Vote counting starts in India’s general election

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Indian officials have started counting votes cast during the country’s mammoth general elections with main Hindu nationalist party making early gains.

The ballot counting began at 8:00 a.m. (0230 GMT) on Friday and the Election Commission is expected to declare the results later in the day.

Exit polls by six major Indian TV stations have predicted the coalition led by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would win between 249 and 289 seats in the 543-seat Lok Sabha, or lower house of Parliament. A party or coalition requires at least 272 seats to establish a government.

Preliminary figures showed that the BJP is leading in 231 out of 460 constituencies where counting had begun. Ruling Congress party led in just 48.

“It seems very bleak at the moment,” Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said early on Friday.

Three-time Gujarat state’s chief minister and the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, 63, is poised for victory in the vote with promises to revive India’s deteriorating economy and create jobs.

“They can’t believe it, they can’t believe that someone from such a simple background could beat them,” Modi’s sister Vasantiben Modi said in an interview at her home in Gujarat. The 63-year-old’s father was a low-caste tea seller.

Tons of sweets and fireworks have been delivered to BJP headquarters in the capital, New Delhi in anticipation of a crushing win. Party workers beat drums and waved flags in Gujarat on Friday.

The BJP won 182 seats in elections in 1998 and 1999 and ran India until a defeat to Congress in 2004.

Repeated corruption scandals have plagued the Congress-led ruling alliance and the Congress party’s leader, Rahul Gandhi, 43, seemed to have failed to inspire public confidence.

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