Ridiculed for a decade, India’s Rahul Gandhi slows Modi juggernaut
NEW DELHI: (Reuters) Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, mocked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his supporters for a decade as an entitled dynast, marked a stunning comeback on Tuesday, emerging at the centre of an alliance that made deep inroads into ruling party strongholds.

The scion of India’s fabled Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, he embarked on two cross-country marches against what he called Modi’s politics of hate and fear, giving a jolt of enthusiasm to his Congress party and rehabilitating his own image.

Reduced by a Modi landslide to just 52 seats in the 543-member lower house of parliament in 2019, Congress looks well set to nearly double that tally this year, according to the vote count from the general election.

That total is likely to restrict Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to less than the 272 seats needed to win a majority on its own, and it will have to rely on allies to form the government.

Though it might have to sit another term out of power, Congress will have the loudest voice in a much stronger opposition, with Gandhi at its centre.

On the other hand, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was set to meet his allies on Wednesday to discuss forming the government, a day after his Hindu nationalist party lost its outright majority in parliament in a surprise election verdict.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 240 seats on its own in the general election, 32 short of the halfway mark in the 543-member decision-making lower house, according to official results announced late on Tuesday.

The outcome unnerved investors, with stocks falling steeply on Tuesday, since Modi would have to depend on disparate regional parties whose political loyalties have wavered over the years.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the BJP won 293 seats, more than 20 ahead of the 272 needed to form a government.

Newspaper said Modi’s halo had dimmed, with the Indian Express’s banner headline reading "India gives NDA a third term, Modi a message."

Modi’s own victory in his seat of Varanasi, considered one of the holiest cities for Hindus, was subdued, with his margin of victory down from nearly 500,000 votes at the last general election in 2019 to a little over 150,000.