India's Modi claims victory as he heads for reduced majority

Narendra Modi speaks to supporters in Delhi - 4 JuneImage source, Getty Images
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Mr Modi thanked supporters for a "historic victory"

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has claimed a historic third win in a row in the country's parliamentary elections, but his ruling alliance appears to have failed to win a large majority as predicted.

He thanked voters and said he would continue the "good work" of the last decade.

Mr Modi’s BJP-led alliance is leading in more than 290 of 543 seats up for grabs, well short of their target of 400.

The Congress and other allied opposition parties have surprised observers, and are now expected to win more than 230.

The results give the lie to a slew of exit polls at the weekend that showed the BJP-led NDA alliance on course for a super majority of two-thirds of parliament, which would have allowed it to make changes to the constitution.

In his first remarks since the election, though, the prime minister was keen to stress his historic third victory.

"I bow to the people for this affection and assure them that we will continue the good work done in the last decade to keep fulfilling the aspirations of people," he said on X.

Speaking to supporters later, he described his victory as "the biggest in the world" and said he was "very very happy today".

But Rahul Gandhi - leader of the opposition Congress party - told reporters that Mr Modi and the BJP had been "punished" by voters at the ballot box.

Analysts attribute the BJP's setback to rising prices, joblessness, a controversial army recruitment reform and Mr Modi's aggressive and divisive campaign, which may have alienated voters in parts of the country.

Image source, Getty Images
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Congress supporters in Delhi have been celebrating the strong opposition showing

Mr Modi had set a target of 370 seats for the BJP and 400 seats for his alliance. This was up from the 303 seats won by the BJP alone in the last general election in 2019.

However, the BJP is no longer expected to get the 272 seats on its own that are needed for a majority in the lower house of parliament.

This is a setback for the party and means - for the first time - Mr Modi would have to rely on smaller parties in the NDA to push through its agenda.

There has been speculation that Mr Gandhi might also try to form a government, but two key NDA parties have already pledged their support for the incumbent prime minister.

Some of the major developments of the election include:

  • Mr Modi himself retained his seat of Varanasi, but with a greatly reduced majority

  • Mr Gandhi won a seat in Kerala in the south and is expected to win a second seat he is contesting in the bellwether northern state of Uttar Pradesh

  • The BJP has seen unexpected losses in Uttar Pradesh, with prominent minister Smriti Irani losing her seat

  • Another defeat in the state was at Ayodhya, where a few months ago Mr Modi inaugurated a controversial Hindu temple

The election was seen by many as a referendum on Mr Modi's decade in office, during which he has transformed many aspects of life in India, so this would be a major upset. The mood in BJP offices around the country has been described by BBC reporters as "sombre".

In contrast, at Congress headquarters, party workers have been celebrating. The Indian markets, meanwhile, have been showing jitters - falling more than 2% - testifying to the fact that it’s not been a runaway result so far for the governing alliance.

An average 66% of voters took part in the election, official figures showed. It was the biggest such exercise the world has ever seen, with nearly a billion registered voters – about one in eight of the global population.

Voting was staggered over seven rounds between 19 April and 1 June for security and logistical reasons. Much of the election took place in extreme and deadly heat as temperatures in parts of India soared to nearly 50C.

Image source, EPA
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BJP supporters are still smiling - but the race is much tighter than expected

The BJP and its rivals fought a fierce - at times vitriolic - campaign, with the prime minister denying that he was being divisive when he was accused by rivals of demonising Muslims.

Mr Modi toured the country, pointing to his achievements in areas such as delivering welfare schemes and raising India’s global profile.

Opposition parties highlighted cost of living issues, high unemployment - especially for young people - and fears that constitutional changes could disempower the disadvantaged. They also promised to stop India’s “slide into autocracy”.

A number of opposition leaders and government critics have been jailed in recent years, including Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal who was taken into custody on corruption charges in April but later briefly released to allow him to campaign.