a remarkable turnaround largely driven by deals to field single candidates against the BJP's electoral juggernaut, the main opposition Congress party was expected to take 99 seats, almost doubling its 2019 tally of 52.

"The country has said to Narendra Modi 'We don't want you'," key leader Rahul Gandhi told reporters. "I was confident that the people of this country would give the right response."

With more than 99 percent of votes counted, the BJP's vote share at 36.6 percent was marginally lower than at the last general election.

Modi was re-elected to his constituency representing the Hindu holy city of Varanasi by a margin of 152,300 votes -- compared to nearly half a million votes five years ago.

Among the independent lawmakers elected were two serving time in jail -- firebrand Sikh separatist preacher Amritpal Singh, and Sheikh Abdul Rashid from Indian-administered Kashmir, who was arrested on charges of "terror funding" and money laundering in 2019.

- 'Moral defeat' -

Celebrations had already begun at the headquarters of Modi's BJP before the full announcement of results.

But the mood at the Congress headquarters in New Delhi was also one of jubilation.

"BJP has failed to win a big majority on its own," Congress lawmaker Rajeev Shukla told reporters. "It's a moral defeat for them."

Stocks slumped on speculation the reduced majority would hamper the BJP's ability to push through reforms.

Shares in the main listed unit of Adani Enterprises -- owned by key Modi ally Gautam Adani -- nosedived 25 percent, before rebounding slightly.

Modi's opponents fought against a well-oiled and well-funded BJP campaign machine, and what they say are politically motivated criminal cases aimed at hobbling challengers.

US think tank Freedom House said this year that the BJP had "increasingly used government institutions to target political opponents".

Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of the capital Delhi and a key leader in an alliance formed to compete against Modi, returned to jail on Sunday.

Kejriwal, 55, was detained in March over a long-running corruption probe, but was later released and allowed to campaign as long as he returned to custody once voting ended.

"When power becomes dictatorship, then jail becomes a responsibility," Kejriwal said before surrendering himself, vowing to continue "fighting" from behind bars.

- 'Strength of Indian democracy' -

Many of India's Muslim minority are increasingly uneasy about their futures and their community's place in the constitutionally secular country.

Modi himself made several strident comments about Muslims on the campaign trail, referring to them as "infiltrators".

The polls were staggering in their size and logistical complexity, with 642 million voters casting their ballots -- everywhere from megacities New Delhi and Mumbai to sparsely populated forest areas and the high-altitude Himalayas.

"People should know about the strength of Indian democracy," chief election commissioner Rajiv Kumar said Monday, calling the counting process "robust".

Based on the commission's figure of an electorate of 968 million, turnout came to 66.3 percent, down roughly one percentage point from 67.4 percent in the last polls in 2019.

Analysts have partly blamed the lower turnout on a searing heatwave across northern India, with temperatures over 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).

© Agence France-Presse

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