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India election

Modi vows 'inclusive' India after winning strong mandate

Prime minister's nationalist BJP stuns with landslide victory

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at BJP headquarters on Thursday night. (Photo by Kosaku Mimura)

NEW DELHI -- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to build a "strong and inclusive India" after his Bharatiya Janata Party and ruling coalition secured a landslide election victory on Thursday.

Modi, 68, received a fresh mandate to press on with his reformist agenda as it became clear that the electorate chose the National Democratic Alliance, led by the BJP, to govern the country for another five years.

As of 8 p.m. local time, Modi's BJP alone had either won or was leading in more than 300 constituencies, surpassing a majority, according to the Election Commission of India. Local media reports suggest the ruling coalition, the National Democratic Alliance, is ahead in around 350 seats.

A party or a coalition needs 272 seats to gain a majority in the lower house. This will mark the first time that the BJP and its coalition governs for two consecutive terms.

BJP, a Hindu nationalist party, was formed in 1980 and has ideological links to the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteers Organization, which promotes strengthening the hand of the majority Hindus in multireligious India. Members of both organizations have actively campaigned against the slaughter of cows, an animal sacred to Hindus.

In his first reaction to the BJP's victory, Modi tweeted that India has won once again. "Together we grow. Together we prosper. Together we will build a strong and inclusive India. India wins yet again!"

Modi later on Thursday evening arrived at BJP headquarters, where he was welcomed by thousands of party workers. He flashed the victory sign and said: "We had sought the mandate for a new India. ... I bow before the 1.3 billion countrymen [for this mandate]." Party workers passionately chanted his name.

Modi also said his mandate is against practitioners of caste-based politics. "There are only two castes in the country now: one is the poor and the other is the [class] working to lift them out of poverty," he said.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers celebrate outside BJP headquarters in New Delhi on May 23.    © AP

"We need to empower these two in the 21st century as they can eradicate the [scourge] of poverty," Modi said.

Prior to Modi's speech, Rahul Gandhi, president of the major opposition Indian National Congress party, conceded at a news conference.

"People of the country are the King and they have given a clear decision," he said. "Today is the day to wish Modi all the best. Hopefully he will look after the interests of the country."

World leaders sent their congratulations to Modi as the election result became increasingly clear.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a letter to Modi congratulating him on the NDA victory under his leadership, according to a statement by the Indian External Affairs Ministry. Xi pointed to "the great importance he attached to the development of India-China relations and his desire to work with Prime Minister Modi," the statement said.

Japan's Foreign Ministry said that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rang Modi to congratulate him. Abe also told Modi that he was looking forward to seeing him at the G-20 summit in Osaka in June.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan also congratulated Modi. "Look forward to working with him for peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia," he posted on Twitter.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also congratulated Modi on the election result.

During Modi's first term in office, economic growth had been relatively strong at around 7% year-on-year, even though his government had been accused on several occasions of fudging the data.

Controversial decisions such as the demonetization of high-value bank notes in 2016 and the chaotic rollout of a goods and services tax in 2017 shook business confidence. Farmers were also frustrated with the lack of financial help from the government while younger voters also grew angry with the lack of jobs.

However, Modi also implemented measures that improved the Indian quality of life. Among them was a government-funded health insurance program -- the world's largest covering 500 million citizens or about 40% of India's population -- and a program to build millions of toilets in poor households across the country.

Late last year, the Congress party won state polls in the former BJP bastions of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, as distressed farming communities and jobless youths shunned Modi's party.

After a strong showing, Congress looked primed to capture more ground in national polls but a suicide bombing in the Indian part of disputed Kashmir and subsequent Indian airstrikes on militant bases in Pakistan caused a surge of popular support for Modi. The opposition accused the prime minister of politicizing the Kashmir attack, as Modi often pointed to the successful airstrikes in election rallies.

More than 900 million Indians were eligible to vote in the elections, which saw a turnout of over 65%.

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