The prime minister's BJP is on course to score a spectacular victory in India's general election. If the lead holds, it would be the first time a party has won back-to-back majorities in Parliament since 1984.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's governing coalition, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), is on course to secure a majority in the lower house of India's Parliament.
By early evening, the NDA, led by Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was ahead in the races for 340 seats, with the opposition United Progressive Alliance leading in about 100. The forecast prompted the BJP to claim victory before the official results were announced.
Official data from India's Election Commission showed the BJP alone leading in contests for 299 seats, with its main rival, the Indian National Congress, ahead in 50 constituencies.
The data didn't indicate what percentage of the estimated 600 million votes had been counted. But if confirmed, the results would give the BJP the first back-to-back majority for a single party since 1984.
"Together we grow. Together we prosper. Together we will build a strong and inclusive India," Modi tweeted after it became clear that the BJP was on course to score an impressive victory. "India wins yet again!"
Outside BJP headquarters in New Delhi, hundreds of people cheered and shouted party slogans, lifting cardboard cutouts of Modi and BJP President Amit Shah into the air as other people played drums and set off fireworks. At the opposition Congress headquarters, only a few party workers stood outside looking dejected.
Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi conceded his seat in a tight race in his constituency of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh state, a seat held by his family for generations.
The NDA's projected margin of victory is larger than surveys indicated in the run-up to the vote, when most polls projected that it would be the largest alliance but would fall short of an overall majority.
Referendum on Modi
India's foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, a senior BJP leader, congratulated Modi on Twitter for the BJP's electoral success. "Many congratulations to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for delivering such a massive victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party," Swaraj wrote.
The BJP's campaign team did a good job of convincing the nation's voters that Modi needed another term to undo all the wrongdoings of the previous Congress-led administrations, N. Sathiya Moorthy from India's Observer Research Foundation told DW.
"The message seems to have received enough resonance with the people, especially young voters," he said. "The outcome speaks more about Indians' expectations for the future than about the government's performance in the past."
The election has been seen as a referendum on Modi, whose economic reforms haven't broadly succeeded but whose popularity as a social underdog in India's highly stratified society has endured. In his victory speech, Modi said he would work harder in his new term to raise Indians out of poverty and combat economic inequality.
On the campaign trail, Modi presented himself as a self-made man with the confidence to cut red tape and unleash India's economic potential. Modi had also slammed opposition leader Gandhi as an out-of-touch elite.
Furthermore, the BJP has harnessed the power of social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Twitter, where Modi has 47.4 million followers.
"This is not merely an impressive victory for PM Modi. It is also important for India's ongoing economic and social progress," Jagdish Bhagwati, an Indian-born American economist and professor at Columbia University, told DW.
But some have expressed fears that the BJP's stunning performance could embolden right-wing Hindu groups and exacerbate religious polarization between Hindus and Muslims in the world's second-most-populous nation.
India's elections, described as the world's largest democratic exercise, are staggered over six weeks, and the final round of voting was held on Sunday. About 900 million people were registered to cast ballots.
Indian stocks reached record highs on Thursday. The Bombay Stock Exchange's Sensex index hit the 40,000 mark for the first time ever while the Nifty index crossed 12,000 points, marking another landmark.
The markets favor a stable government and continuity of economic reforms, market analysts said, adding that the surge was likely to continue for the coming days.
"A stable government is good news for us and the markets will be more buoyant in the coming months," Romesh Tiwari, head of research at the financial advisory firm CapitalAim, told DW.
sri, ls/rt (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)