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23.05.2019 Europe

The count of more than 600 million votes begins in India

By - RFI
MAY 23, 2019 EUROPE

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP party is set for a historic victory as the vote count got underway this Thursday of hundreds of millions of ballots cast over a month-long general election process. 

The National Democratic Alliance, led by Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP party was ahead in 324 seats, with the opposition United Progressive Alliance winning in 111 of the 542 seats up for grabs.

This, at 04h30 GMT - about two hours after the counting of the approximately 600 million votes got began.

Several independent media outlets in India have already called the election for Modi's alliance.

Meanwhile, official data from the Election Commission has shown the BJP ahead in 279 seats - more than the 272 seats needed to command a majority in the lower house of parliament - which would give Modi the first back-to-back majority for a single party since 1984.

The NDA's predicted margin of victory is much larger than surveys indicated in the run-up to the vote, when most polls showed it would be the largest alliance but would fall short of an overall majority.

At the BJP's headquarters in New Delhi, the mood was upbeat, with party workers cheering as TV channels reported the growing lead.

"It's a huge mandate for positive politics and the policies of Narendra Modi," said GVL Narasimha Rao, a BJP spokesman.

"It's a huge win for India, we are humbled by the magnificence of this victory."

Meanwhile, leaders of the main opposition Congress Party were sombre.

According to Salman Soz, a Congress spokesman"We could have done better, the BJP seems to have exceptionally well," adding, "our weak point is we have been disorganised."

Shift to BJP over security concerns
Modi was under pressure when he began campaigning, losing three state elections in December amid rising anger over farm prices and unemployment.

However, campaigning shifted towards India's relationship with nuclear-armed rival Pakistan after a suicide car bomb killed 40 Indian police in the contested Kashmir region in February, apparently to the benefit of the right-wing BJP.

"National security became the discussion," according to Harsh Pant, a political analyst at the Observer Research Foundation think-tank in New Delhi.

"It allowed the BJP to shirk some issues where it was weak."

The BJP has also capitalised on Modi's star power, who has been a frenetic campaigner, as well as having superior financial resources.

According to data research, the ruling party reportedly outspent the opposition Congress by six times on Facebook and Google advertising and by as much as 20 times overall.

The Battle for Bengal
Meanwhile, police guarded voting centres in West Bengal on Thursday, where campaigning had turned violent as the BJP tried to take seats from the Trinamool Congress, a powerful regional party.

The BJP was leading in 17 seats in the state, that sends the third largest number of lawmakers to parliament in New Delhi. 

"Wherever we go people are talking about a BJP wave in Bengal," said Tapas Das, a taxi driver in the state capital, Kolkata.

"Everyone wants to see a change."
At an NDA meeting held on Tuesday to discuss its policy agenda for its second term in power, the alliance promised to double farmers' income and boost infrastructure spending over the next five years.

Indian stocks have surged to historic highs as Modi heads for victory with the broad Nifty Index up 1.35% 

According to Ajay Bodke, CEO at financial services firm Prabhudas

Lilladher, "markets will heave a big sigh of relief as it favours continuity and familiarity in terms of roll-out of policies." 

Final results are expected by this Thursday evening.