Modi promises inclusive India after stunning election win
NEW DELHI/KOLKATA- Reuters
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to unite the country on May 23 after a huge election win, with his party on course to increase its majority on a mandate of pursuing business-friendly policies and a hard line on national security.
Official data from India's Election Commission showed Modi's Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead in 298 of the 542 seats available, up from the 282 it won in 2014 and more than the 272 seats needed for a majority in the lower house of parliament.
That would give it the first back-to-back majority for a single party since 1984.
Modi's victory boosted financial markets as investors expect his government will continue to pursue economic reforms. He will be under pressure to create employment for the tens of millions of young people coming on to the jobs market in the next few years and to boost depressed farm incomes.
"The immediate challenges are to address employment, the issue of agricultural income and revive the banking sector," said Madan Sabnavis, chief economist at Care Ratings in Mumbai.
But making good on his promise to unite the country will be difficult as the BJP campaign was often divisive, prompting the minority Muslim community to express fears that they were being treated as second-class citizens.
His pledge to take a strong stand against the separatist movement in Muslim-majority Kashmir has also added to tensions with nuclear arch rival Pakistan.
Members of his party now want him to take a harder line on national security, as well as build a controversial temple on the site of a mosque that was demolished by a Hindu mob in Ayodhya in 1992.
Congress leaders were sombre.
"Why despite a weak economy people preferred the BJP is something we have to understand," said Salman Soz, a party spokesman.
"People have given them a second chance. I hope they use it well."