Narendra Modi wrested the top job in the country on Friday as a saffron wave swept large swathes of India, lifting the Bharatiya Janata Party to its highest-ever tally and leaving Congress in tatters.
Underlining the humiliation of India’s oldest party, vice-president Rahul Gandhi struggled initially against the BJP’s Smriti Irani in the Gandhi family bastion of Amethi, and several senior ministers bit the dust.
Modi led the BJP back to power after a decade in opposition, taking advantage of public anger at Congress for uncontrolled high prices, corruption scams and rising unemployment.
The triumph capped an amazing run for the 63-year-old chief minister of Gujarat, who ran a high-voltage campaign that rewrote the political rulebook and caught his rivals napping.
The Congress’ incumbency problems were compounded by a listless showing from Rahul, who failed to grab the public imagination. Congress conceded defeat, but carefully couched its comments to prevent blame falling on the Gandhi scion. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his cabinet will resign on Saturday.
Modi, who won from both Vadodara and Varanasi, tweeted “India has won!” and went to seek the blessings of his 90-year-old mother Hiraben in Ahmedabad. He will hold victory rallies in Ahmedabad and Vadodara later in the day, before heading to Varanasi on Saturday to offer thanks, and then on to Delhi, his new home.
At 3:20 pm IST, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance led in 335 seats, comfortably hurdling the 272 halfway mark needed to grab power. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was limping in at 60, heading for its worst-ever tally. Leads and results from all 543 seats were in.
The BJP alliance swept the electorally key state of Uttar Pradesh, leading or winning in a stunning 72 out of 80 seats, its campaign orchestrated by Modi’s right hand man Amit Shah. Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party, which runs the state government, was winning just a handful of seats.
In Bihar, the party led in 28 out of 40 seats, and in the nation’s capital, the BJP was leading in all seven.
“This is not just a victory, it is a big responsibility for us to live up to the expectations of the people,” said BJP spokesman Shahnawaz Hussain.
Many prominent Congress minister lost, including Sushilkumar Shinde, Kapil Sibal and Sachin Pilot. Arun Jaitley was a prominent loser on the BJP side, undone by anti-incumbency against the ruling Akali Dal in Amritsar.
Big winners included J Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK, which led in 38 out of 39 seats in Tamil Nadu, and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, which was leading in 34 in West Bengal out of 42.
The Aam Aadmi Party, which stunned observers by winning the Delhi assembly last year, made an encouraging Lok Sabha debut, leading in a handful of seats in Punjab. But its chief, Arvind Kejriwal, fell well short of Modi in Varanasi.
End of counting at 5 pm will bring the curtains down on the poll process that began on March 5, with the announcement of the poll schedule. A record 66.4% people turned out to cast their ballot in nine phases of the world’s biggest vote held between April 7 and May 12.
Workers at the flower-festooned New Delhi headquarters of the BJP had started chanting tributes as early as Thursday.
BJP workers said they brought in two car-loads of fireworks, while confectioner Hari Gyan Singh told AFP he had prepared around 2.5 tonne ‘laddoos’.
A total of 8,251 candidates, including 668 women and five transgenders, contested the Lok Sabha battle. The contestants included 3,234 independents.
Counting centres – mostly in close proximity to EVM store rooms – are being manned by the central paramilitary forces, home ministry officials said.
It will be a long day for the counting personnel, beginning around 4am. In a couple of hours, they would be allocated counting tables in different halls through a draw of lots. By eight in the morning, counting will start with postal ballots. EC officials expect the fate of about 8,251 candidates to be decided in the next 8-12 hours.