India. Narendra Modi's party is leading in major elections but without much tension

India's nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi will win a third term as the country's leader on Tuesday at the end of an election marathon marked by a weakening opposition and growing concerns over the rights of minority groups.

Electronic counting began at 08.00 (04.30 Paris time) at each state's election center and results are expected in the following hours. Some 642 million voters cast their ballots during the six-week election marathon that ended on Saturday. The party led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is leading with 38% after counting three-quarters of the vote, the national election commission showed as of midday Tuesday. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its coalition allies will get at least 286 seats, according to commission figures, more than the 272 seats needed to secure a parliamentary majority in the lower house.

Modi, led the country for ten years

Narendra Modi, 73, still hugely popular after two terms in office, said this weekend he was confident that “the people of India voted in large numbers” to re-elect him, ten years after he was appointed leader of the world's most populous country at 1.4 billion people. His sentiments were shared by observers who believed he was confident of victory at the end of a campaign marked by his increasingly strong appeal to Hindu nationalist sentiment.

This Tuesday, he was re-elected as a representative of the Varanasi constituency, according to figures from the election commission, his third victory in the holy city of Hindus. Narendra Modi was elected with 612,970 votes, nearly 152,000 more than his six closest rivals in the city also known as Banaras.

Political opponents become targets of institutions

The Prime Minister's opponents, sometimes paralyzed by internal struggles, had difficulty influencing this powerful organization and accused the government of exploiting justice for political purposes by increasing the number of legal proceedings against them. The American foundation Freedom House also estimates that the BJP is “increasingly using government institutions to target political opponents.”

On Sunday, one of the opposition's most prominent figures, Arvind Kejriwal, the Delhi chief minister who had called for “fighting dictatorship”, was back in prison. Accused of taking bribes to grant alcohol licenses to private companies, he was released on bail last month, when it was time for him to campaign.

Modi describes Muslims as 'infiltrators'

The Hindu nationalist orientation of Modi's government is causing growing anxiety among the estimated 200 million Muslims in the world's largest constitutionally secular democracy. His comments about the Muslim community, which he called “infiltrators”, also drew criticism from opposition leaders.

The vote, held in seven phases, had enormous logistical complexity, with voters casting their ballots in major cities such as New Delhi and Bombay, but also in remote and sparsely populated areas. India uses electronic machines to allow ballots to be counted quickly.

642 million voters

Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar on Monday praised the “tremendous strength of Indian democracy” and assured that “a robust vote counting process has been put in place”. “We have broken the world record with 642 million voters in India, this is a historic moment for all of us,” said Rajiv Kumar, noting that 312 million were women voters, or almost half. India's major television channels deployed journalists outside vote-counting centers to broadcast the results of the 543 seats in the lower house.

In recent years, the main trend has been to emerge in the middle of the day, with the losing side admitting defeat, although full and final results are not announced until late in the evening from Tuesday to Wednesday. It is at the BJP headquarters that Narendra Modi's supporters are preparing to celebrate their victory. In the last election in 2019, the party won 303 seats, 31 more than its absolute majority.

Serena Hoyles

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