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Modi back with bigger majority

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With election victory, Indian PM vows to unite bitterly divided country but minorities fear becoming second-class citizens

NEW DELHI/AYODHYA: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to unite the country yesterday after a big election win, with his party on course to increase its majority on a mandate of business-friendly policies and a tough stand on national security.

Official data from the Election Commission showed Mr Modi's Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead in 300 of the 542 seats being contested, up from the 282 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.

Mr Modi's victory boosted financial markets as investors expect his government to continue to pursue economic reforms.

He will be under pressure to provide work opportunities for the tens of millions coming on to the job market and to boost depressed farm incomes.

"The immediate challenges are to address employment, the issue of agricultural income and revive the banking sector," said Mr Madan Sabnavis, chief economist at Care Ratings in Mumbai.

But making good on his promise of unity will be difficult as the BJP campaign was sometimes divisive, and members of the minority Muslim community expressed fears that they were being treated as second-class citizens.

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

Members of his party now want him to take a harder line on national security, as well as build a Hindu 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," said Mr Shekhar Chahal, a BJP worker from New Delhi.

"I am confident that Modi will also make the temple in Ayodhya."

Congress Party leaders were sombre.

"Why despite a weak economy people preferred the BJP is something we have to understand," said Mr Salman Soz, a party spokesman.

Mr Modi was under pressure when he began campaigning, losing three state elections in December amid rising anger over farm prices and unemployment.

But campaigning shifted towards India's relationship with Pakistan after a suicide bomber killed 40 Indian police in the contested Kashmir region in February.

Mr Modi ordered an air strike on what India said was a militant training camp on the Pakistani side of the border, a tough response that benefited the right-wing BJP, analysts said.

The poor showing by Congress, that was ahead in just 52 seats, will lead to questions over the leadership capabilities of Mr Rahul Gandhi, a scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty whose father, grandmother and great grandfather all served as Prime Minister.

To add salt to the wound, he conceded his seat in the family's long-held home constituency. But he won his second seat in a southern state.

"Smriti Irani (of the BJP) has won in Amethi and I congratulate her. The people of Amethi have given their mandate," he said . - REUTERS