India's opposition headed for election landslide

May. 16, 2014 @ 02:27 AM

NEW DELHI — Indian opposition leader Narendra Modi appeared headed for a landslide win Friday as results began pouring in from the country's weekslong general election, with his party easily driving out the long-dominant Congress party in the world's biggest democracy.

The Congress party, which has been at the center of Indian politics for most of the country's history since independence from Britain, conceded defeat several hours into the vote counting.

"We are accepting the people's verdict in all humility," party spokesman Shakil Ahmed told The Associated Press. "Trends of the counting are certainly not in our favor. The trends point out that the country has decided to vote against us."

The Election Commission was expected to announce full results later Friday. But early trends suggested that Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party would earn enough parliamentary seats to create a government without forming a coalition with regional leaders.

At BJP headquarters in New Delhi, workers were handing out sweets, setting off firecrackers and dancing outside in the streets. BJP spokeswoman Nirmala Seetharaman said the results were even better than expected.

"That certainly is good news, which we will savor with great delight," she said. "It means that people of India found the (connection) with Narendra Modi."

There was a record turnout in the election, with 66.38 percent of India's 814 million eligible voters casting ballots during the six-week contest, which began April 7 and was held in stages across the country. Turnout in the 2009 general election was 58.13 percent.

Campaigning on promises of a revival in economic growth, Modi and the BJP were looking to take advantage of widespread dissatisfaction with the Congress party.

The BJP's slick and well-financed campaign also promised better governance. The Congress-led ruling alliance has been plagued by repeated corruption scandals, and the Congress party's 43-year-old leader, Rahul Gandhi, failed to inspire public confidence.

A party or coalition needs at least 272 seats to form a government in India. If the BJP crosses the 272-mark, it would be the first time a single party has won a majority since the 1984 national election.

Exit polls by at least six major Indian TV stations predicted a BJP-led coalition would win between 249 and 289 seats in the 543-seat Lok Sabha, or lower house of Parliament.

By Friday afternoon, an exact picture was expected to emerge on what India's next Parliament will look like.

If the results are in line with the exit polls and the early trends and the BJP and its allies win a clear majority, India's stock markets are likely to see a major upswing. Already on Friday, the Sensex stock index rose as much as 4.7 percent on news of the BJP's strong showing.

The Nehru-Gandhi family, which has ruled India for all but 10 years since the country won independence from British rule in 1947, was facing its biggest political drubbing in 10 years.

The Congress party attempted to position Rahul Gandhi as a young leader capable of boosting the country's struggling economy, but most Indians see him as being out of touch with reality. His privileged background has made him appear aloof and removed from the concerns of most Indians.

In comparison, Modi's campaign was seen by many as a media and marketing coup for a man whose background ties him to bloodshed in his home state of Gujarat, where communal rioting in 2002 left more than 1,000 people dead, most of them Muslims. Modi is accused of doing little to stop the rampage, though he denies any wrongdoing and has never been charged with a crime.

He managed to hammer away at Gandhi — specifically the perception that he is nothing more than a feudal prince from a family that views ruling the country as its birthright.