(Photo by SANJAY KANOJIA / AFP)
(Photo by SANJAY KANOJIA / AFP)

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday led his Bharatiya Janata Party towards what is certain to be a resounding victory for a second term in office, as his message of nationalism, security, Hindu pride and a New India was wholeheartedly embraced by voters across large swathes of the country.

With the elections establishing the 68-year-old Modi as the most popular leader in decades, the partial vote count released by the Election Commission showed that BJP will surpass its 2014 performance. Until 4.30 p.m., the BJP had won five seats and was leading in 294 of the 542 Lok Sabha seats that went to polls in seven phases, demolishing the combined opposition with the Congress Party stuck with a lead in only 50 seats, according to the trends.

Modi himself was leading in Varanasi with a margin of over 4.3 lakh votes while party president Amit Shah was ahead in Gandhinagar in their home state of Gujarat by over 5.5 lakh votes. “With all+ development for all+ everybody’s confidence = victorious India,” Modi tweeted. “Together we grow. Together we prosper. Together we will build a strong and inclusive India. India wins yet again,” he said

In the end, BJP’s prediction in the final stages of campaigning of “ab ki baar 300 paar” appeared coming true, as Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s campaign slogan of “chowkidar chor hai” found no resonance among voters. Markets cheered the trends, as the benchmark BSE Sensex touched 40,000 for the first time and NSE Nifty breached the 12,000 level. The rupee appreciated 14 paise to 69.51 against the US dollar trade.

If the trends stay until final results, the BJP and its allies in the National Democratic Alliance will likely end up with 344 seats, up from 336 in 2014. The BJP, which is now tantalisingly close to the 300 mark in Lok Sabha, had won 282 seats on its own in the last election.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi — Many Congratulations for securing such a big victory for the BJP. I am thankful to the people,” External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted. The results are a ringing endorsement of Modi’s popularity, his government’s achievements in the last five years and his campaign, which centred around national security following the Balakot air strikes, nationalism and Hindutva. He also relentlessly attacked the Congress Party for what he called its dynastic legacy, and blamed it for the country’s woes, including endemic corruption.

The opposition had criticised the BJP campaign as divisive and polarising. Still, the trend shows that the Modi wave and the party’s brilliant election management swept across geographies, caste lines, age, gender and economic status. In the politically critical state of Uttar Pradesh, where the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party combine had posed a stiff challenge, the BJP was leading in 59 of the 80 seats at stake. The SP was ahead in six and BSP in 11. Although the BJP had won 71 seats in the last elections, the performance is much better than what many exit polls had forecast.

The BJP state headquarters in Lucknow was drenched in saffron hue with jubilant party workers wearing saffron stoles, adorning ‘genda’ flowers around their necks and holding lotus cut outs. They also burst crackers and danced to drum beats as women supporters wore saffron attire and painted their nails in the same hue.

In a stark contrast, Congress, BSP and SP offices wore a forlorn look. Under the scorching sun, even shop owners selling campaign material outside the SP office sat in stunned silence as those gathered around the tea kiosks talked in hushed tones

The Congress Party was ahead only in one seat in Uttar Pradesh. Even, Gandhi was trailing BJP’s Smriti Irani in Amethi by nearly 20,000 votes but was clearly ahead in Wayanad in Kerala with a lead of more than 8.3 lakh votes. “Congress party is feeling dejected and the trends are not in line with the expectations of the party. I would not jump to the results till complete counting has taken place,” Congress spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill told reporters.

“If they (trends) hold, then Congress needs to introspect as to why its campaign failed to resonate with the people of the country,” he said. The Modi wave not only swept through the Hindi heartland and Gujarat, as was expected, but also rippled through West Bengal, Odisha, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Only Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh appeared untouched. Even in Telangana, where it was expected to fare poorly, the BJP was ahead in four seats, the same as the Telangana Rashtra Samiti.

However, Andhra Pradesh threw up a shock in the Assembly polls, which were held simultaneously, voting out of power the Telugu Desam Party of Chandrababu Naidu, and electing Jagan  Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress. The Lok Sabha trends were staggering for BJP in the Hindi-speaking states, including those where Congress had won in the recent Assembly elections: in Madhya Pradesh, BJP was ahead in 28 out of 29 seats with a vote percentage of nearly 60; in Rajasthan it was leading in all but one of 25 seats; similarly in Chattisgarh, BJP was ahead in nine compared to Congress’ 2 seats. Haryana also is expected to send nine BJP MPs out of 10.

“The people on the ground are not buying the narrative of the opposition that people are under threat. People are doing well that they are looking forward to the next government of Narendra Modi. We have to realise that Modi’s government inherited very weak economy and he done very phenomenal job (in the last five year),” BJP’s Amit Malviya said.

In Odisha, the BJP made huge gains, forging ahead in six of the 21 seats while the Biju Janata Dal was ahead in 15. In 2014, the BJD had won 20 seats and BJP took one. Odisha also held simultaneous Assembly polls, in which the BJD is set to return to power, indicating that the voters chose smartly, opting for the status quo in both state and centre.  BJP and its ally Janata Dal (United) were ahead in 16 seats each in Bihar out of 40 at stake.

The Trinamool Congress Party was leading in 22 of 42 seats of West Bengal while BJP was ahead in 19, up from two it held in 2014. The Left was wiped out in the state, once its citadel. The DMK was ahead in 20 seats in Tamil Nadu while the AIADMK was leading in only two. In Kerala, the Congress-led UDF was ahead in 18 out of 20 seats.

As the trends came in, pointing to another tenure of Modi as prime minister, celebrations broke out in the BJP’s party offices across the country with people dancing to the sounds of drums and distributing sweets. The trends of the ruling party’s leads were in sync with the exit polls, most of which predicted that the NDA would be on course to retain power for a second term.

In 2014, the BJP won 282 seats, leaving the Congress with an all-time low of 44 seats against the 206 it won in 2009. The counting exercise is on in over 4,000 counting centres amid concerns raised by opposition parties over alleged tampering of EVMs. They have asked the Election Commission to ensure transparency in counting.

Election Commission officials said results are expected only by late evening. The voting was staggered between April 11 and May 19 in which around 67 per cent of the nearly 900 million eligible people exercised their franchise to elect 542 members of the Lok Sabha from a total of 8,049 contestants.

For the first time in Lok Sabha polls, the EC is tallying the vote count on Electronic Voting Machines with voter verified paper audit trail slips in five polling stations in each assembly segment of a parliamentary constituency. It will effectively mean that out of nearly 10.3 lakh polling stations, the EVM-VVPAT matching will take place in 20,600 such stations.

In case of a mismatch, the results based on paper slip count will be considered as final. Out of the 543 Lok Sabha seats, elections were held in 542 constituencies as the EC had cancelled polls to the Vellore constituency on the ground of excessive use of money power.