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Modi promises inclusive India after stunning election win

Official data shows Mr Modi's Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party ahead in more than 300 of the 542 seats available, up from the 282 that it won in 2014 and more than the 272 seats needed for a majority in the Lower House of Parliament.

New Delhi/Kolkata

INDIAN Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to unite the country on Thursday after a huge election win, with his party on course to increase its majority on a mandate of pursuing business-friendly policies and a hard line on national security.

Official data from India's Election Commission showed Mr Modi's Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead in more than 300 of the 542 seats available, up from the 282 that 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," Mr Modi said on Twitter on Thursday. "India wins yet again!" His victory boosted financial markets as investors expect that his government will continue to pursue economic reforms.

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He will be under pressure to create employment for the tens of millions of young people coming on to the jobs 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, the chief economist at Care Ratings in Mumbai.

But making good on his promise to unite the country will be difficult as the BJP campaign was often divisive, prompting the minority Muslim community to express fears that they were being treated as second-class citizens.

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

Members of his party now want him to take a harder line on national security, as well as build a controversial temple on the site of a mosque that was demolished by a Hindu mob in Ayodhya in 1992.

"I want Modi to finish terrorism from Kashmir (and) make Pakistan bite the dust again and again," Shekhar Chahal, a BJP worker from New Delhi said on Thursday. "I am confident that Modi will also make the temple in Ayodhya."

Congress leaders were sombre. "Why despite a weak economy people preferred the BJP is something we have to understand," said Salman Soz, a party spokesman. "People have given them a second chance. I hope they use it well."

The National Democratic Alliance's (NDA) predicted margin of victory, at 348 seats to 85 for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, according to TV channel NDTV, is much larger than surveys indicated in the run-up to the vote, when most polls showed that it would be the largest alliance but would fall short of an overall majority.

Mr 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 towards India's relationship with nuclear-armed rival Pakistan after a suicide car bomb killed 40 Indian police in the contested Kashmir region in February, to the benefit of the right-wing BJP, analysts said.

Long-time foe Pakistan has signalled a willingness to open peace 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 is capable of delivering conventional and nuclear weapons at a range of up to 2,414 km.

The BJP has also capitalised on the star power of Mr Modi, a frenetic campaigner, as well as superior financial resources. It outspent Congress by six times on Facebook and Google advertising, data showed, and by as much as 20 times overall, sources told Reuters this month.

Rahul Gandhi, leader of India's main opposition Congress party, conceded on Thursday that he had lost his seat in the famous family's long-held home constituency. "Smriti Irani (of the BJP) has won in Amethi, and I congratulate her. The people of Amethi have given their mandate," he told a news conference.

The BJP performed strongly in several states where it has previously struggled, including in West Bengal, where it targeted the Trinamool Congress, a powerful regional party in campaigning that often turned violent.

Indian stocks surged to historic highs as Mr Modi headed for victory. The broad Nifty index rose as much as 2 per cent, continuing a strong run after exit polls showing a Modi victory were released on Sunday.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has congratulated Mr Modi on his re-election, according to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs press statement issued on Thursday. "The strong mandate reflects the results of your first term and the consequent trust that the people of India repose in your leadership. That the elections were conducted peacefully and smoothly despite the huge logistical challenges is also remarkable," Mr Lee wrote.

Mr Lee wrote that Singapore appreciates the personal focus that Mr Modi has placed on developing the bilateral relationship, noting that the Indian premier's steadfast support has helped to catalyse more extensive cooperation across many areas. REUTERS