Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives to attend the BJP’s victory celebrations in New Delhi on Sunday. Image Credit: ANI

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party routed the main opposition in key heartland states as votes were countedon Sunday, months before national elections in the world’s most populous country.

The victories in three of the five states that voted in November further boost BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and Modi, who is already the favourite to win his third consecutive term in office next year.

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The premier’s party wrested control of Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan states from the opposition and retained Madhya Pradesh in a landslide despite a spirited challenge.

The results are seen as yet another setback for the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty scion Rahul Gandhi, 53, who led the opposition centre-left Indian National Congress party’s aggressive and personal campaign directly targeting Modi.

Gandhi’s father, grandmother, and great-grandfather were prime ministers and political stalwarts who dominated the Indian political landscape for decades.

India’s once dominant political force, the Congress party, lost the last two successive national elections in 2014 and 2019 in historic defeats to Modi and the BJP.

The Congress defeated the regional BHRS (Bharat Rashtra Samithi) party in the southern state of Telangana while votes in the small northeast Indian state of Mizoram will be counted on Monday.

Historic and unprecedented: Modi

Modi, who remains widely popular in his tenth year in office, flew across all poll-bound states in October and November to address tens of thousands of people in packed campaign rallies.

“Today’s victory is historic, it is unprecedented,” Modi said in a victory speech at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi on Sunday.

“I bow to the people for their support. It is for our politics of good governance and developed India,” he added.

The states won by the BJP have about 190 million voters and elect dozens of members to the national parliament.

“The Congress has done extremely well in Telangana... Yes, it is disappointing to see losses in three states, but we are still the opposition with a strong presence,” Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate told Reuters.

Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) Président Anumula Revanth Reddy addresses a press conference at Gandhi Bhavan in Hyderabad on December 3, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

After dethroning Chandrasekhar Rao-led Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS), who has been in power since 2014, when Telangana was granted statehood, Congress state party chief Revanth Reddy on Sunday dedicated the party’s success in the assembly election to the people who made supreme sacrifice.

“The victory that we got today is for those who made supreme sacrifices for Telangana. We will take forward their ideals and will make sure to fulfil all our promises,” Revanth Reddy said at a press briefing in Hyderbad.

“I also want to thank the high command on behalf of Telangana Congress party. Rahul Gandhi gave us hope from his Bharat Jodo Yatra and directed us to fight the assembly election in Telangana,” he added.

Reddy further urged the opposition and other winning parties to cooperate for the formation of the government.

“KTR welcomed Congress’ government. This spirit should continue when we (Congress) run the govt. 10 years you (BRS) were in power and now you will sit in opposition. We value the opinion of the Opposition,” he said.

Earlier in the day, ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi leader KT Rama Rao expressed his disappointment over his party performance and congratulated the grand old party.

The four states are home to more than 160 million voters and account for 82 seats in the 543-member parliament.

Modi and leaders of Congress, led by Gandhi, criss-crossed the states, addressing campaign rallies and promising cash payouts, farm loan waivers, subsidies and insurance cover, among other incentives, to woo voters.

Politicians and analysts say state elections do not always influence the outcome of the general elections or accurately indicate national voter mood.

Results of the last round of state elections before national elections have been misleading in the past.

Sunday’s outcome is, however, expected to boost market sentiment.

“Markets may have had a whiff of the likely results given the gains last week but the margin of victory will be a surprise,” said Gurmeet Chadha, managing partner at asset management firm Complete Circle.

Markets should gain on Monday on the results, he said, adding it could be a “big move”.