India's Modi heads for victory but opposition stronger that expected

India's Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his allies were heading for victory but with a reduced parliamentary majority, preliminary results showed on Tuesday. The country has emerged from a six-week-long election that saw 642 million people vote in seven stages.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in first place on 38.1 percent with three quarters of votes counted in India's election, national election commission data showed.

The BJP and its coalition allies were leading in at least 286 seats, the commission's figures showed, above the 272 needed for a lower house parliamentary majority but significantly lower than their joint total of 353 after the last election in 2019.

Modi, 73, said at the weekend he was confident that "the people of India have voted in record numbers" to re-elect his government, a decade after he first became prime minister.

But stocks slumped over seven percent on India's benchmark Sensex index in afternoon trade, after opposition parties appeared to have put up a better-than-expected fight, suggesting a reduced majority for Modi's BJP.

Shares in the main listed unit of Adani Enterprises – owned by key Modi ally Gautam Adani – dropped 25 percent.

'Hobbling' challengers

Modi's opponents have struggled to counter the BJP's well-oiled and well-funded campaign juggernaut, and have been hamstrung by what they say are politically motivated criminal cases aimed at hobbling challengers.

Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of the capital Delhi and a key leader in an alliance formed to compete against Modi, returned to jail on Sunday.

Counting began in the morning at key tally centres in each state, with the data fed into computers.

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