Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been reelected and his party is poised to take more seats than the 2014 election, signaling India’s support of the strongman leader and his Hindu nationalist ideology.
The voting lasted almost six weeks to accommodate nearly 900 million people who were eligible to cast their votes.
On Thursday, the ballots were counted and results showed Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, winning more seats than any other party.
Modi, 68, spent part of the day thanking foreign leaders who congratulated him on Twitter. He said he would hold onto the spirit of a “Chowkidar,” or watchman, which he had taken to calling himself in previous weeks.
“This is a victory for the youth who have dreams,” he told a crowd at his party’s headquarters in New Delhi on Thursday night. “For the mother who wished for a toilet. For every sick person who couldn’t afford treatment. For farmers who toil hard for the nation. For poor people moving into their first home. For every law-abiding, tax-paying citizen.”
He added that all Indians must now set their sights on the future. “We must go ahead with everyone — even those who oppose us — and work together toward the betterment of the country.”
In the run-up to the vote, Modi’s party was accused of using hate speech and fear tactics. The criticism comes at a time when Hindu nationalism has reached new heights in the country.
Hindu nationalists have increasing influence in India’s policies, laws and everyday life. Indian Muslims have also been targeted in a series of violent attacks.
Vijay Chauthaiwale, a BJP spokesman, told NPR that religious riots took place before Modi assumed office in 2014. “It doesn’t mean we are justifying any one of the riots. Every riot is bad,” Chauthaiwale said. “We would give protection to every citizen of India and give their due rights.”
Over his last five years in office, Modi promised to simplify India’s bureaucracy and the economy has boomed. At the same time, unemployment in the populous country has reached a 40-year high.
On the campaign trail, the prime minister turned to social and religious issues. He also stressed national security in the wake of new conflicts with Pakistan. India exchanged airstrikes with Pakistan in February, and on Thursday Pakistan test-fired a ballistic missile capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads.
Neelam Deo, a retired Indian ambassador and the director of a Mumbai-based think-tank called Gateway House, told NPR that Modi’s electoral victory will have a positive impact on his foreign policy. “I think he will be taken even more seriously, in conjunction with the fact that the Indian economy remains one of the fastest-growing economies. It will be a policy that will lean west, more than it did before,” she said.
Deo said the narrative of Modi’s party resonated with young voters, especially on social media.
Ayushi, an 18-year-old Modi supporter who goes by one name, told NPR she is pleased with Thursday’s outcome. “I am happy about the result,” she said. “[In the] next five years, I hope that he will give more power [to] women and girls and give more job vacancies.”
Not everyone had words of praise.
Simran Soni, 33, a manager at American Express in New Delhi, called Modi’s victory “absolutely appalling and disgusting.” She told NPR, “Anyone who comes in power is running after money and power. Believe me, this is the worst five years I have seen. … I don’t see any improvement.”
The main opposition candidate, Rahul Gandhi, conceded as the votes were tallied, telling his Indian National Congress party members at their New Delhi headquarters, “Frankly today it doesn’t matter what I think went wrong.” He said the people of India had decided Modi would be their prime minister and that he respected that decision.
Gandhi comes from a family of prime ministers, but he is not related to Mohandas Gandhi, the activist who protested British colonial rule and led the independence movement. As part of Thursday’s brutal defeat, Rahul Gandhi lost in his family’s hometown constituency of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.
Sushmita Pathak and Furkan Latif Khan contributed to this report.