It Appears India's Prime Minister Is Poised For Election Win

May 23, 2019
Originally published on May 23, 2019 5:47 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Early vote results show a landslide victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India. Votes are being counted today after elections that lasted six weeks. NPR's Lauren Frayer has been following it and joins us from Mumbai.

Lauren, thanks for being here.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So vote counting still underway, obviously, but results showing Modi is running away with this thing, right?

FRAYER: It looks like it. Yeah. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party looks like it will have enough seats in Parliament to govern. It may not even have to form a coalition to do so. It may have an absolute majority in Parliament. The party is called the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP. It won a historic landslide in 2014, and it looks like they've just done it again. The math is looking pretty impossible for the main opposition party, the Indian National Congress. The leader of that party, Rahul Gandhi - he's from this family dynasty that's produced three Indian prime ministers.

MARTIN: Right.

FRAYER: He may actually lose his seat in the family hometown. That would be pretty symbolic. The votes are still being counted there, but that's one of the big races that we're following.

MARTIN: Why did it take six weeks?

FRAYER: It takes that long. This is the world's biggest democracy - 900 million eligible voters from tropical islands in the Indian Ocean to the Himalayan mountains. And the law says that no Indian should have to walk more than about a mile and a quarter to cast a ballot. So as a result, you've got more than a million polling stations that had to be set up across this vast country.

MARTIN: Wow.

FRAYER: And the voting was held in seven stages in different places around the country at different times.

MARTIN: So sounds like Modi has already declared victory. Has he spoken yet?

FRAYER: So he's been tweeting, actually. We're expecting Modi to come out at some point and give a victory speech, but ballots are still being counted. So for right now, his statement's been on Twitter. And here's what he wrote. He said, quote, "Together we prosper. Together we will build a strong and inclusive India." And the key word there is inclusive because this campaign has been really divisive. Modi's Hindu nationalist party's been accused of using hate speech and fear as a campaign tactic.

And so one of the challenges going forward will be to heal the country and make all Indians feel like they're part of India. We'll be watching, especially, for any outreach from Modi's party to India's Muslims. There have been a lot of attacks on Muslims here by supporters of Modi's Hindu nationalist party.

MARTIN: So, I mean, did he talk about that in the campaign, or is that just his message now that he's won? Did he talk about healing these divisions?

FRAYER: So Modi was elected five years ago on the economy - so on economic promises. He promised to streamline this notorious Indian bureaucracy, cut corruption, create jobs. India's economy is booming. It's actually one of the fastest growing economies in the world. But unemployment is stuck at this four-decade high. And so Modi's government has struggled to create jobs for these tens of millions of young Indians joining the workforce each year.

And so his campaign, instead of focusing on the economy, which - some of the promises he made five years ago, he didn't really deliver on. His campaign sort of pivoted to these social and religious issues, instead - Hindu nationalism. So his party's called for the construction of a Hindu temple in a place where a mosque was torn down and Muslims were killed. His campaign also featured tough talk against Pakistan. Pakistan-based militants have attacked India. And actually, today, possibly in a message to Modi, Pakistan has just test-fired a ballistic missile.

MARTIN: NPR's Lauren Frayer reporting on the election results in India, where Narendra Modi appears to have secured victory. Lauren, thanks.

FRAYER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.