Modi Promises Inclusive India After Stunning Election Win

NEW DELHI/AYODHYA (Reuters) -
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves to the media as he arrives to attend a thanksgiving ceremony of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders for its allies at the party headquarters in New Delhi, India, Tuesday. (Reuters/Anushree Fadnavis)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to unite the country on Thursday after a big election win, with his party on course to increase its majority on a mandate of business-friendly policies and a tough stand on national security.

Official data from the Election Commission showed Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party ahead in 300 of the 542 seats being contested, 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.

“Together we will build a strong and inclusive India,” Modi said on Twitter.

“India wins yet again!”

Modi’s victory boosted financial markets as investors expect his government to continue to pursue economic reforms. He will be under pressure to provide work opportunities for the tens of millions of young people coming onto the job 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 of unity will be difficult as the BJP campaign was often divisive, and members of the minority Muslim community expressed fears that they were being treated as second-class citizens.

His pledge to take a strong stand against a separatist movement in the Muslim-majority Kashmir region has added to tensions with nuclear-armed rival Pakistan.

Members of his party now want him to take a harder line on national security.

“I want Modi to finish terrorism from Kashmir [and] make Pakistan bite the dust again and again,” said Shekhar Chahal, a BJP worker from New Delhi.

Modi was under pressure when he began campaigning, losing three state elections in December amid rising anger over farm prices and unemployment.

However, campaigning shifted toward India’s relationship with Pakistan after a suicide bomber killed 40 Indian police in the contested Kashmir region in February.

Modi ordered an airstrike on what India said was a terrorist training camp on the Pakistani side of the border, a tough response that benefited the right-wing BJP, analysts said.

Pakistan has this week signaled a willingness to open talks with India, but in a possible warning, it announced that it has conducted a training launch of a surface-to-surface ballistic missile, which it said was capable of delivering conventional and nuclear weapons at a range of up to 1,500 miles.