Mail-in ballots show a big lead for Modi’s party.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, one of the most powerful and divisive leaders India has produced in decades, appeared headed for another five-year term, according to preliminary results and exit polls.
Early results based on mail-in ballots, which represent less than 1 percent of the total, showed Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., leading the opposition Congress Party by a factor of three or four to one.
According to the major exit polls released on Sunday, Mr. Modi’s brand of Hindu nationalist politics, coupled with his efforts to project a strong image of India abroad, played well among the country’s 900 million registered voters.
At least seven exit polls released by Indian news organizations on Sunday night predicted that Mr. Modi’s party, and its allies would win at least 280 of the 545 seats in the lower house of Parliament, empowering them to choose the next prime minister.
This is how India is counting 600 million votes.
The election turnout was one for the history books — the largest exercise of democracy ever.
In seven phases over 39 days, hundreds of millions of voters cast ballots nationwide at a million polling stations, spread across densely populated megacities and far-flung villages.
Turnout percentage also reached a record high, with more than 66 percent of eligible voters participating.
Though more than half a billion people cast ballots, there are just 1.63 million “control units,” the computerized brains of the electronic voting machines that are used to cast votes. The machines are toted across the country for use during each geographic phase of the election. Each machine records up to 2,000 votes at any given polling station.
A team of at least three Election Commission officials are now unsealing and inspecting each machine. If they conclude the machines have not been tampered with, they press a button marked “results,” which tabulates the votes.
The machines are audited in batches, and the results are released throughout the day as each batch is concluded.
The machines are each equipped with a printer that creates a paper trail and deposits a printout in a locked box. A small percentage of the secure boxes — about 5 percent — will be opened on Thursday and their contents checked against the computerized results. The time it takes to count the paper ballots is expected to delay the results by several hours.
Politicians pray at home, and in the homestretch.
Several candidates were spotted Thursday morning making last minute stops at Hindu temples and offering prayers at family shrines, hoping for some divine intervention as the vote count got underway.
Nikhil Kumaraswamy, a Bollywood actor and Janata Dal Party candidate from a connected political family, was seen praying at the Chamundeswari Temple in Mysuru. His presence there led to the temple’s name trending on Twitter in India.
In Kerala, Shashi Tharoor, a Congress candidate, tweeted a photo of his mother and him making offerings to Ganesh, the elephant-headed god of wisdom and a remover of obstacles.
And a B.J.P. candidate from Uttar Pradesh, Ravi Kishan, was photographed praying at home with his wife, in front of a painting of Lord Krishna.
Results suggest Congress is struggling again.
Exit polls and early returns suggested that India’s once-dominant powerhouse of a political party, the Indian National Congress, would not be returning to its old glory anytime soon.
Any gains the Congress party does make — and that could be a few dozen seats in Parliament, by some projections — are likely to be because of disappointment in Mr. Modi’s economic policies. Farmers have suffered, and Mr. Modi has struggled to create jobs as unemployment rates have risen.
His time in office has also been marked by the rise of Hindu nationalism threatening the diverse nation’s fragile fault lines. The Congress party has long cast itself as embracing India’s diverse population, particularly Muslims and other minority groups that Mr. Modi’s party continues to alienate.
The party is led by Rahul Gandhi, 48, the scion of the country’s most famous political dynasty. His great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, was the first prime minister of independent India. Both his grandmother, Indira Gandhi, and his father, Rajiv Gandhi, served as prime ministers and were assassinated.
It’s tea and victory in Modi’s home district.
In Varanasi, the city Mr. Modi is contesting from, the mood was clear that he would handily win his Parliament seat. In the 2014 elections, Mr. Modi received about 580,000 votes, 300,000 more than his nearest opponent. This time, party members hope to see him win with a margin of at least 700,000 votes.
“He will win with 700,000 votes — easily,” said Vijay Yadav, 30, who along with his parents campaigned for Mr. Modi over the past month.
The city of temples is on the banks of the Ganges, a sacred site for Hindus. And the city doesn’t really sleep: Prayers at temples continue late into the night, and then again before dawn. The cremation pits, where bodies from across the country arrive, are fired up 24/7.
At tea stalls and lassi stores, and all along the Ganges, political discussions continued late into the night, then picked up again early Thursday morning.
Mohan Singh, 64, arrived on his bicycle at a small tea stall soon after dawn for his morning ritual: He read the newspaper front to back and had two cups of chai from small, disposable clay cups. Mr. Singh is a mechanic, but looks professorial with his graying hair and spectacles.
“It was all elections, each side saying they will win,” Mr. Singh said about the newspaper in hand. “But I think Modi will win.”
Less violence was reported than in past votes.
The Indian elections are a massive democratic feat. But things are never seamless, and this year the elections did include incidents of violence (though fewer than in previous years) and complaints about rigging, booth capturing and mishandling of electronic voting machines.
This week, around 500 masked men armed with sticks, machetes and rifles attacked a group of polling officials in the remote northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. The Indian news media reported that the assailants belonged to a party affiliated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The attackers fired at the officials. It is unclear if anybody was injured.
In Faridabad, near Delhi, an election official was arrested after video surfaced on social media of him trying to influence voters. In Meerut, a northern Indian city, a group of men set up tents and passed out binoculars to keep an round-the-clock watch on voting machine storage rooms. India’s Election Commission said it had seized nearly $500 million worth of cash, drugs, liquor and precious metals this election, far more than in 2014.
Opposition parties want voting machines checked for fraud.
At least 22 opposition parties, including the Congress party, petitioned the Election Commission to audit results before the final count is released on Thursday. They said voting machines had been rigged to favor the B.J.P. The election body ultimately rejected their request on Wednesday.
The leader of the Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, expressed skepticism of the Election Commission on his Twitter account.
As the election came to a close, dozens of fake exit polls attributed to news organizations like The New York Times and the BBC also circulated on WhatsApp. A majority of them predicted a landslide victory for the B.J.P.
Mr. Gandhi issued a statement telling party workers to stay “alert” and “vigilant.”
“Do not be disheartened by the propaganda of fake exit polls,” he tweeted.
— Reporting was contributed by Jeffrey Gettleman, Russell Goldman, Mujib Mashal, Suhasini Raj, Kai Schultz, Hari Kumar, Ayesha Venkataraman and Sameer Yasir.