Modi’s party declares victory as they build commanding lead in general election

  • Video report by ITV News' Asia Correspondent Debi Edward

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and his party has claimed it has won re-election with a commanding lead, as votes are counted after a six-week general election.

Election Commission data by midafternoon showed the Bharatiya Janata Party leading in contests for 299 out of 542 seats in the lower house of Parliament, with its main rival, the Indian National Congress, ahead in 50.

Indian opposition Congress party chief Rahul Gandhi has conceded loss of his parliamentary seat in Modi's BJP election sweep.

BJP President Amit Shah credited Modi's "leadership" for the presumptive win.

The election has been seen as a referendum on Modi, whose economic reforms have had mixed results but whose popularity as a social underdog in India's highly stratified society has endured.

Officials carry electronic voting machines as counting votes of India’s massive general elections begins in Ahmadabad, India. Credit: AP

The data did not indicate what percentage of the estimated 600 million votes had been counted.

The count is expected to conclude by Thursday evening.

Results so far have sent the stock market soaring in anticipation of another five-year term for the Hindu nationalist leader.

Critics have said Modi's Hindu-first platform risks exacerbating social tensions in the country of 1.3 billion people.

On the campaign trail, he presented himself as a self-made man with the confidence to cut red tape and unleash India’s economic potential, and labelled Congress party president Rahul Gandhi, the scion of a political dynasty that lost power in 2014, as an out-of-touch elite.

Rahul Gandhi is the leader of the rival Indian National Congress party. Credit: Altaf Qadri/AP

Half a dozen exit polls released after voting concluded on Sunday showed Mr Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) winning.

A party or coalition needs a simple majority, or 272 of the seats in parliament’s lower house, to govern.

“Mr Modi’s going to be the next prime minister, we are very assured of that,” said Meenakshi Lekhi, a member of parliament running for re-election in New Delhi.

Outside BJP headquarters in New Delhi, hundreds of people cheered and shouted party slogans, lifting cardboard cut-outs of Mr Modi and party president Amit Shah as other people played drums.

The BJP harnessed social media, including Twitter, where Mr Modi has the world’s second-highest number of followers, and WhatsApp to reach out to millions of supporters.

In the world’s largest democratic exercise, voters cast ballots on 40 million electronic voting machines, a method India began using 15 years ago after complaints that the manual count of paper ballots was tainted by fraud and abuse.

An election official checks electronic voting machines. Credit: Manish Swarup/AP

Losing candidates and political parties have raised doubts about the accuracy and reliability of the electronic method, noting the machines are not used in the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands or the US.

The issue hit the headlines again this week. Top opposition leaders met Election Commission officials after videos appeared on social media showing some electronic voting machines being moved.

The party officials alleged the machines were being moved to be altered, but the commission said the images showed unused machines being moved into storage.

The machines print a paper slip each time a vote is cast that is locked inside a box.

A small percentage of the boxes will be opened and the printouts checked against the computerised results.

The time it takes to count the paper ballots is expected to delay the results by several hours.