After six weeks of voting, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set for an unexpected landslide victory and will return to power with an even bigger majority than he won five years ago.
With official results still some hours away, Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is leading in 300 seats, while the main opposition party, the Indian National Congress — which had been expected to strongly challenge the BJP — is leading in just over 50 seats.
Indeed, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi — whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather have all been prime minister — is facing an embarrassing defeat in his family’s stronghold in Uttar Pradesh.
The BJP, which ran on national security and a hard-line Hindu nationalist agenda, is poised to become the first party since 1984 to win back-to-back majorities.
“It's a huge mandate for positive politics and the policies of Narendra Modi,” said GVL Narasimha Rao, a BJP spokesperson, told Al Jazeera. “It’s a huge win for India. We are humbled by the magnificence of this victory.”
The victory hands Modi even more power for the next five years, sparking hopes of renewed economic growth but stoking fears that India’s minorities will suffer more marginalization and violence under his leadership.
Despite the lack of official results, some world leaders rushed to congratulate Modi:
Here’s what you need to know:
How did Modi win?
A party needs to secure at least 272 seats out of 543 in the Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament, in order to form a government.
Early results suggest Modi’s BJP will easily surpass this mark. The alliance it leads is set to win nearly 340 of the 543, setting Modi on course to hold a huge amount of power for the next five years.
While the opposition did better in this election than it did in 2014, it will win nowhere near enough seats to challenge the BJP. The alliance led by the Congress party is set to win just 100 seats.
In the huge northern state of Uttar Pradesh, seen as a bellwether for the national vote, the BJP was expected to struggle to beat a coalition between two powerful regional parties, the Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party.
And while the BJP is set to lose some ground, it is still leading in more than 50 out of the 80 seats in the crucial state. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is trailing in his family's political stronghold of Amethi — though he is also winning in another seat he is contesting in Kerala.
What are the issues?
Analysts had predicted the Modi and the BJP would struggle to maintain their overall majority due to a slowing economy and historic levels of unemployment. Farmers, in particular, are struggling: a glut of crops, combined with dropping commodity prices, has left them saddled with huge debts.
But in late February, a terrorist attack launched from Pakistan killed Indian soldiers in the disputed territory of Kashmir. The attack appears to have galvanized support for Modi, who used the incident to his advantage, deflecting attention away from the struggling economy and onto his national security policies.
The prime minister’s strong response to Pakistan was seen as a boon for the BJP, showing Modi to be a strong leader at a time of crisis.
What’s at stake?
The BJP’s big win will be celebrated in the Hindi-speaking heartland of the country where Modi draws the majority of his support. The BJP is expected to shore up that support by making good on a campaign promise of crowd-pleasing welfare reforms.
But under Modi’s leadership, a strain of Hindu nationalism has taken hold in India, resulting in increased attacks on minorities, including multiple lynchings of Muslims for alleged cow smuggling. The BJP’s victory will stoke fear among many in India’s minority Muslim population.
“It means three things,” Manindra Nath Thakur, who teaches at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, told al Jazeera. “The discourse of forming a Hindu state will remain very dominant, the country will move towards more rigorous capitalism, and some new kind of welfare mechanism will be rolled out to keep the masses in favor of the party.”
Cover: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers celebrate outside BJP headquarters in New Delhi India, Thursday, May 23, 2019. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party have a commanding lead in early vote counting from the country's six-week general election. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)