India's Modi headed to re-election; Netanyahu praises 'impressive victory'

India’s Modi headed to re-election; Netanyahu praises ‘impressive victory’

“Together, we will continue to strengthen the great friendship between us and between India and Israel,” said Netanyahu to Modi.

By World Israel News Staff and AP

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party had a commanding lead as votes were counted Thursday after a six-week general election, sending the stock market soaring in anticipation of another five-year term for the Hindu nationalist leader.

Election Commission data by late morning showed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leading in contests for 300 out of 542 seats in the lower house of Parliament, with its main rival, the Indian National Congress, ahead in 50 contests.

The data didn’t indicate what percentage of the estimated 600 million votes had been counted. The final tally was expected by Thursday evening at the earliest.

The election has been seen as a referendum on Modi, whose economic reforms have had mixed results but whose popularity as a social underdog in India’s highly stratified society has endured.

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, and labeled Congress party president Rahul Gandhi, the scion of a political dynasty that lost power in 2014, as an out-of-touch elite.

Outside BJP headquarters in New Delhi, hundreds of people cheered and shouted party slogans, lifting cardboard cut-outs of Modi and BJP President Amit Shah into the air as other people played drums and set off fireworks.

Mohit Sharma, a 29-year-old who runs a bathroom fittings business, said India had never had a prime minister like Modi.

“In the past, after leaders won elections, they sat in air-conditioned rooms and they never reached out to people, but Modi was never like that. He was always connected to the people through social media,” Sharma said.

Fashion designer Sandeep Verma, 39, said he wasn’t a BJP supporter but had voted for the party in the elections.

“A country like India needs a decisive leader and the people did not find that in Rahul Gandhi. There was no alternative to Modi,” Verma said.

Unprecedented ties with Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has congratulated Modi: “Heartfelt congratulations, my friend @Narendramodi, on your impressive victory in the elections,” Netanyahu tweeted in Hebrew.

“The election results are more validation of your leadership and the way in which you lead the largest democracy in the world. Together, we will continue to strengthen the great friendship between us and between India and Israel, and bring it to new peaks,” said Netanyahu.

India’s relations with Israel have improved under Modi’s leadership.

In July 2017, he became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel. Netanyahu reciprocated with a visit to India in January 2018.

“There has been remarkable progress in the relationship between the two countries,” said Israel’s Ambassador to New Delhi Ron Malka recently to Zee News, an Indian media outlet. The two countries have maintained relations for 27 years.

In recent days, the Indian Navy completed a large-scale exercise in which it successfully tested the Israeli-designed Barak 8 air-defense system.

Created by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI)  in cooperation with Rafael, the Barak 8 represents one of the most significant Israeli defense exports in recent years. In 2018, IAI announced a mega-contract worth $777 million for the supply of long-range surface-to-air Barak 8 missile systems to seven Indian warships.

In the previous year, India awarded IAI with a mammoth $1.6 billion contract for the land version of the Barak 8 system.