NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party was heading for a landslide in the key battleground state of Uttar Pradesh, strengthening his grip on power, early counting of votes showed Saturday.
The Bharatiya Janata Party was leading in 292 seats out of the total 403 constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, way above the 202 seats it needs to form a government on its own, early counting on the Election Commission of India website showed.
Home to 220 million people, Uttar Pradesh is the biggest electoral prize in the world’s largest democracy and the likely huge win for BJP will consolidate Modi’s grip on national politics two years before general elections.
The BJP was also leading in the state of Uttarakhand, according to the Election Commission, but the smaller states of Goa and Manipur were too close to call. The final results from all five states will be announced later Saturday.
The result in Uttar Pradesh would strengthen Modi’s hand in parliament’s upper house where his lack of a majority has stalled his reform agenda.
The alliance between the ruling regional Samajwadi Party and the Congress party was trailing in a distant second with leads in 67 seats in the country’s most populous state.
The beleaguered Congress was set to clinch a face-saving victory in Punjab, upsetting the apple cart of the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party, an anti-corruption party led by Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal which was tipped in some surveys to win in the state.
Since winning the first overall majority in three decades in the 2014 general election, Modi’s dominance has been largely unchallenged and he already looks well-placed for re-election in 2019.
“The poor have given a decisive verdict that Modi is our leader and is working for our welfare… women, youth and even minorities have voted for us,” said Ravi Shankar Prasad, a senior BJP leader and the law minister.
“It is an extraordinary win for the party,” he said.
Even the major cash shortages which followed November’s shock ban on high denomination bank notes appears to have done little damage to his standing, particularly with Congress in disarray.
Celebrations broke out at BJP’s headquarters in state capital Lucknow where euphoric supporters danced to drum beats and distributed sweets.
“The state should now witness rapid development. Corruption and nepotism in governance would also come down,” one supporter, Viti Kumar, a housewife, told AFP.
Upbeat scenes also unfolded at BJP’s national headquarters in Delhi where men and women waved giant flags bearing the party’s lotus symbol and chanted “Modi, Modi”.
The multi-phase elections, which began in February, ended on Wednesday after which exit polls—that have proved unreliable in the past—were allowed to be published.
Nearly all predicted BJP to be ahead in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Goa.