PM Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party hits best ever score, giving it an even bigger majority than five years ago and defying predictions of a dip, final results confirm.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he is presented with a garland by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders after the election results in New Delhi, India, May 23, 2019.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he is presented with a garland by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders after the election results in New Delhi, India, May 23, 2019. (Reuters)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) increased its majority in India's election with its best-ever tally of 303 seats, final results confirmed on Friday.

The main opposition Congress party trailed the BJP with 52 out of the 542 elected seats in parliament, data from the Election Commission showed.

Meanwhile, Modi will hold talks on Friday to form a new cabinet to tackle a stuttering economy and other challenges facing his second term after winning a big majority.

The BJP has the first back-to-back majority in the lower house of parliament for a single party since 1984.

After a rancorous and a polarising election campaign, the focus shifts back to an economy that is slowing, even as the US-China trade war rages and global oil prices tick higher.

"While the macroeconomic picture looks stable and promising, many important segments need support from the government," BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav wrote in a column in the Indian Express newspaper.

"India cannot completely remain insulated from the ongoing trade war between the US and China or the geo-strategic conflict between the US and Iran," he added.

Later on Friday, Modi will meet with his ministers to discuss forming a new cabinet, a government spokesman said.

He has not yet set an inauguration date for the administration, but BJP officials said he was expected to move quickly to put together a new cabinet.

An immediate decision will be whether to keep senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley as finance minister despite his poor health or assign Railways and Coal Minister Piyush Goyal to the job of leading Asia's third-largest economy.

Goyal, 54, had stepped into the role twice in the Modi government when Jaitley was ill. He presented an interim budget before the election and a full budget is due after the new government takes office.

Slowing economic growth

Despite the dominance of the BJP and its allies in the lower house of parliament, analysts say it does not yet have the numbers in the upper house for tougher reforms such as relaxed labour and land laws sought by the business community.

"But, in the meantime, a chunky capex plan funded by more privatisation and used to build more infrastructure can put growth back on the rails at a time when global growth and trade are slowing," the Financial Express daily said in an editorial.

Economic growth, which fell to an annual 6.6 percent during October-December, is at its lowest in five quarters, and other economic indicators signal no relief.

Modi will also need to resolve a liquidity crisis that is slowly gripping India's shadow banks.

BJP President Amit Shah, who is credited with crafting the political strategy that helped the party retain its base in northern and western India but also advanced in the east, is tipped to be the home minister, a powerful post with control of security and intelligence services.

For the main opposition Congress party, however, the next few days are likely to be tumultuous after yet another poor showing. Party chief Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, lost his seat in a family borough in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

"It is astonishing that Rahul Gandhi has not yet resigned as Congress president," historian Ramachandra Guha said on Twitter.

"Both self-respect, as well as political pragmatism, demand that the Congress elected a new leader. But perhaps the Congress has neither," he added.

BJP candidate Pragya Singh Thakur, known as Sadhvi Pragya, gestures along with other BPJ supporters on the results day for India's general election at her residence in Bhopal on May 23, 2019.
BJP candidate Pragya Singh Thakur, known as Sadhvi Pragya, gestures along with other BPJ supporters on the results day for India's general election at her residence in Bhopal on May 23, 2019. (Gagan Nayar / AFP)

Terror-accused nun wins seat

A firebrand Hindu nationalist nun facing terrorism charges over the deadly bombing of a mosque has been elected to the Indian parliament. Her win comes a week after Modi condemned her for celebrating the assassin of independence hero Mahatma Gandhi.

Sadhvi Pragya Thakur is accused of participating in the 2008 attack that killed six people and injured more than 100 others.

She spent nine years in detention over the charge and is still awaiting a trial for terrorism and criminal conspiracy after being bailed in 2017.

But the 49-year-old won an emphatic victory for Modi's right-wing BJP in results announced Thursday, taking 62 percent of the vote for a seat in the central industrial city of Bhopal.

Thakur only joined the BJP in April and the party stunned many when it named her as a parliamentary candidate the next month.

She courted controversy throughout the campaign, telling journalists that Nathuram Godse, the radical Hindu assassin of Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi was a "patriot".

Thakur also raised eyebrows for claiming that drinking cow urine had helped cure her cancer and extolling the benefits of drinking a concoction of milk, butter and cow dung.

The Congress denounced her as symbolic of the rise of extreme Hindu nationalism in India under Modi.

Modi was forced to admonish Thakur as a backlash grew over her comments on Gandhi's assassin, only days after publicly backing her candidature.

"She apologised publicly for the comments, but I won't forgive her at a personal level," Modi said in a television interview.

But the BJP has usually defended Thakur, with party president Amit Shah calling the terrorism charges against her "fake".

Candidates with murder charges

Police say her motorbike was used to carry the explosives used in the 2008 attack and that she took part in a key planning meeting before it was staged.

The trial dragged on in India's notoriously slow legal system and election rules allow anyone to stand for office as long as there is no conviction. Some of the other candidates face murder charges.

The charges had little impact on Bhopal voters, many of whom sought blessings from Thakur at her public events.

Thakur said her win over her Congress rival in Bhopal was a "victory of right over wrong".

Source: TRTWorld and agencies