Sunday June 23, 2024

Vote counting in India starts as Modi eyes victory for third time

Modi's victory celebrations will remain subdued following a reduced parliamentary majority

June 04, 2024
Supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) holding cut-outs of India´s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Amritsar on May 30, 2024. — AFP
Supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) holding cut-outs of India´s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Amritsar on May 30, 2024. — AFP

India's right-leaning Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his allies Tuesday were headed towards victory with almost half the vote count done following the end of the country's six-week-long general election.

However, Modi's victory celebrations will remain subdued, as he will not be returning to power with landslide win but a reduced parliamentary majority.

The Indian premier's right-wing, Hindu-centered election campaign raised alarms for the country's minorities with its 200-million-plus Muslim community concerned about their future in India.

Early figures showed Modi and his coalition allies on track to win a third term with a reduced majority after a six-week-long election that saw 642 million people vote in seven stages across the world´s most populous country.

Modi, 73, said at the weekend he was confident that "the people of India have voted in record numbers" to re-elect his government, a decade after he first became prime minister.

But stocks slumped over 7% on India's benchmark Sensex index in afternoon trade, after opposition parties appeared to have put up a better-than-expected fight, suggesting a reduced majority for Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Shares in the main listed unit of Adani Enterprises — owned by key Modi ally Gautam Adani — dropped 25%.

With half the votes counted, election commission figures showed the BJP and its allies leading in at least 290 out of a total of 543 seats.

That is above the 272 needed for a lower house parliamentary majority, but lower than the joint total for the BJP and allies of 353 in 2019.

Opposition criticism

Modi's opponents have struggled to counter the BJP's well-oiled and well-funded campaign juggernaut, and have been hamstrung by 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.

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".

Logistics of vote count

The polls were staggering in their size and logistical complexity, with voters casting their ballots in megacities New Delhi and Mumbai, as well as in sparsely populated forest areas and the high-altitude territory of Kashmir.

Votes were cast on electronic voting machines, so the tally will be rapid, with results expected later Tuesday.

Counting began in the morning at key tally centres in each state, with the data fed into computers.

"People should know about the strength of Indian democracy," chief election commissioner Rajiv Kumar said Monday, vowing there was a "robust counting process in place".

Heatwave voting

In past years, key trends have been clear by mid-afternoon with losers conceding defeat, even though full and final results may only come late on Tuesday night.

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

Figures so far showed the BJP with a vote share just over one point higher than its last victory in 2019, but the party was forecast to win fewer seats.

Election chief Kumar on Monday proclaimed the 642 million votes cast a "world record".

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

Final voter data is yet to be released as repolling took place in two stations in West Bengal state on Monday.

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